Marmots born in captivity at the Calgary Zoo were released into the wild on Vancouver Island Monday.

Five marmots were carried up the slopes of Mount Washington where they were set free. It’s all part of the Marmot Recovery Foundation’s release program.

“It’s incredible to think how far the recovery program has come. If you think about back to 2003 when we started releasing marmots, there were 30 Vancouver Island marmots left in the wild,” the foundation’s executive director Adam Taylor said.

It’s estimated there are now between 200 and 300 wild marmots in Strathcona Provincial Park, Mount Washington and around Nanaimo.

“These Vancouver Island marmots are endemic to Vancouver Island,” senior wildlife biologist Sean Pendergast told CTV News. “We think it’s a very unique species both to the country and the province. We’ve gone to great lengths over the years to try to maintain all sorts of species on the landscape.”

To date 490 marmots have been released on the island.

The program is dependent on joint funding between the province and forest companies. It also depends on how many marmots can be produced in captivity.

“Marmots aren’t rapid reproducers. They are a rodent. Some people think rats and squirrels that produce huge numbers of babies every year, but marmots aren’t like that. They only produce two to four young every other year typically,” Taylor said.

Just last week it was confirmed there were 36 mortalities in Strathcona Provincial Park, largely due to predation.

“What we’ve seen is that the marmots actually tend to do really well on Mt. Washington,” the foundation’s Cheyney Jackson said. “We think because there are so many people around that maybe that helps keep predators out of the area. And that’s maybe one of the secrets to their success.” 

It’s hoped these yearlings will persist, eventually having pups and helping to contribute to their own species recovery.

With files from CTV Vancouver Island’s Jessica Lepp.