On the Brink


A small chocolate-brown mammal that inhabits the alpine reaches of Vancouver Island in western Canada has found a benefactor in what may be the nick of time. With just 40 Vancouver Island marmots known to exist in the wild and another 40 living in captivity, Gordon Blankenstein stepped forward to bankroll a private conservation effort.

The marmot once numbered 500 to 600 on this island, but logging and large clear cuts have disturbed its normal dispersal patterns and led to inbreeding. The lack of genetic diversity has made the marmots vulnerable to disease, resulting in several population crashes in the last decade.

Blankenstein, who built his wealth trading on the Vancouver Stock Exchange, decided it was time to give back, and he chose to do so by protecting the marmot and several other endangered animals. He has spent $300,000 on a breeding facility and covers the $500,000 annual operating budget.

Biologists from the nonprofit Marmot Recovery Center are capturing marmots from different colonies with subtle genetic differences for a captive breeding program. Pups will remain at the center until they reach young adulthood and then be reintroduced to their natural habitat on Vancouver Island.

To further support the center, Blankenstein is working to raise $6 million. He is optimistic that a third of the funds will come from the public, a third from timber corporations, and a third from government agencies. Ideally, the money will be used to build a high-altitude, quarantine breeding facility on the island. This location is considered critical to avoid exposing the wild population to any rodent diseases unknown on Vancouver Island.

Vancouver Sun
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Linda is responsible for the PERC web sites, media relations, the national journalism conference, and the media fellows program. She is author of Forest Fires, part of a series of  environmental education books for high school students. She also wrote and produced Square One, a newsletter that introduced grassroots environmentalists to market...
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