Born to be Wild! An Extraordinary Event in BC's Oldest Park
“Elizabeth G and Penny both have pups!” reported crew of the Marmot Recovery Foundation. The excitement was warranted. These two small litters were the first born in Strathcona Park in over twenty years.
The moms, born in captivity, were released to the Park in 2007 as part of a larger recovery strategy.
While the Park is well known to contain some of the most spectacular scenery in the country, it is lesser known as home to one of the rarest animals in the world - the Vancouver Island marmot, official sidekick to the Vancouver Olympic Games.
Evidence suggests that not so long ago the Park was home to hundreds of the Canadian marmots. But by the end of the last century, aside from a single colony on Mount Washington, the entire marmot population in the Central and Northern Regions of the Island had collapsed and all that remained of the southern population was a handful of scattered and declining colonies.
The number of known Vancouver Island marmots in the wild had plummeted to less than 30 animals. The Canadian marmot was poised on the brink of extinction.
Fortunately, the warning signs were heeded by a group of stakeholders united by the Marmot Recovery Foundation. A captive breeding program was begun and, as captive-born marmots became available, a release program ensued.
“The last few years have been really encouraging”, said Viki Jackson Executive Director of the Foundation, “now that captive breeding is doing well we’ve been able increase the number of marmots being released and we’re starting to see real progress. There are now well over 200 marmots in the wild.”
“While the birth of pups in the park is fantastic news, it’s important to keep it in context”, Jackson said, “Five small pups are promising signs but they are only the beginnings of a restored marmot population in the Park and we’re still only 1/3 of the way to the recovery target for the whole population.”
Release plans for 2010 are the most ambitious yet. Along with BC Hydro-BCRP, the Foundation plans to release 90-120 marmots in the Park. “It’s important to get the marmots born in captivity out to the wild where they can help the fledgling colonies get a leg up,” Viki said.
“With the Olympic Games pending, I hope the attention given to MUKMUK shines some light on the real Vancouver Island marmots so the world can see first hand what’s possible given the will and commitment of the stakeholders to act. In a way, the marmots’ story is a reflection of what many of the Olympic athletes must have faced, one of overcoming considerable odds to win”.
The Marmot Recovery Foundation is a unique coalition of stakeholders whose primary partners include TimberWest, Island Timberlands, the public through the Marmot Recovery Foundation and the BC government.
To find out how you can help go to www.marmots.org