One of only five mammals endemic to Canada, the Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis
) is a critically-endangered species endemic to Vancouver Island, British Columbia. These marmots inhabit alpine meadows at high elevations, although their numbers have steadily declined over the past 30 years due to habitat alteration and destruction. In 2003, the population reached a critical level as only 30 individuals remained in the wild. This made the Vancouver Island marmot North America's most endangered mammal.
In 1997, the Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Team determined that a captive breeding and reintroduction program was the only viable solution to save the species from extinction. That year, the Toronto Zoo received six wild-caught marmots and the program has since expanded to include two other institutions, the Calgary Zoo and the Tony Barrett Mount Washington Marmot Breeding Center. Many initiatives have been undertaken to identify and restore habitat for the species and also to mitigate the disturbance of these areas. Two logging companies on Vancouver Island have been active in marmot recovery projects and educational outreach campaigns have been launched to raise awareness and funds for reintroduction efforts.
The captive breeding program has been very successful. In 2015, 15 marmot pups were born. Since the start of the program, 167 litters and 556 pups have been produced. Reintroductions of marmots to Vancouver Island have occurred since 2003 and, to date, 447 captive-born marmots have been released. These animals now inhabit 20-30 mountains on the island. 2013 marked the most successful year for reintroductions as 85 marmots were released into the wild.
With the great success of the captive breeding program, the plan is to maximize the number of marmots released each year. Survival rates are encouraging as captive-born animals have survived several hibernation periods and are known to be reproducing in the wild. At least 52-55 pups were born in the wild this past year and the marmot population is now estimated to be between 200 and 300 individuals. Vancouver Island marmots can now be found on several mountains where previous extirpations had occurred.
In 2006, joint efforts between the four facilities were recognized as the program was presented with a Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums Conservation Award. We are very excited about our continued and growing success in the recovery of this highly-endangered Canadian species.