Human Elements: Vancouver Island marmots return to the wild

With only 358 of the endangered animals left, the Marmot Recovery Foundation is working to release captive marmots in mountain burrows.

A concrete building atop a mountain on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island serves as a temporary home to a precious population of often-slumbering marmots.

This compound is also home to the Marmot Recovery Foundation, an organization that for the past two decades has had as its mission the recovery of the Vancouver Island marmot, an endangered species that looks like a small grizzly bear with brown fur and a white chest, and of which only 358 are estimated to remain in the wild.

It is the job of veterinarian and captive breeding coordinator Malcolm McAdie to make sure the marmots, most of whom were born and bred in the facility, are in sufficiently good health to be released into their new wild homes. But this feat will take a whole team. “If you have more eyes watching in the colony, it's safer because predators will be detected with greater frequency. So, I guess, you know, like we're kind of like a colony too,” McAdie said.

Once the marmots are cleared for takeoff, a helicopter will fly them over the island’s mountains for a handoff to field team members. Then they will be strapped on backpacks before being carried to their new home, a pre-dug mountain burrow. With some coaxing, the marmots will emerge from their burrow, where they’ll sample native vegetation and feel the landscape under their feet for the first time.

“You watch them, and you know they are in a whole new world and it's the world that they should be in,” McAdie said.

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