My Tryst with Himalayan Marmots

Posted on
20 May 2021

My recent trip to Laya, one of the highland villages under Gasa district in the northwestern part of Bhutan brought in my tryst with a big rodent that I have been aspiring to sight for a couple of years. This time of the year has been lucky to spot not just one but 4 rodents in a day. This was an amazing moment. It was brought to our notice when we heard a shrill alarm cry as an eagle was soaring above herders’ camp. As we looked towards the open alpine meadows, we spotted two Himalayan marmots within the distance of 50 meters from the herders’ camps. That was a big triumph after attempting for so many times to sight in other similar habitats. I always love seeing species of wild animals and birds in addition to landscape that I had not seen before whenever I get a chance to travel to new places or same places which is the perk for working in WWF.
What do you know about Himalayan marmots? Here are some important facts  about the animal that I found out from the website: and verbatim produced below albeit selectively.
Geographic Range
Himalayan marmots (Marmota himalayan) are restricted to high elevation regions of northwestern south Asia and China.
Himalayan marmots are found most often between timberline and snowline, at elevations of 3,500 to 5,200 masl. Himalayan marmots occur primarily in dry, open habitats, including alpine meadows, grasslands, and desserts. Like other marmots, Himalayan marmots dig large burrows, which generally restricts them to areas with light-textured and adequately deep soil. The burrows of Himalayan marmots are exceptionally deep, typically ranging from 2.0 to 3.5 m.
Physical description
Himalayan Marmots, members of Genus Marmota are generally referred to as large ground squirrels. Marmots are large terrestrial rodents with stout limbs and short tails. Himalayan marmots are similar in size to an average house cat. They are generally larger than other marmot species across their native range. Himalayan marmots are particularly stout-bodied and range in length from 475 to 670 mm. The have relatively large skulls, ranging from 96 to 114 mm in length, and exceptionally large hind feet, which range in length from 76 mm to 100 mm.
Himalayan marmots are diurnal, with activity peaking during morning and late afternoon. All marmots are social, living in colonies of up to 30 individuals. In Himalayan marmots, colony size is largely dependent on resource availability. A visible social interaction among marmots is their greetings, a behavior common to many rodents.
Communication and Perception
Marmots have strong tactile sense, well-developed for burrowing. Quick reflexes also allow marmots to respond rapidly to their wide range of environmental influences and social interactions. Marmots are highly alert and rely heavily on visual and auditory senses to alert to potential predators. Himalayan marmots often communicate by whistling or chirping, and using physical behaviors. When a predator is detected, they produce a series of alarm calls, which have been observed in many marmot species.
Food Habits
Himalayan marmots are herbivores. Old plant growth is commonly avoided due to the presence of alkaloids, which emit a bitter, metallic taste. Most marmots prefer flowering plants because they are more palatable, and select forage containing higher amounts of protein, fatty acids and minerals. Himalayan marmots are sometimes sympatric with livestock (e.g., domesticated yaks) and feed in same pastures.
Predators of Himalayan marmots include snow leopards, Tibetan wolves, and large birds of prey like bearded vultures and golden eagles. Himalayan marmots are important prey for snow leopards, and evidence suggests that they make nearly 20% of the snow leopard diet. Brown bears may also prey on Himalayan marmots.
Ecosystem Roles
Himalayan marmots are important prey for snow leopards, which are classified as endangered on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. They are also important prey for a number of other predatory mammals and birds. As burrowing animals, they likely help increased soil aeration and water penetration throughout their geographic range. In addition, abandoned burrows likely serve as habitat for numerous other species of small mammals.
Conservation Status
Although current population trends are unknown, Himalayan marmots are classified as a species of least concern on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. They are locally abundant throughout the geographic range and show no signs of decline. 
Sither Tenzin
WWF Bhutan