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Marmot, Vancouver Island

Marmot, Vancouver Island

Marmota vancouverensis

phylum: Chordata

class: Mammalia

order: Rodentia

family: Sciuridae

status: Endangered, IUCN Endangered, ESA

range: Canada (Vancouver Island)

Description and biology

Marmots are ground-living rodents of the squirrel family, closely related to the chipmunk, ground squirrel, and prairie dog. The woodchuck is the best-known North American marmot species. The Vancouver Island marmot has coarse fur and a bushy tail 4 to 10 inches (10 to 25 centimeters) long. Its deep brown coat is darker than that of most marmots. An average Vancouver Island marmot has a head and body length of 12 to 23.5 inches (30 to 60 centimeters) and weighs between 6.5 and 16.5 pounds (3 and 7.5 kilograms).

Vancouver Island marmots feed on plants, especially the flowering parts. They hibernate for six to nine months in a den, huddled together in a family group of about eight members. Male and female Vancouver Island marmots mate after emerging from hibernation, usually in April or May. After a gestation (pregnancy) period of four to five weeks, a female marmot gives birth to a litter of two to six young.

Habitat and current distribution

This species of marmot is found only on Vancouver Island, off the southwest coast of British Columbia, Canada. It inhabits the higher regions of the coastal mountains that mark the central and southern parts of the island. Most of the known groups of marmots are found in a small area between Green Mountain and Butler Peak in the island's southern section. In the mid-1980s, biologists (people who study living organisms) estimated that the population of Vancouver Island marmots numbered 231.

The marmots prefer to inhabit steep, rocky slopes and open meadows at elevations between 3,280 and 6,560 feet (1,000 and 2,000 meters).

History and conservation measures

The Vancouver Island marmot was discovered in 1911. Since that time, its population has declined, probably as a result of contact with humans. Extensive logging and the building of recreation areas such as ski resorts have destroyed some marmot habitat. Hunting of the animal, more common in the past, continues even today.

The Vancouver Island Marmot Preservation Society has led recent conservation efforts to save the animal. The organization has spurred the Canadian government to conduct scientific field research on the species and to establish captive breeding programs, among other actions. The society's efforts have been successful. The population of Vancouver Island marmots has increased since the 1970s.

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