Dec 1, 2015 | Marmot, Winter 2015

Alan, the Beach Bumming Marmot

Alan! Alan! Alan... is that Alan! Beach bumming Vancouver Island Marmot stumps the Professors.

Brad Anholt couldn’t believe his eyes! Was that really a Vancouver Island marmot sitting on the beach? As a biologist, and Director of the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Brad should know a V. I. marmot when he sees one – but what was it doing there?

He knew the marmot wasn’t where it should be, it being an alpine species and all, and also how rare and endangered they are, and that had Brad worried. “I’m pretty sure we’ve got a Vancouver Island marmot here”, he reported to the Marmot Recovery Foundation. “There aren’t any free running dogs here, but there are plenty in town,” he warned.

When the Executive Director of the Foundation, Viki Jackson, responded she was skeptical. “On a beach you say? That doesn’t sound like one of our marmots. Perhaps it’s a stowaway yellow-bellied marmot from the Interior that was hidden in someone’s boat. It’s happened before,” she said. “A hitch-hiking yellow-bellied marmot is only slightly less believable than a Vancouver Island marmot on a beach vacation,” laughed Brad as he emailed Viki a photo that confirmed beyond a doubt that it was one of our marmots. “How in the heck did it end up there?” Viki puzzled. “I’ll notify the marmot crew right away. Can you please send GPS coordinates if you have them?”

As chance would have it, Brad had two visiting professors, John Reynolds (SFU) and Jason Fisher (U of Vic), and their students visiting the marine centre that day. Professor Reynolds had just mentioned V. I. marmots in his Terrestrial and Freshwater Conservation course a few days earlier. Little did he know he was about to come face to face with one, on a beach no less! What were the odds of that?

When the Marmot Field Coordinator, Cheyney Jackson, arrived on the scene, Alan (as he’d been named by the students) already had his own Twitter feed, and the Twitter-sphere was exploding with news of his discovery!

“Left my alpine meadow for a summer by the sea.”

“I’ll just keep my head down and no way I’m going near that trap.”

“Oops! So long, Bamfield! Off to find love…!”

“Hi fans! They put me up at a luxury hotel at Mount Washington last night. Best marmot scientists EVER!”

“Dude, Bamfield was a blast, but with a wild population of 300, I’ve gotta do my bit with the ladies.”

After concerted efforts, Alan was safely captured and taken to the Tony Barrett Mount Washington Marmot Recovery Centre. It turns out that Alan is a two year-old wild-born male that took a wrong turn after dispersing from his mountain colony approximately 60km away from the beach. It can be challenging for dispersing marmots to get their bearings if the population density at surrounding colonies is relatively low, because they are unlikely to hear, or see, other marmots to help them find new colony sites.

Alan was in good shape, definitely skinny, but nothing a good supply of alpine lupines wouldn’t fix. After a clean bill of health, he was released at a colony to gain some weight and find a potential female to interest him in staying put.

The marmot crew kept an eye on Alan, and they later confirmed that, while Alan did go into hibernation on the mountain that he was released on, he had continued with his explorations throughout the active season, before he eventually settled into a hibernaculum about 1km from where he was released.

Alan’s release site was selected because there was a known solitary tagged female there named LeAnn. But an older male had shown up from a nearby colony and beaten Alan to the punch, and was later found hibernating with the sweet LeAnn. This explains why Alan didn’t stick around!

There are no telemetered marmots hibernating with Alan, but we believe that if he was unable to find an available female on that mountain, he most likely would have left. Because he stayed, we suspect that he may have found an untelemetered female that we didn’t know about.

We’ll have to wait until next spring to find out. At the very least, Alan has put his wanderlust behind him for the time being, and settled down in appropriate habitat for his long winter’s nap.

To see the video that inspired the students to choose the name Alan, go to YouTube and search: “Funny Talking Animals – Walk on the Wild Side Preview – BBC One”.

If you would like to help to recover our endangered Canadian marmot visit and join the Adopt-a-Marmot Club.

Photo: Cheyney Jackson  Marmot Photo:Lared Hobbs

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