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Hitchhiking marmot visits Canada and returns safely home to Aspen

The hitchhiking marmot looks mischievously at the camera while being transported in a crate. There is shredded paper and green leaves as padding.
Mysti Tatro
Greenwood Wildlife
The hitchhiking yellow-bellied marmot on her trip back to Colorado.

Canadian travelers that had been camping in Aspen in May found quite the souvenir when they got home to Toronto. A set of whiskers was poking out from the underside of the car, belonging to a yellow-bellied marmot that had stowed away for the whole six-day journey across the border.

When municipal animal controls in two cities and a nervous mechanic couldn’t help, the travelers reached out to the Toronto Wildlife Centre. Their rescue team was able to get the marmot out from the car’s engine compartment and to the animal hospital for examination. Medical examiners determined that the marmot, an adult female, was in good health, though dehydrated and showing signs of stress.

Yellow-bellied marmots typically live in the western part of the U.S. and Canada and are not endemic to Toronto. So, wildlife experts got to work on an international rescue plan.

Toronto Wildlife Centre worked with Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Longmont and the Colorado-based Pauline Schneegas Wildlife Foundation to ensure the marmot was fed properly and that she had a comfy enclosure from which she wouldn’t escape. Meanwhile, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service got to work on permitting.

Nearly two months later and the marmot was put on a flight home.

Mysti Tatro, community relations coordinator with Greenwood Wildlife, was at the Denver airport to pick her up. Tatro recalled listening to the marmot in her crate on the drive to the mountains. “I'd hear her shuffling around in there, nibbling on some grass. And they have a really cute sound.” Tatro describes it like the high-pitched chirp of a smoke alarm that needs new batteries.

But why did the marmot climb under the camper in the first place? Was she really just eager to hit the road Jack Kerouac style?

“No,” Tatro said, laughing, “it's not like they're like I'm outta here. Ready to go to Canada. Cost of living, it sucks here.”

The marmots like to cozy up to warm car engines while hikers are out on the trail.

Tatro recommends that if you’re going up into the mountains to check your vehicles “all around in the wheel well, underneath the hood, everywhere that you can that a marmot might have access to because it happens all the time.”

Tatro recalls 23 instances of marmots escaping the Front Range since 2008, most of them she calls hitchhikers.

I’m a reporting fellow visiting from National Public Radio. I work on newscast, covering breaking news and important stories affecting communities in the Front Range.