LO­CAL AN­I­MAL - HOARY MARMOT

Whistler Traveller Magazine - - TRAVELLER I LOCAL VIBE -

Whistler Moun­tain and the town are named for the hoary marmot, which in­hab­its high alpine re­gions in the Coast Moun­tains. The mar­mots make a dis­tinc­tive whistling sound and hence are some­times called “whistling” mar­mots or sim­ply “whistlers.” One of six species of mar­mots in North Amer­ica, hoary mar­mots are quite com­mon in the moun­tains of south­west­ern Bri­tish Columbia. Not much is known about their his­toric pop­u­la­tions in the Whistler area, but anec­do­tal in­for­ma­tion sug­gests that their num­bers have waxed and waned since hu­mans first be­came reg­u­lar vis­i­tors to the alpine ter­rain they in­habit, said lo­cal ecol­o­gist Bob Brett, who has stud­ied their habits and habi­tat since the 1980s.

Brett said hu­man dis­tur­bance is just one of many fac­tors that may well af­fect hoary mar­mots’ abil­ity to sur­vive from one year, and decade, to the next. “We know they do well in cer­tain en­vi­ron­ments and they do ac­cli­mate to hu­mans, but the ques­tion is, ‘How much dis­tur­bance can they take?’”

Hoary mar­mots hi­ber­nate up to seven months a year, so one would think that when they’re out of their bur­rows, they would mostly be busy gath­er­ing food to help them sur­vive the long win­ter’s nap. How­ever, hik­ers who en­counter them of­ten see them out sun­ning them­selves on a rock. Brett the­o­rizes that like rep­tiles such as lizards, stand­ing al­most mo­tion­less in the sun helps the mar­mots gather so­lar en­ergy that they need, along with food, to sur­vive the win­ter.

“Mar­mots bask — and I’m not even sure why they bask,” he said, “but the less you can dis­turb them, the bet­ter. Ev­ery time you make them move, that re­duces the ben­e­fit that they get from bask­ing.” If you see mar­mots when out hik­ing, use a zoom lens for pho­tos and try to avoid ap­proach­ing them too closely, Brett ad­vised.

Cli­mate change is an un­de­ni­able cause of the re­duced alpine ter­rain, and over time may lead to a loss of suit­able habi­tat for hoary mar­mots, caus­ing their num­bers to de­cline, Brett said. “I just love that we have wildlife on the hills and if they’re still there in 30, 40 or 50 years, that would be a re­ally good thing,” he said. “It would be a very poor Whistler if, in the fu­ture, we didn’t have the species that our town was named af­ter.”

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