Vancouver Island marmots may just be the necessary antidote for the dystopian times we live in.
If you must be trapped indoors during this winter of discontent, alone at a desk, scrolling through hours of video, you better watch one of the most endearing animals on the planet.
Researchers seeking to conserve Canada’s most endangered mammal are using the creature’s seven-month hibernation season to extract images and data from the field for more information that will help the animals survive , said Adam Taylor, executive director of Vancouver Island Groundhog Recovery Foundation.
The process doesn’t age over time, Taylor said. After years of study, he’s still keen to watch the very sociable, fuzzy, chocolate-brown creatures lounging on the rocks, nibbling on alpine vegetation or alternately struggling or jostling each other.
“They are fun to watch. And there’s no doubt about it, they’re unbearably cute, ”Taylor said.
The biologist describes groundhogs as a good “passing animal” to encourage people to generally care about the conservation of species at risk. “They are great ambassadors,” Taylor said of the cat-sized member of the squirrel family.
“I hope someone finds the Vancouver Island Groundhog, and then finds this world of other endangered species that also need our help.
But for all their kindness, the Vancouver Island Groundhog is a model of resilience, Taylor added. Despite a harsh climate, harsh conditions and a changing habitat due to the impacts of human activity, marmots represent potential good news that illustrates the possibility of bringing a species back to the brink of extinction.
The critically endangered species has grown from a low number of just 30 wild marmots living in a handful of places in 2003 to around 200 living in colonies in 20 mountains of Vancouver Island by 2019.
Through a captive breeding and release program in conjunction with the Toronto and Calgary Zoos, habitat restoration and monitoring activities, the foundation and its partners saw the Island Marmot of Vancouver to repopulate areas where it was completely missing, Taylor said. The past two years have resulted in a combined population of over 100 puppies born in the wild, he said.
“So to that extent, yeah, we’ve been successful,” Taylor said. “I think there are reasons to be really optimistic. We have scientific data and models that show that we have an approach that can bring this species back.
But he was very careful about labeling the recovery effort as a definite triumph of any sort. “Are we done? No, no, we’re not done, ”Taylor said. “If we were to move away today, the species would certainly go back to extinction very quickly.”
Vancouver Island’s marmot population continues to grow slowly and is extremely vulnerable to predation by wolves and cougars which can more easily access colonies along forest roads that puncture high alpine forests.
And the ever-present danger of starvation during or after hibernation is exacerbated by climate change, as the snowpack decreases and the spring melt accelerates, limiting the supply of vegetation on which the marmots depend, he said. he declares.
A colony’s ability to bounce back from significant population loss can also be hampered if animal travel routes to other people’s communities are interrupted or disrupted by industrial activity or projects, Taylor said.
The foundation has yet to help the groundhogs speed up their recovery, he noted. Just before and after hibernation, the foundation provides groundhogs – which can lose a third of their weight during their winter nap – with additional vegetable cookies to fatten them up and improve reproduction rates.