North America’s Most Endangered Animals
Snails, marmots, condors and coral reef are among the many species on the continent that are close to extinction
- By Megan Gambino, Erin Wayman and Sarah Zielinski
- Smithsonian.com, May 19, 2011
(Jared Hobbs / All Canada Photos / Corbis)
As its name suggests, this furry herbivore, about the size of a large house cat, is found only on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Small colonies of one to three family units live in high-elevation forests on the island. No one is quite sure how many marmots there were before counting began in 1979, but numbers dwindled from a high of several hundred in the mid-1980s to a mere 35, all in one spot, in 2004.
Researchers are still studying the reasons behind the marmot’s decline, but clear-cutting the island’s forests likely had some effect. Without the cover of trees, the marmots may have become more vulnerable to predation by birds, wolves, cougars or a combination of the three. A captive-breeding program has had some success, and dozens of marmots have been released on Vancouver Island since 2003. However, there are still some worries, as a recent study found that captive-born marmots are even more vulnerable to golden eagles than their wild-born brethren. – SZ