Significance to humans

Cave paintings of marmots in France provide evidence that ground-dwelling squirrels and humans interacted as long ago as the mid to late Pleistocene. Historically, marmots were an important source of fat, fur, and meat for early Europeans and an important source of food in Asia. Mongolians did not use marmot skins traditionally but during the twentieth century marmot fur became fashionable in Europe. It is estimated that from 1906 to 1994, Mongolians prepared approximately 132,700 marmot skins per year.

Many of the ground squirrel species are considered agricultural pests. They raid crops, compete with domestic livestock for food, and dig burrows that are hazardous to livestock resulting in government sponsored large scale extermination programs.

Some ground-dwelling squirrels are vectors for human diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and the bubonic plague. Marmots in central Asia are a significant carrier of the plague and therefore a risk to marmot hunters. In Mongolia, marmot hunting is banned in areas known to have plague, yet, without hunting, marmot populations and the area of plague increase. At the same time, plague-free marmot populations are hunted and decreasing—therefore new management policies are required to reduce plague while conserving marmot populations.

An Olympic marmot (Marmota olympus) basking in the sun in Grand Valley, Idaho, USA. (Photo by Lee Rentz. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

1. Eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus); 2. Least chipmunk (Tamias minimus); 3. Woodchuck (Marmota monax); 4. Arctic ground squirrel (Sper-mophilus parryii); 5. Black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus); 6. South African ground squirrel (Xerus inauris). (Illustration by Brian Cress-man)

1. Harris's antelope squirrel (Ammospermophilus harrisii); 2. Idaho ground squirrel (Spermophilus brunneus); 3. European ground squirrel (Sper-mophilus citellus); 4. Columbian ground squirrel (Spermophilus columbianus); 5. Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis); 6. Alpine marmot (Marmota marmota). (Illustration by Brian Cressman)

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