Endangered Vancouver Island marmot featured on U.S. postage stamp

Vancouver Island Marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) in Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, British Columbia, Canada. Image taken June 28, 2015.
Credit – Alina Fisher, CC SA 4.0.

The endangered Vancouver Island marmot is on a U.S. postal stamp – part of a set of 20 stamps featuring endangered animals.

According to CBC Canada, the chubby little rodent was featured on the Netflix docuseries Island of the Sea Wolves earlier this year. 

If you are wondering why a Canadian endangered animal ended up on a U.S. postage stamp, in a statement to CBC, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) says the Canadian creature was included because it’s one of the “world’s most endangered animals.”

“Its plight points to several key aspects of endangerment: It is affected by climate change, an abundance of predators, and by forestry practices within its small, isolated range,” the USPS said. “It has become a symbol for conservation, as the mascot of the Western Hockey League’s Victoria Royals, for example.”

USPS Endangered Species stamps

The “endangered species” stamps are first-class Forever stamps, now worth 60 cents each after the USPS hiked the price of the postage by 3.4 cents in July.  The price of Forever Stamps is set to go up even more, to 63 cents, in early 2023.

The stamps are being released on a yet-to-be-announced date in 2023 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Endangered Species Act. The legislation is responsible for protecting more than 1,300 threatened species in the U.S.

“The 2023 stamp program features a broad range of subjects and designs. These miniature works of art highlight our unique American culture and offer a broad selection for those looking to collect stamps or send their mail around the nation or the world,” said USPS Stamp Services Director William Gicker in a statement.  

The USPS said the stamps are being released on a yet-to-be-announced date in 2023 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Endangered Species Act. Image courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service.

The Vancouver Island Marmot

The Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) naturally occurs only in the high mountains of Vancouver Island, in British Columbia. This particular marmot is large, compared to 0other marmots and rodents

But it can be said that marmots as a group are the largest members of the squirrel family, with weights of adults varying from 3 to 7 kg (6.6 to 15.4 pounds), depending on age and time of year.

Vancouver Island’s unique marmot species hit a low point of fewer than 30 animals in 2003. But breeding programs at the Calgary and Toronto zoos and at the Tony Barrett Mount Washington Recovery Centre, and additional huge habitat-protection projects have helped to slowly rebuild populations on the Island’s alpine meadows.

In 2013, the population hit a high of 346, but weather and predators, among other factors, took a huge toll. The following year, 266 animals were counted. By 2017, the numbers had dropped again, to 167. Since then, the population has been slowly recovering.

Adam Taylor, executive director of the Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Foundation, said the 2021 count was up to 258 marmots in about 20 colonies.

Researchers are still sifting through “megabytes of photos” taken over the spring, summer, and fall to estimate the 2022 population, but early indications aren’t promising.

This past year has been hard on the marmots. They awoke from hibernation to deep snow, which makes food harder to find and could affect reproduction. The snowpack also lasted long into the spring.

“We noticed a lot of desperate behaviors, like marmots eating tree bark,” Taylor said. “That impacts body condition, especially in females.”

Marmots breed right after hibernation and give birth in June. When marmots have to range far from their dens for food — particularly their favorite, the sugar-laden lupin plant – they are exposed to predators, like golden eagles, cougars, and wolves.

The marmot on the U.S. postage stamp is a male named Herman that was born in the Toronto zoo but never made it into the wild on the Island. Because of health problems, he remained at the zoo until his death, said Taylor, adding Herman was one of the few marmots that didn’t mind being cuddled by humans.

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