Vancouver Island Marmot (Marmota vancouverensis)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family:    Sciuridae
Size:    Length: 15 to 28 inches (38 to 71 cm)
Weight: 7 to 15 pounds (4 to 7 kg)
Diet: Berries, roots, bark, leaves and flowers
Distribution: Vancouver Island
Young:  2 to 6 pups every other year
Animal Predators:  Eagles, hawks, cougars, badgers, wolves and black bears
IUCN Status: Endangered
Terms: Young: Pup
Lifespan: 5 to 10 years



·       The Vancouver Island marmot is the only endangered mammal species found only in Canada.

·       It is one of the rarest mammals in the world.

·       The scientific name “Marmota” means “mountain mouse.”

·       Other marmot species in Canada are the woodchuck, yellow-bellied marmot and hoary marmot.

·       The Metropolitan Toronto Zoo is developing techniques for maintaining and breeding Vancouver Island marmots in captivity.



These marmots are the largest members of the squirrel family and are closely related to woodchucks and hoary marmots. Vancouver Island marmots are the only chocolate brown marmots, and they have a white snout and white streaks on their head and chest. 



Vancouver Island marmots are found only on Vancouver Island, located off the southwest coast of Canada. Marmots build their own burrows in which they hibernate, give birth, take cover from bad weather or escape from predators. They inhabit alpine meadows and steep slopes, where they dig their burrows to face south-southwest, so the sun can melt the snow. The steepness of the land also ensures that the snow melts away down the mountain or is cleared away by avalanches. 


Feeding Habits

Their diet consists of berries, roots, bark, leaves and flowers. In late summer, Vancouver Island marmots try to increase their fat stores in order to survive the winter hibernation. Despite this, many become weak and die during hibernation. 



Mating occurs within the burrow a few weeks after the end of hibernation. Between two and six pups (the average is three or four) are born one month later, usually in late May or early June. The youngsters emerge from the burrow for the first time from late June to early July. Young pups remain with their mother for the first year and hibernate with the family. Yearlings venture further afield but usually return in time for hibernation. Young marmots disperse sometime between the ages of two to three years to find a territory of their own. Females can breed by age three, but usually do not until they reach the age of four or five. Some females can produce 10 to 15 pups during their lifetime.



Vancouver Island marmots are gentle and highly social animals that usually live in family groups consisting of one adult male, one adult female and their offspring. They are relatively non-aggressive, but are very social and may wrestle together for fun. The families hibernate together from October to May, sometimes sharing their burrows with other marmot families. All members of the family group watch out for predators and give a high-pitched call to warn the others when a predator is near. Vancouver Island marmots have a unique call described as a “kee-aw” to alert their family members, who immediately run for the burrow when they hear it.



These marmots were described as abundant in 1910, but they have disappeared from two-thirds of their range since that time. The primary cause of the population decline is clear cut logging. Marmots are drawn to clear cut habitats, but are not as successful in them, as mortality during hibernation increases, as does mortality due to predation. They are listed as Endangered not only by the IUCN, but also by COSEWIC—Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. In 1984, 235 marmots were counted as existing in the wild, while only 102 were counted in 1997 and 71 in 1998. Vancouver Island marmots numbered 57 (including 14 pups) in 1999. In 2001, 36 existed in the wild and 39 in captivity. The Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Team, Marmot Recovery Foundation and World Wildlife Federation are working together to save this species. Their goal is to increase the population through captive breeding and reintroduction, as well as public education and fundraising.