The Vancouver Island Marmot (VIM) is one of the most critically endangered animals in the world, and it is Canada's most endangered mammal.
The Toronto Zoo has been participating in the captive breeding program for the Vancouver Island Marmot since 1997, when it was first approached by the Marmot Recovery Foundation to begin a captive breeding and release program. This Marmot species is one of only five mammals endemic to Canada, and it was North America’s most endangered mammal in 2003, when there were only 30 individuals left in the wild.
Because of significant captive breeding efforts (including the Toronto Zoo's) the wild population has steadily grown. The Toronto Zoo has also been involved in many research projects to help increase the understanding of this unique mammal and has spearheaded studies on mating behavior, pup development and hormone analysis for monitoring reproductive cycles of breeding females. This information is vital to ensure that the VIM experiences a triumphant return to the wild.
"With the expertise, passion and commitment from zoological organizations like the Toronto Zoo, the Vancouver Island Marmot conservation breeding and reintroduction program has been crucial in preventing this species from becoming extinct," says Maria Franke, Curator of Mammals, Toronto Zoo. "This is a huge step in the right direction in saving this truly Canadian species.”
This year, Toronto Zoo has six pairs of adult Marmots. On May 4, 2016, keepers heard sounds coming from one of the nest boxes. To minimize disturbance, keepers wait three to four weeks before opening nest boxes.
At four weeks, four pups were confirmed. On first examination, they were 20-30 cm long and starting to open their eyes. Now, they are almost eight-weeks-old and exploring their surroundings. Sitka, the mother, has been taking very good care of her pups. Because of her cautious and protective nature, it even took her a few extra days to allow the pups to explore the outdoor area. Hunter, the father, sleeps outside the nest box like a good “guard-dad”.
Another pair of Marmots, River and Oban, gave birth to five pups on May 19, 2016. They still snuggle in the nest box but are very vocal, emitting sounds like those of dog puppies. They should be emerging soon.
This year, Toronto Zoo has had a total of nine VIM pups born. Toronto Zoo is also housing one full-grown pup, Rizzo, who was born last year and is appropriately named after the character from Grease-- or the rat from The Muppets--depending on who you speak to! She is quite spunky and will do very well in the wild.
To date, joint efforts from four facilities have released 445 captive-born Marmots back to Vancouver Island, and the population is now estimated between 215-277 individuals. Conservation efforts in Vancouver continue to protect Marmot habitat to help ensure the recovery of this highly-endangered Canadian species.
The Vancouver Island Marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) naturally occurs only in the high mountains of Vancouver Island, in British Columbia. This particular Marmot species is large compared to some others, and most other rodents. The species is currently classified as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List.
*Please note: the Vancouver Island Marmot pups are not viewable to the public.