ROGER THE MARMOT is back, and Victoria is relieved. He’s getting up in age, so some fretted that he might not emerge from hibernation this spring.
But no, no, there he was Friday, nosing around the foliage outside the Empress, which has to be one of the tonier addresses in marmotdom.
He had been much friskier the day before, she said, but something — Government Street jackhammers, the beekeepers tending the hotel’s hives — made him go Greta Garbo reclusive Friday. Many of those who came looking for him went away disappointed.
“He was perched on a rock,” she said. “I did a double-take and looked around to see if anyone else was seeing what I was seeing.” Now she’s among those who look for him every day.
This isn’t — officially — how we’re supposed to react to an animal that just showed up one day in 2008. No one knows how it got here. Maybe it snuck on a Victoria-bound transport truck. In any case, it has somehow managed not only to survive but to grow fat on whatever the hotel gardeners plant or the tourists toss its way.
Roger (he’s named after former Empress general manager Roger Soane) was initially greeted with concern. He is not one of our endangered Vancouver Island marmots.
Instead, he is of the yellow-bellied variety, which makes him an invasive species, possibly from Alberta and therefore subject to the speculation tax.
Way back in 2010, B.C.’s environment minister, Barry Penner, citing concerns about yellow-bellies colonizing the Island, confidently declared that Roger would be trapped and deported.
Nine years later, Penner is long gone and Roger remains, albeit alone. (Who is he supposed to breed with? Marty?) Having dodged at least four attempts at capture, he is now venerated in the manner of an aging — marmots usually croak by 15 — outlaw. A sign posted at the edge of his grotto tells his story in fond language.
This is at odds with the way Victorians often treat other animals. The City of Gardens has a less-tolerant, or at least uncertain, relationship with much urban wildlife.
Our ambivalence to the deer that raze our flower beds, ignore traffic signals and talk loudly on their phones in restaurants is well-documented.
Likewise, even Elizabeth May must stifle the urge to go Elmer Fudd on the thousands of once-transient, now-permanent geese that turn every capital region park, beach and golf course into the world’s grossest Slip’N Slide.
This week, we learned of a three-month provincial government pilot project in which trained hawks will be used to shoo sidewalk-fouling, car-splatting gulls and pigeons away from downtown Victoria. (This is not the first time raptors have been used in this way. Note that in the 1990s, after Victoria brought in falcons to scare starlings away from city hall, an unhappy Times Colonist letter-to-the-editor writer answered the question of where the startled starlings had been chased: “I’ll tell you where they’ve falcon gone. They’ve gone to falcon Fairfield.”)
As for cougars, the closer they get to downtown, the more alarmed we become. There were four sightings of a cougar in Colwood on Thursday and it barely made the news, sandwiched between stories about U.S. politics and whatever curiously innovative use of tax dollars Victoria council came up with that day. Yet let one of the big cats run laps behind the legislature, as happened in 2015, and the cameras pursue it like O.J.’s white Ford Bronco.
One of the best cougar stories actually came from the Empress in 1992, when a big tom that wandered into the hotel’s underground parking garage had to be tranquilized.
Either that, or it fainted when it saw its parking bill. The Times Colonist’s Mike Devlin, then a teenage Empress employee, got way too close to that cougar, as it dashed past him in the parkade. Mike also had to be tranquilized.
As for Roger, he provokes another reaction. We have a soft spot for the lone renegades who defy The Man, eluding capture the way Robin Hood eluded the Sheriff of Nottingham.
In 2017, we cheered Metchosin Moodini, the rogue cow who spent several months on the lam (as it were) after soaring over the hedge of its Happy Valley Road farm and hot-hoofing into the bush.
Before that, we had Lucy the Emu, a 150-pound Australian chicken who became such a celebrity after escaping from its Nanaimo-area home that a television network sent a helicopter-borne cameraman to record its capture.
Unlike them, Roger remains free, and we are happy.
Jack Knox is a born-and-raised Kamloopsian who once worked at the Kamloops Daily News. He is now a columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist. Since joining the Times Colonist in 1988, Jack has worked as a copy editor, city editor, editorial writer and editorial page editor. Prior to that he was an editor and reporter at newspapers in Campbell River, Regina and Kamloops. He won the Jack Webster Foundation’s City Mike Award for Commentator of the Year in 2015.