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Marmot in the city: New resident of North Vancouver's Lower Lonsdale a 'rock star rodent'

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When Les Robertson was walking home from the gym in North Vancouver's Lower Lonsdale neighbourhood three weeks ago, he did a double take. Standing near a burrow it had dug in a vacant lot near East 1st Street and St. Georges Avenue was a yellow-bellied marmot.

"I thought it was a groundhog at first,” said Robertson. “Then I figured out it’s a marmot.”

He pulled out his cellphone and shot video of the large rodent, and a friend posted it to social media. And that’s how the marmot became a neighbourhood sensation, attracting what Robertson describes as “wildlife paparazzi.”

“I guess because of its rarity, that’s what we figured out. So we named him. Turns out, he’s not the first marmot named Morty,” Robertson joked.

“Everyone seems to know about it, and is quite excited about it,” said Angela Negenman, the City of North Vancouver’s environmental co-ordinator.

“For me, it's been a great learning experience because it’s definitely not something I would typically deal with in the environment on the North Shore.”

Yellow-bellied marmots are known to live in the B.C. Interior. But it’s incredibly rare for one to turn up in Metro Vancouver, let alone in the middle of a busy commuter hub like Lower Lonsdale.

“I wish I knew what his story was. Like, how did he get here? And when?” said Negenman.

Robertson theorizes Morty rode the rails to North Vancouver on a train.

“It's possible it could have hitchhiked, so on the back of a pickup truck or something like that, and found some nice habitat to call home,” said Negenman.

The adventurous marmot likely went unnoticed until the city cleared heavy underbrush on the vacant lot, exposing the animal’s deep burrow.

“So once we knew that this was the case, the project was shut down immediately and I’ve been monitoring it since,” said Negenman.

Now that the lot has been cleared, Morty’s burrow is easer for dogs to spot, and sniff.

“The concern is that a dog or coyote may get the marmot, and we don’t want that to happen,” she added.

The city is reluctant to trap and relocate the marmot, so it’s hoped Morty will move to the city-owned lot right next door, where a boarded up house still stands, and a fence will keep the dogs away.

“There is no plans for this land now, so if we can give some access and habitat to a marmot … if it can have a happy home there? Absolutely,” said Negenman.

Robertson, who hasn’t seen Morty in days, believes that’s already happened.

“He’s moved on,” he said. “He’s found a better burrow.”  

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