Is Anybody Out There?
Thankfully for 2 year-old Thomas, seen here at the mouth of his emergence burrow, the answer is yes.
Thomas was born in captivity in the spring of 2012 and released as a yearling to the Marmot Colony on Mount Washington last summer.
Thomas, and ten other captive-born marmots, are in a preconditioning strategy to increase their chances of survival once they are relocated to historical marmot habitat in Strathcona Provincial Park. There, they are desperately needed to support the small colonies of Vancouver Island Marmots struggling to survive.
Thomas hibernated in one burrow with six other captive-born yearlings, and all seven of them successfully emerged from hibernation this spring.
Two of Thomas’ captive-born friends, Riesling and Burgundy, decided to hibernate with wild-born marmots on the ski hill, and they have emerged as well.
This makes it one of the best springs on record for overwinter survival of captive-born marmots in the wild colony on Mount Washington. At last count, 81% of pre-conditioning marmots on Mount Washington have successfully emerged.
Overwinter survival has often been a challenge for captive-born marmots during the first year after their release to wild habitat, and it has been a significant obstacle to the re-establishment of historical Vancouver Island marmot populations in Strathcona Park.
If these hardy recruits go on to achieve similar overwinter survival to their wild-born kin, Thomas and his buddies will have the chance to contribute to the establishment of a new colony. And they’ll have help too.
There were 12 pups born at the Mount Washington colony last spring. They represent the second part of the strategy, which is to include wild-born marmots in the mix of recruits released to help rebuild these important historic sites.
Wild-born marmots naturally have better overwinter survival than captive-born marmots, who might still be learning the tricks of the trade when it comes to winter slumbering.
Further south on Vancouver Island, marmot colonies in the Nanaimo Lakes region of Vancouver Island required several consecutive years of releases before the colonies began to function naturally. A total of 157 captive-born marmots were released there from 2004-2011.
It was interesting to note that at the end of 2013, data showed that 97% of the marmots identified near Nanaimo Lakes were naturally recruited wild-born marmots - offspring of the original captive-born marmots that were released to recover the population.
It will take a while longer before the marmot populations north of Alberni Inlet prove that they can do the same. But the numbers of established survivors are growing each year and, with them, so does their chance for success.
By Viki Jackson, Executive Director
Marmot Recovery Foundation
If you would like to read more about this endangered and uniquely Canadian marmot please visit our website at www.marmots.org. Or better yet, join our Adopt-a-Marmot Club and help with the recovery efforts first hand.