Don’t pack away your winter clothing just yet. Van Isle Violet is predicting six more weeks of winter.
The Vancouver Island marmot, a type of groundhog, made a kind of twitching motion when put on the scales for weighing in dim lighting Thursday at the Marmot Recovery Foundation’s facility on Mount Washington near Courtenay.
That was interpreted — you have to use your imagination here — as Violet seeing her shadow, therefore making the chilly weather prediction on Groundhog Day.
“Examined early this morning by veterinarian Malcolm McAdie, Van Isle Violet stirred faintly out [of] torpor, saw her shadow briefly, and promptly returned to hibernation,” the foundation said.
This is almost-two-year-old Violet’s second year in the prediction game. Last year, she correctly predicted additional weeks of cold weather.
“We were still skiing on Father’s Day 19 weeks later last year, arguably making Violet 300 per cent correct. Beat that weather model!” said Adam Taylor, executive director of the foundation.
Endangered Vancouver Island marmots live in mountainous terrain. About 210 marmots are in the wild and another 102 live in the foundation’s captive breeding facility. Of those 102, 52 will be released into the wild this year, Taylor said.
As well, breeding facilities in Calgary and Toronto have a combined total of 45 to 50, he said.
In 2003, there were fewer than 30 wild marmots, but as a result of recovery efforts, by fall of 2021 there were marmots living in 25 colonies on the Island.
Last year’s conditions were challenging for marmots, however — particularly the younger ones.
An extremely heavy late spring snow pack covered grasses and vegetation they normally rely on for food.
That may have limited their ability to regain a healthy body condition after hibernation, the foundation said. Adult and sub-adult survival was good, but very few pups were seen.
Violet has particularly desirable genetics and will likely remain in the captive breeding centre all her life to contribute to genetic diversity among the small population. It’s not sustainable in the wild at this point.
Still in the midst of their hibernation cycle, the marmots were brought out quietly and carefully for weighing.
A video of the weigh-ins shows curled-up furry marmots deep in hibernation placed on scales and then returned to a carrying basket.
Carers do not want to wake up the marmots because that would disturb their hibernation.
At close to four kilos, Violet is considered to be in good condition. “She’s doing fine,” said Taylor, who expects her to gain a little more weight as she fully matures.
It’s typical for marmots to lose some stored body fat during hibernation, but if they lose too much weight, that could be a concern.
To learn more about marmots or support the foundation, go to marmots.org.
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