The Vancouver Island Marmot is an endangered species of marmot, and one of the world's rarest mammals. It is found only in high mountain regions of south-central Vancouver Island in British Columbia, in open subalpine meadows, on south to west-facing treeless slopes at elevations of 1000 to 1400 m (Nagorsen 2005). In BC, it is restricted to mountains in the Nanaimo Lakes area, and Mount Washington, but its previous range was more widespread on Vancouver Island (Nagorsen 2005). It is the only marmot species in BC that naturally occurs on Vancouver Island (Wikipedia 2012
The Vancouver Island Marmot is a rich chocolate brown in colour with white patches. Wikipedia (2011) provides the following description: "An adult Vancouver Island Marmot typically measures 65 to 70 centimetres from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail. Picture holding a large housecat. However, weights show tremendous seasonal variation. An adult female that weighs 3 kilograms when she emerges from hibernation in late April can weigh 4.5 to 5.5 kg by the onset of hibernation in late September or October. Adult males can be even larger, reaching weights of over 7 kg. In general, marmots lose about one-third of their body mass during the six-and-a-half months in which they hibernate during winter."
The Vancouver Island Marmot is a colonial, highly social species that is slow to mature and has a long life span and complex social organization (COSEWIC 2002). It lives in burrows, and is active above ground in the mornings and evenings, but remains below ground at temperatures higher than 20C (Nagorsen 2005, Wikipedia 2012). It hibernates in winter. It is an obligate herbivore, and diet includes various plants species such as ferns, mosses, juniper, grasses, sedges, and blueberries (Nagorsen 2005, Wikipedia 2012).
No subspecies are recognized; genetic work is needed to determine if the species is valid (Nagorsen 2005).
COSEWIC reports that in examining data from 1972 to 2000, Vancouver Island Marmots (or fresh burrows} "were found at 47 sites on 15 mountains. Reproduction was observed at 34 sites on 14 mountains. Except for 2 sites, all colonies or potential colonies active since 1972 were located within the Nanaimo, Cowichan, Chemainus, Nitinat and Cameron River drainages on south-central Vancouver Island. The 2 exceptional colonies were both on Mount Washington, an area separated from other known colonies by at least 100 kilometres."
In 2000, COSEWIC reported less than twenty mature Vancouver Island Marmots left in the wild, a result of habitat loss and alteration, and predation (COSEWIC 2000). The endangered status of this species led to the development of a captive breeding program, and from 2003 to 2010, 308 marmots were released back to the wild, with the wild population estimated in 2010 to be 250-300 individuals (Wikipedia 2012).
Read the COSEWIC Status Report for this species.