Notes from the Field: An Inside Look at what it takes to manage a successful Marmot Recovery Program
In the Field
In September, Recovery Team head Don Doyle expressed what we were all feeling: “I just wish they’d all take a Valium and go to sleep!” Everyone involved in the Vancouver Island marmot recovery project was on edge. Most of the wild marmots, including captive-bred ones which had been released, had survived. Fall is one of the times when wild marmots are most vulnerable to predators. We wanted them to hurry up and go into hibernation without a loss of life. They finally did so (without benefit of Valium). Phew!
The wild VI marmot population stood at roughly 18 this spring. During the summer of 2004, 4 were killed (3 of them by predators) and the status of 2 others remains unknown. A total of 11 pups were born in the wild and the population was further enhanced by the release of 9 captive-born marmots.
A captive-born male, Landalt, was released into the wild last spring, into the loving arms of the wild female KC on Heather Mountain. We’re pleased to announce they had 3 pups, making Landalt the first captive-born marmot to breed in the wild. A project victory!
Two females were released at the Mount Washington colony, where there was an overabundance of males and a need for new genetics. And finally, six 2 year olds—4 males and 2 females—were released at the Haley Lake Ecological Reserve in July. One couple remained at the release site and the other four, as VI marmots do, went wandering. The other female eventually settled on Green Mountain and we moved one of the wandering males to join her. One male returned “home” to Haley at the end of the summer. The other male was killed by a golden eagle on a neighbouring mountain.
The 8 surviving released marmots are currently hibernating with members of the opposite sex. Final count in fall 2004: approximately 30-35 VI marmots now living in the wild.
At the Haley release site, field staff monitored the released marmots from July to October, tolerating scorching summer heat, clouds of biting insects, heavy rains, high winds, and freezing temperatures. The animals were all released with the familiar nest boxes they occupied while in captivity. Each nest box was located to give direct access to a natural burrow system. The boxes were protected by mesh enclosures (“cocoons”), electric fencing and fladry (a line strung with flagging tape.)
A series of tents was set up around the periphery of the Haley meadow. Staff rotated sleeping time among the tents. Transistor radios were played in the unoccupied tents to increase the amount of human noise. Staff hung dirty laundry in mesh bags on bushes and trees to increase the amount of human scent in the area. Sounds of hounds were periodically played to deter cougars. The field crew carried “bear bangers” to deter aerial predators. Remote cameras monitored predator and prey (elk, deer) activity.
Captive Breeding: Lots of New Pups
The captive population, in 4 breeding centers, now stands at 93 individuals
A total of 8 litters and 26 pups were born in 2004. This is a healthy
increase over last year and the third year of good, reliable reproduction