One of the most endangered creatures on the planet marked an important milestone this week.

On Wednesday, the 500th Vancouver Island marmot to be released into the wild was set free on Mount Washington.

According to the Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Foundation, it wasn’t long ago that there were fewer than 30 of the marmots in the wild and it seemed like the animals were “doomed to extinction.”

“We really feel like we’ve got a solid footing to bring this species back from just the absolute brink of extinction and I just feel incredibly blessed that we’re able to play a role in that,” said the recovery foundation’s Adam Taylor.

Five marmots in total were released on Wednesday and while they are only pups, experts hope they will help the population grow from its current level of 200.

“Here’s a tremendous opportunity to make a difference for a species that’s more endangered than tigers or elephants or giant pandas,” said Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager with the Centre for Conservation and Research. “Just to have the opportunity to contribute to the fact that this species has been saved from certain extinction.”

Alana Buchanan is a veterinary technologist who’s been dealing with marmots for 14 years. 

She says the moment of their release is a happy and emotional one.

“This is the first time that they’ve kind of seen an unobstructed view of the place that they’re going to view,” Buchanan adds. “I mean, it must be really scary and really exciting.”

With files from CTV Vancouver Island’s Gord Kurbis