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Cheyney Jackson, the field coordinator for the foundation, said the knowledge and support of the zoo and other partners in the captive breeding program has been crucial to the survival of the species. “The recovery of the species to date is largely due to them.” When the first breeding program pups were introduced back into the wild in 2003, there were about 30 marmots living on Vancouver Island. The goal is ultimately to get the species downgraded from the national “endangered” list to the list of “special concern,” which basically means it will have reached a point of self-sustainability. Initial estimates pegged the “safe” population at 600.
It’s been exceptionally good.” The Calgary Zoo got its first Vancouver Island marmots in the late 1990s when the population was one hungry wolf pack away from extinction.
The Marmot Recovery Foundation has nurtured growing populations in two pockets: Nanaimo Lakes, which basically comprises an area between Cowichan Lake and Mount Arrowsmith; and Strathcona, spanning both sides of Buttle Lake and including Mount Washington.
Population numbers had declined almost to the point of no return in the ’90s before observers were fully aware of the severity of the situation.
The alternative is basically letting your patient die on the table,” Moehrenschlager said.
In some ways, the Island’s marmot recovery effort may have become a victim of its own success.
At the instigation of the provincial government, spurred by a small group of Island conservationists, a handful of marmots was taken from the wild and paired up under the watchful eyes of scientists there and in a few other locations.
The program’s initial years were about establishing a sustainable colony at the DWCC, an off-site branch of the zoo outside the public eye that is dedicated strictly to species rehabilitation.Where there were once four facilities breeding marmots, there is now just Calgary and a smaller program at the Toronto Zoo.As a result, the foundation is looking to find more partners and new sources of cash. But that hasn’t helped the little guy much in the singles scene.Neither has the new wardrobe, those daily visits to the gym, nor the constant scouring of the internet for the latest dating tips from e-Harmony and GQ.“They are small enough numbers that one predator moving in can devastate a colony,” Jackson said.