British Columbia

Vancouver Island marmot die-off feared due to last year's drought

Conservationists worry 30 of the less than 300 animals may have died off this winter.

Working theory is some of the marmots starved to death during hibernation over the winter

The Vancouver Island marmot population is estimated to be fewer than 300, making the suspected die-off a "very disturbing" event for the Marmot Recovery Foundation. (Marmot Recovery Foundation)

Conservationists fear about 30 of Vancouver Island's marmots — out of a population of fewer than 300 — may have died off over the winter.

Many endangered marmots are tracked using transmitter implants which emit pings related to body temperature.

When the marmots wake up from hibernation, the pings should change; but for about 30 marmots in the Strathcona region of Vancouver Island that hasn't happened.

"That's very disturbing to us, obviously," Adam Taylor with the Marmot Recovery Foundation said. "It's not what we want to see, and it's a setback, particularly for that colony, for the recovery of the species."

Taylor says it's too early to know for sure, but the working theory is that some of the marmots starved to death during hibernation.

If so, it could be related to drought conditions last summer.

"It may be that the foliage that the marmots really relied on in the fall was in really poor condition or not available and that when they went into hibernation, they didn't have the body reserves that they needed to survive," he said.

The search now begins for marmot carcasses to see if autopsies can determine the cause of death.

To help the population recover, 13 marmots raised at the Calgary Zoo will be released on Vancouver Island next week.