Jun 27, 2013

Marmot surfaces in San Francisco

Photo credit Ray Moisa.

Photo credit Ray Moisa.

Yesterday, we received a call from our colleagues, WildCare, in Marin. They had been contacted by a resident of Bernal Heights, in San Francisco, about a very large groundhog in their garden. WildCare operates a wildlife hospital, but does not offer field services, so we stepped in to help.

We knew right away it wasn't a true groundhog, but a relative of the Marmotini tribe - a yellow-bellied marmot. They are native to California, but 
live in higher elevations - above 6,000 feet, inhabiting the grasslands and alpine meadows of the Sierra Nevada, Cascades, and White Mountains. 

They are notorious hitchhikers, known for climbing up inside engine compartments of touring vehicles and winding up hundreds of miles from home. Why? They seem to have an affinity for radiator hoses, so much so, the parks warn visitors to beware. The theory is, the marmots are after the sweet-tasting and intoxicating radiator fluid - ethylene glycol. 

At about noon, WES's wildlife capture specialists, Duane and Rebecca, headed for the Bay Area. The duo has experience rounding up the stowaways marmots. A few weeks ago, they pulled one of the stowaway out of a truck in Gilroy (LINK), and another in 2012 (LINK).

When they arrived at the home on Bocana Street, our team was shown where the marmot had been observed over the last few days - in the backyard, coming and going from under a small raised studio.

After confirming the marmot was still under the structure, responders blocked off three sides of the raised building, and netted off an area where the animal would be driven into, with luck.

Despite their best efforts, they were unsuccessful. The studio was low to the ground,of, limiting their ability to chase the animal out from hiding.

Today, Duane set three large cage traps, baited with spinach fried in bacon (a tip from a biologist), apple pie, and nuts, hoping to lure the animal out. The cages were monitored from afar throughout the day.

This evening, when the homeowner went out to unset the traps (to avoid capturing non-target animals), he found the cages had been moved slightly, and the bait was gone from two of them. They will be set again in the morning.

UPDATE: 6-28-13

This morning, WES responders in San Francisco, Mark Russell and Jay Holcomb, replenished and set the traps. Again, they were monitored almost continuously.

The marmot was sighted in the immediate vicinity, but no luck capturing it.

UPDATE: 6-29-13 10:00 AM

WES First Responder Susan McCarthy has just set the cages and replenished them with freshly bacon-fried spinach and grains.

Stay tuned!

Some entertaining links:

Bernal Marmot on Twitter @bernalmarmot

Featured in Bernalwood

Interview with the marmot: SFIST

Of Marmots and Men. A true story.

More on marmots:

Marmots are the largest of the ground-squirrel tribe. Yellow-bellied marmots live communally, in harems, with a single male maintaining two to three females over an area that can be as large as 5 acres. There is a single breeding season, in spring, with the young raised jointly by the females.

Interestingly, research has found that female pups with lots of brothers tend to be 'tom boys'. That's because, in the womb, they were exposed to high levels of the hormone testosterone. Masculinized females tend to be more playful and adventuresome than feminine females. Read more about this interesting phenomenon, HERE.

How this might relate to you? Apparently, more than 90% of Americans have been contaminated by a chemical, 
Bisphenol A (BPA), that mimics the hormone estrogen. The marmot study emphasizes how slight changes in hormone levels within the womb can greatly influence development and behavior. Read one professor's take on it, HERE.

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