The feisty Vancouver Island Marmot is Canada's most endangered mammal with only an estimated 30 living in the wild in 2003. However, institutions like the Calgary and Toronto Zoos launched aggressive breeding and release programs that have since bolstered the wild population to 200 or more. These pups were born at the Calgary Zoo on June 30th and the Toronto Zoo just welcomed a litter this week!
Photo credits © Oli Gardner
Three little pups peer out of their nesting box
June 30, 2009
16 VANCOUVER ISLAND PUPS BORN AT THE CALGARY ZOO
Canada’s Most Endangered Mammal and a 2010 Olympic Mascot - Making a Comeback
Calgary, AB –
When a species comes to the brink of extinction, it takes the
dedicated and combined effort of many individuals and institutions to rescue it.
In total, 65 Vancouver Island marmot pups were born this year at four
partnering facilities across Canada including the Calgary Zoo, the Toronto Zoo,
Mountain View Conservation & Breeding Centre in Langley, B.C. and the Tony
Barrett Mt. Washington Recovery Centre on Vancouver Island.
“It is always an exciting and busy time in the spring when the litters start
arriving,” said Rick Wenman, marmot keeper at the zoo’s Devonian Wildlife
Conservation Centre. “We had a lot of new pairings of adults this year so we
were very pleased to have such solid success with a total of 16 pups from six
The litters began arriving in late April and births continued through May. In spite
of nest box cameras, obtaining an accurate pup count is challenging because the
parents often hide the young in the straw bedding and the zookeepers do not
want to disturb the marmots unnecessarily.
“It was really satisfying that a new pairing in particular, Harrison (4) and Mirabel
(9), with valuable genetics which had not previously successfully mated had a
litter of three pups,” continued Wenman. “She hid them really well for quite a
while so I was surprised to find them in the nest box at about 3 weeks old.”
The Vancouver Island marmot is listed as endangered under the Species at Risk
Act (SARA) and the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada
(COSEWIC) as well as a Priority 1 Species under the British Columbia
Framework. Found only on Vancouver Island, their population remains too small
Vancouver Island marmots and fragmented to recover without intervention and assistance from captive
The VIM (Vancouver Island marmot) Recovery Strategy, implemented by the
Marmot Recovery Foundation, supports the continued release of captive-born
marmots to natural habitat on Vancouver Island as the only chance of increasing
the VIM population within a reasonable period of time and preventing extinction.
The captive breeding program was founded on 55 wild marmots brought into
captivity from 1997-2008 with the first two successful litters of three and five
pups each was born at the Calgary Zoo in 2000 and another litter of two pups in
2001, leading to the first release of four marmots in 2003. A total of 155
captive-born marmots have now been released to the wild since 2003 and 59
more marmots will be released this summer.
From a population low of less than 30 wild Vancouver Island marmots in 2003,
the population is expected to reach over 200 marmots in the wild by the end of
this summer. In 2003, there were small pockets of marmots found on only three
mountains on Vancouver Island, but they can now be found on 24 peaks. Last
year, there was a record 33 pups born in the wild including a litter of second
generation pups born to reintroduced marmots.
Careful animal management and pair selection has ensured healthy reproduction
and the protection of over 96 per cent of the genetic diversity of the founding
The Marmot Recovery Program represents a new partnership approach for
endangered species recovery supported by the breeding facilities, government,
the forest industry and the public, working together to recover this uniquely