British Columbia

Molly the marmot gives birth to 6 pups, raising hopes for endangered Vancouver Island species

Although the species isn't out of the woods yet, the team at the Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Foundation in Nanaimo can't hide their joy at news of the litter.

Large litter is exciting news for what's known as Canada's most endangered mammal

New mother Molly with two of her pups in Strathcona Provincial Park on Vancouver Island. (Jordan Cormack)

Conservationists are celebrating after Molly the Vancouver Island marmot gave birth to six pups, raising survival hopes for what's known as Canada's most endangered mammal.

Although the species isn't out of the woods yet, the team at the Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Foundation in Nanaimo can't hide their joy at news of the litter.

"It's really exciting," foundation director Adam Taylor told Jason D'Souza, host of CBC's All Points West.

"Six pups is a huge litter so that means she must be really healthy, which is great news."

Marmota vancouverensis, which is endemic to Vancouver Island, has seen its numbers in the wild grow from less than 30 to between 150-200 over the past 15 years. 

Surviving adolescence

Vancouver Island marmots inhabit mountainous regions like Strathcona Provincial Park, where Molly and her pups live. Taylor believes it's going to be a challenge for all of the newborns to survive.

"One of the big things they're going to have to face is learning to survive and finding enough food in the wild to put on enough weight to get into hibernation. And to do all that in an environment that can be really harsh," said Taylor.

"Quite honestly, chances are pretty good that not all of them will survive. We'll keep our fingers crossed, but even if a few make it, that would be great news."

Denman the marmot is released into the wild on July 13, 2018, in the Nanaimo Lakes area in an effort to stabilize the population of the species. (The Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Foundation)

Stabilizing the population

Although Vancouver Island marmot populations have grown, Taylor says there is still a significant amount of work left to do. The foundation still refers to the species as Canada's most endangered mammal.

"We need to keep pushing more marmots out into the world until we are beginning to see enough pups born every year in the wild to really sustain the colonies in the long run," said Taylor.

He says he would like to see restoration work done on marmot habitats experiencing the effects of climate change.

The foundation partners with four facilities around the country to breed the marmots, which they then release annually to help sustain the population.

For marmots born in captivity and released into the wild, Taylor says that if they can survive to the age where they start giving birth, the marmot is considered to have fully transitioned.

Molly's mom was one of those bred and released, but Molly herself was born in the wild.

The public has raised concern over the safety of Marmot colonies living around Nanaimo Lakes, where a wildfire blazes. (B.C. Wildfire Service.)

Nanaimo Lakes colonies

A number of marmot colonies live near Nanaimo Lakes and a wildfire in the area has the local community concerned for the wellbeing of their island's mascot.

However, Taylor says the wildfire is nowhere near where the colonies actually live.

"The marmots there are quite safe. There's really no risk to the marmots, right now, from this fire," he said.

But the public's concern for the marmots' safety hasn't gone unnoticed.

"It has been something that has literally saved this species, the fact that people are invested in it," said Taylor. 

"This is a unique species to Vancouver Island and it really is ours."

Listen to the full interview with Adam Taylor below:

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