After more than a year of living exclusively online, Mukmuk the marmot has been freed from his online cage and escaped to store shelves as an official 2010 Games mascot.

The small and friendly Vancouver Island marmot joins Miga, Quatchi and Sumi as the official mascots of the upcoming Vancouver Games. Mukmuk will have his own line of merchandise, including plush toys and keychains. People will even be able to buy his trademark orange and blue toque.

Canada's most endangered mascot

Because of their endangered status, the Vancouver Island marmot has become a symbol for conservation in the province of British Columbia. Their population, once estimated to be over 300 strong in the mid-1980's, declined to less than 75 by 2001.

The name Mukmuk is derived from the First Nations word 'muckamuck', which translates to food. The marmot merchandise goes on sale at HBC stores, including The Bay and Zellers, nationwide at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. He will also be available through the Vancouver 2010 website. 

Meet the mascots

While the other three mascots were revealed in November 2007, Mukmuk was relegated to the online domain to be left as an "online sidekick" to the gang. Mukmuk is the only mascot representing a real animal.

The other mascots are inspired by British Columbia's iconic geography and aboriginal legends. They include:

  • Miga -- a snowboarding sea-bear inspired by the First Nations' legends of the Pacific Northwest. Miga, described as mischievous and outgoing, is part sea-bear and part orca whale.
  • Quatchi -- a shy and gentle Sasquatch with a long brown beard and blue earmuffs meant to conjure the mystery and wonder associated with Canada's wilderness.
  • Sumi -- an animal guardian spirit, who flies with the wings of the thunderbird, is described as "a natural born leader with a passion for protecting the environment."

The mascots were designed by Meomi Design based in Vancouver. The company, headed by Vicki Wong in Vancouver and Michael Murphy in Los Angeles, has created art for Google, game giant Electronic Arts, Time Out magazine and Girls, Inc.

Meomi was chosen by VANOC after an open call for professional artists and design companies to submit proposals on the 2010 website.

The mascots will appear in advertisements for the Games, official publications and websites, and will provide souvenir-minded Olympic fans with stuffed toys and other trinkets to take home.

Mascots provide a lasting legacy

Mascots can bring in millions of dollars in merchandising, leave a legacy of civic pride and provide a visual identity for the Games. The Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) hopes the mascots will bring in $600 million in sales.

A bad mascot can leave Olympic fans cold, as did Neve the snowball and Gliz the ice cube during the 2006 Turin Games.

The first Canadian Olympic mascot, Montreal's beaver Amik, was unveiled during the 1976 Games in Montreal. Calgary introduced the world to Hidy and Howdy in 1988, a pair of cowboy hat-wearing polar bears.

The first official Olympic mascot, Waldi the dachshund, was unveiled in 1972 at the Summer Games in Munich.