Conservationists are celebrating after five endangered Vancouver Island marmot pups were born at a wildlife conservation centre just south of Calgary.

The Calgary Zoo announced on Thursday that the pups were born at the Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre.

The successful breeding effort is part of the Vancouver Island marmot translocation program, which mates the animals to increase their wild population. Since the program began in 1997, 131 marmot pups have been born at the Calgary Zoo and successfully released into the wild.

“As a conservation organization, it is very rewarding for us to be part of the returning Vancouver Island Marmot population,” said Dr. Doug Whiteside, senior veterinarian for the Calgary Zoo.

“Vancouver Island Marmots are an umbrella species — its habitat in the alpine and sub-alpine meadows of Vancouver Island is also home to a variety of other species. By saving this species, we are also protecting a beautiful and rare Canadian ecosystem,” said Whiteside.

Found only on Vancouver Island, the Vancouver Island marmot is one of the most endangered mammals on the planet. Their population fell dramatically in the mid-1990s after habitat change led to abnormally high predation. 

In 2003 it was estimated that only 30 wild marmots were left. Thanks to conservation efforts there are now more than 200 wild marmots, but the species is still classified as endangered under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

Marmots born in captivity are sent to Vancouver Island, where they spend the winter in the Tony Barrett Mt. Washington Marmot Recovery Centre before being brought to their final home the following spring. 

The stepping-stone approach has vastly improved survival rates for the marmots by giving them experience in the wild in a safer setting. 

Some wild marmots that live in larger populations are translocated to boost numbers in smaller populations. 

There are three facilities that breed Vancouver Island marmots: the Calgary Zoo, Toronto Zoo and the Tony Barrett Mt Washington Marmot Recovery Centre.

The pups have not yet been named and after they receive their vet checks in the fall, there will be a public naming contest. 

endangered marmots

(Courtesy: Calgary Zoo)