Friday, October 19, 2007

The Evolution and Destruction of the Vancouver Island Marmot
To this day it is still unknown when the first marmot ancestor arrived on Vancouver Island. Some researchers believe they migrated here during the Illinoian glacial period 100 000 years ago, and others believe 10 000 years ago during the Cordilleran glacial period. During these ice ages the sea levels greatly declined and produced a pathway for the marmots to travel to the island. The marmots that traveled to the island became trapped when the glaciers melted and replenished the sea levels. This occurrence is what began the evolution of the Vancouver Island marmot.

Scientists described the first Vancouver Island marmot in 1911. They are herbivores that feed on over fifty species of grasses and wild flowers. They live in burrows they build that will have a number of exits. They are known to hibernate in these dens from Sept-April, as a family, and will block the exits with mud and grass. The marmots mate soon after waking, and produce three or four pups around July. Their average life span is roughly ten years old, and in this lifetime they can produce anywhere from twelve to fifteen pups. Roughly one third of young marmots will move away to start a new colony, consisting of at least two marmots.
-There has been a recent discovery of marmot bones in 6 caves in British Columbia, and the research of these bones began in 1988. One cave in Strathcona Park held the bones of 74 marmots. It was determined by analysis that these bones were 26 000 years old. Bones of thirteen Vancouver Island marmots were discovered in a small cave in an isolated mountain range near Clayquot Sound, just west of Port Alberni. It is believed that these bones were the remains of the animals hunted for food in these areas.

The population of marmots on the island is currently about 121 marmots on the island total, and because of this they are considered one of the most endangered animals in Canada. There are two small colonies on Mt. Washington, but unfortunately at least 5 larger colonies on the island have become extinct. There is land throughout the island that is available for these marmots, but they are having a difficult time reaching it. This is because of the mass amounts of clear-cut areas that marmots will not cross because of the possibility of being spotted by predators. It has been found that female marmots in these areas located close to clear-cuts produce less offspring, and with the numbers so low this decrease in offspring is quite devastating. The lack of ability to move from habitat to habitat has had a huge impact of the population, and causes a decrease in genetic drift. Scientists believe that captive breeding and reintroducing will assist in getting this animal off of the endangered list. Marmots are being held for breeding at the Calgary and Toronto Zoos, and there is talk of opening a special breeding center on Vancouver Island.

Since clear cutting is the major destructor of this marmot species, I for one believe that we should explore alternate options to this logging technique. It affects a number of species, where as, other less drastic options would not demolish these habitats in this extreme manner. It is the pure selfishness of human beings that urges us to ignore these facts! Instead, we concentrate on what many believe is more important; money and a strong economy. I am convinced that with the diverse options available, including selective logging and alternate planning strategies these major logging companies could still make themselves money, while sparing the lives of wild species. In turn, this would keep environmentalists, and animal activists off their back, providing a win-win situation. We have all seen the attention activists can bring to situations and specific companies. If you were running one of these companies wouldn’t you want to avoid any bad publicity that could seriously damage the reputation of your company? Wouldn’t you want to avoid making it look like its being ran by money hungry corporate thugs?

The biggest influence on the population numbers is the clear cutting that is leading to many tragedies in wildlife eco-systems, but scientists are also looking for other possible problems. Some research is being done on marmot fecal and blood matter to test for Yersina and other potential pathogens. There is not very much known about the reproductive systems, but more is currently being learnt at the breeding facilities.
Through my research of the Vancouver Island marmot I learnt that at these zoos, where the breeding is taken place, marmots are being fed rabbit pellets, yams, broccoli, beets, spinach and carrots. This sound nice for the marmots but what I would like to know is how this will affect the marmots when they are returned to the wild. I also learned that they enjoy eating dandelions. I strongly believe that animals being bred with the intention of being returned to their natural habitat should be kept in habitats as similar to he ones they will be returning to. This includes feeding them foods that they can access on their own, in the wild.


Dominic B. said...

This is news to me. Being a recent immigrant to this wonderful island it's a daily discovery. I did not realize there was that special species of marmot right here....very, very interesting!!!

Thanks for that posting!

withthebirds said...

The article you linked to estimates the bones are 2,600 years old not 26,000.