Roughly the size of a house cat, these members of the rodent family are extremely sociable, often seen greeting one another with nose-touching and play fighting. When in danger, the Vancouver Island marmot makes a piercing whistle sound, earning it the nickname “whistle pig.” These animals build burrows for giving birth, hiding from danger and hibernating from early October to late April. When spring arrives, they often have to tunnel through several metres of snow that have covered their dens.
Vancouver Island marmots live in subalpine meadows. For an area to offer suitable habitat, it needs to have a soil structure suitable for constructing burrows and enough grass and other vegetation for food. Vancouver Island marmots also use habitats created by clear-cut logging.
As its name suggest, this species occurs only on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. They were once found in many parts of the island but have disappeared from about two-thirds of their historic natural range. Today they are limited to sites on Mt. Washington and the Nanaimo Lakes region. Populations plummeted in the 1990s, and by 2003, fewer than 30 wild marmots were recorded.
Vancouver Island marmots have taken to colonizing clear-cut forests. While these habitats work well in the short term, they become unsuitable for marmots as the logged forests start to grow back. Furthermore, females produce significantly fewer offspring in these areas. Predators like cougars, wolves and golden eagles are major threats — threats that may increase if warmer temperatures caused by climate change reduce the amount of time that marmots spend hibernating in safety.