Elizabeth Bordeaux’s family was over for a Sunday lunch when they spotted it outside the kitchen window of her South Surrey home.
“It was eating the clover and it was being very careful to eat the leaves of the clover. We don’t particularly like clover in our lawn, so we were happy to see it,” said Bordeaux, who lives on a farm in the Hazelmere Valley. The family had never seen anything like it. Neither had the cat, which scared the critter into a hole.
There were guesses – a gopher, a prairie dog – and online searches – a woodchuck, a marmot. A friend confirmed – it was a yellow-bellied marmot, normally found in the Interior.
The clover-crunching critter made its visit Aug. 14 – and the family hasn’t seen it since.
Peace Arch News sent photos of the critter to Brent Gurd, a wildlife biologist with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, who confirmed the marmot’s identity.
He said the Lower Mainland isn’t this marmot’s typical range – they’re typically found in the south-central region of B.C. and the Rocky Mountains – but the animals frequently get transported here by accident.
“Apparently marmots have a tendency to stow-away on trucks and other vehicles,” he said in an email.
Rogue marmots are best live-trapped by a wildlife rehabilitation centre and released at a designated location for such stowaways, said Gurd.
“The designated site is in suitable habitat, but is isolated from known populations. Since we don’t know where these stowaways came from, we don’t recommend that they are released into known populations.”
At first officials thought only a few marmots were making their way to the Lower Mainland. But a news story about one found in Burnaby a few years ago revealed it wasn’t an isolated case.
Gurd said the story prompted an influx of submitted marmot photos to wildlife officials, proving many marmots were scattered across the region.
In 2012 a yellow-bellied marmot was spotted near the East Beach boat launch in White Rock.
Adam Taylor of the Marmot Recovery Foundation on Vancouver Island said yellow-bellied marmots are known to hitchhike, sometimes hunkering down in the underside of a vehicle and taking an unexpected trip.
Similarly, they’ve been known to hang out in construction materials – such as large-diameter burrow-like piping – and transported by truck.
Said Taylor: “Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of good marmot habitat left in the South Surrey area, and it’s not common to see one there.”