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Wild ideas peddled for marmots PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Wednesday, 02 June 2004 15:52
Researchers are hoping the key to survival for the Vancouver Island
marmot could be as simple as peeing in the bushes http://www.canada.com/victoria/timescolonist/story.asp?id=778D6DBB-9CB0-4E69-92FD-02DED96E086B

Wednesday, June 2, 2004
Wild ideas peddled for marmots
Scott Peterson
Times Colonist

Researchers are hoping the key to survival for the Vancouver Island
marmot could be as simple as peeing in the bushes.

A fleet of creative ideas will be put into play this summer in the
mountainous areas of Vancouver Island where Canada's most endangered
mammals live. It's hoped the presence of human urine in the marmot's
habitat, o­ne of the proposed methods, will discourage predators such as
wolves and cougars from stalking the dwindling species.

"We have no idea whether this will work, but we're basically trying to
throw a battery of ideas at the problem in the hope we can cut down o­n
the (risk of predators)," said Andrew Bryant, lead scientist with the
Marmot Recovery Foundation.

"About the o­nly thing we can do is try everything."

The number of researchers and observers in the marmot's habitat will be
doubled this year, to about 16 this year, to shepherd the marmots and
put the survival plan into place. The human scents they create (like
urine and sweat) as they follow the house cat-sized animals in the
wilderness could help keep predators at bay.

Other methods introduced include hanging clothing outside in
scarecrow-like fashion, and erecting basic twine or wire fencing with
flagging attached, which has been proven to act as a psychological
barrier and deterrent to wolves in past experiments.

Bryant said the goal is to reduce the number of marmots eaten this
summer, not stop it all together. If that is accomplished, he believes
the wild marmot population will continue to grow stronger.

However, he admits it's almost impossible to evaluate how effective
each method is overall because of the small population they're dealing
with and the large set of variables the marmots encounter in the wild.
It's tough to separate luck and circumstance from success and failure
rates of the methods used.

All of the new experimental techniques will be non-lethal in the wake
of the province's controversial decision to kill six golden eagles in
the past. Bryant said that action may have been unnecessary given
evidence the eagles are not a major predator of the marmots.

Bryant's team will also carry bearbangers with them, which are a cross
between a flare and a firecracker, to scare off any eagles or other
animals suspected of poaching around the marmot burrows. The bangers
explode with a loud noise after travelling 40 metres.

Chris Genovali of the Raincoast Conservation Society believes these
methods are a step in the right direction -- away from the culling of
other species.

"Yes these methods are unproven, but lethal predator control is just as
unproven," said Genovali.

"It's every bit as experimental and more dangerous than non-lethal
methods," said Genovali

The new survival measures come after disastrous results last year when
three of the four marmots released into the wild were eaten by cougars.
The fourth was returned to captivity before it could suffer a similar
fate. o­nly 15 Vancouver Island marmots are known to exist in the wild,
around Mount Washington and the Nanaimo Lakes area. Each o­ne has been
fitted with radio-telemetry devices so its movements and survival can
be tracked.

Unlike its brethren in the wild, the captive population has thrived in
recent years. There are currently 78 marmots living in captivity at the
Calgary and Toronto zoos, Mountain View Farm in Langley, and at Mount

There have already been eight litters of pups this year, which is a
world record, and the possibility of more to come. This success means
10 to 15 two-year-old marmots could be released into the wild this

"We're just trying to stack the odds in the marmot's favour," said
Bryant about the challenge of helping the majority of this year's
release survive.

Researchers are hoping to "baby-sit" the marmots with a variety of
short-term solutions until a more natural population level of 400 to
600 is achieved. It is hoped that in 20 years, the clearcuts blamed for
altering the marmot's habitat and drawing predators into the area will
have developed into lush forests again. This may create a long-term
solution of returning the environment and predatory practices to the
way they were when marmots thrived.

Bryant says while it's possible to breed the desired number of marmots
in captivity and release them then, this would cost the animal its
"wild marmot culture." A number of the genetic survival traits fostered
in the wild by the marmot would be altered, leaving the mammal
biologically extinct if not physically extinct.

The foundation has an annual budget of $870,000, which includes money
from government, public donations and timber companies.

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? Copyright 2004 Times Colonist (Victoria)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 June 2004 15:52

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