2010 - The International Year of Biodiversity

Vancouver Island Marmot - Mount Washington, BC, CanadaThe discovery of a collection of previously unknown species, including a Pinocchio-nosed frog, a yellow-eyed gecko and the world’s smallest wallaby, found on the remote Indonesian Island of New Guinea was announced by a group of international scientists in May, just ahead of the International Day for Biodiversity.

It was hoped the discoveries would provide some positive news, along with the warning the rate at which plants and animals are being driven extinct around world is expected to speed up. Bruce Beehler, a participant on the expedition was quoted as saying, “Places like these represent a healthy future for all of us and show that it is not too late to stop the current species extinction crisis.”

Canadians can look closer to home for inspiration. Our own uniquely Canadian Vancouver Island Marmot is a remarkable example of what can be done to reverse the daunting threat of extinction.

After suffering a 70% drop in an already depleted population, there were less than 30 of the marmots remaining in the wild in 2003. And our uniquely Canadian Marmot joined the ranks of the most rare and threatened mammals in the world.

Today their numbers have increased to between 230-250 marmots thanks to a national breeding and release program supported by individual Canadians, the BC government, forest companies Island Timberlands and TimberWest, and BC Hydro. But the marmots still have a way to go before they reach the recovery goal of a self-sustaining wild population of 600 marmots in the wild.

“We’ve released a total of 223 Vancouver Island Marmots to the wild over the last seven years”, said Viki Jackson, executive director of the Marmot Recovery Foundation, “and we’ve seen pup litters born in the wild rise from a low of one litter in 2003 to twenty two in 2009, so there’s no question the reintroductions are having an impact.”

The Vancouver Island Marmot is one of 14 marmot species worldwide and the only marmot found only in Canada. They live in the alpine bowls of Vancouver Island and recently gained international attention during the 2010 Olympics with the introduction of Mukmuk, the Vancouver Island marmot sidekick to the Olympic mascots.

Carbon dating of cave bones place the Vancouver Island marmot on the Island at least 9,400 years ago making it possible their arrival predates the last ice age about 13,000 years ago. Either way, the Vancouver Island marmot is an important part of Canada’s unique biodiversity.

“I think this recovery sets an example for the world of what can be done to protect and restore priority species when people set a goal and work together to achieve that goal with government and industries support”, said Jackson.

In the meantime the Foundation is struggling to release more marmots than ever with less funding as a result of the global economic downturn.

“Now that we’re able to produce the marmots needed to recover the population, it would be a sad irony if we didn’t have enough resources to get them safely reestablished”, Jackson said. “Our partners are sticking with us, even through these difficult times, so I’m confident we won’t let the marmots down. It’s just not like Canadians to sit idly by and watch an animal uniquely our own be lost forever”.

For more information or make a donation to save the Vancouver Island Marmot go towww.marmots.org