The Vancouver Island marmot is unique to the island. Scientists think the species evolved from hoary marmots that crossed from the mainland and became isolated from that population about 10 000 to 12 000 years ago, during the withdrawal of the Wisconsin glaciation. This species is adapted to a habitat of alpine and sub-alpine meadows and avalanche slopes.
Vancouver Island marmots are chocolate brown with a paler muzzle and often some white hairs on the forehead, chin and sometimes on the undersides. Males, which are larger than females, average about 3.5 kg (8 lb.).
Habitat requirements have naturally restricted the range of this marmot to only a few of the higher mountains on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. There, the small colonies are extremely vulnerable to habitat disturbance, predation and global climate change. Survival of the species has suffered from human interference through logging, recreational activity, and hunting. Its numbers have been declining since scientists first became aware of it in 1910, and in 2004 it was estimated that fewer than 40 animals remained.
This drastic decline prompted the creation of captive breeding colonies at the Toronto and Calgary zoos, the Mountain View Conservation and Breeding Centre in Langley, British Columbia, and the Tony Barrett Mt Washington Marmot Recovery Centre on Vancouver Island. By 2007, successful reintroductions of captive-bred animals had raised the wild population to more than 70 animals.
Ongoing protective measures for this critically endangered species call for no further habitat disturbances, especially logging, mining and ski developments; complete protection from hunting; and a ban on scientific collecting.