Zermatt has a large marmot population, but these cute critters aren’t always welcome in our resort.
Historically, the marmots have lived at high altitudes, above the treeline, but in recent years in Zermatt they have settled in the village itself.
Damage to buildings and gardens
Fields and gardens can be damaged and it’s not unknown for marmots to sneak into houses and even dig below retaining walls, which can threaten the sustainability of buildings.
The only marmots that should be seen in the village of Zermatt are the ones in the famous fountain in front of the Matterhorn Museum.
Marmots hibernate for six months
Legend has it that the first marmots appear in resort on the 19 March – St Joseph’s Day – but this year’s huge snowfall has meant our hibernating friends have been slow starters to discover spring.
Through the winter, marmots hibernate for around six months, slowing their metabolism down and reducing their heartbeat to one tenth of their normal rate (20 bpm instead of 200bpm). In their cosy underground nests, they are able to drop their body temperature as low as 5C.
Theories abound for the increase in marmot population. Many locals believe that by moving into the built-up area, the marmots can effectively hide from their natural predators such as foxes or eagles. Many years ago, marmot was also on the menu in Switzerland, but very few restaurants feature the meat now.
How do you solve a problem like marmot over-population?
The over-population has reached such an extent that Peter Scheibler, head of Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife for the Valais canton has authorized a cull – as already exists for animals such as deer, chamois and foxes – and an extension of the hunting season, which currently runs from mid-September to mid-October for marmots.
There are plenty of opportunities to see marmots in their normal environment, on the slopes around Zermatt.
Walkers and trekkers can follow the resort’s official ‘Marmot Trail’. This short 3.8km walk starts at Blauherd at 2571m and finishes at Sunnegga at 2288m and should take just over an hour.
Be quiet, take your time and you’ll see some of our cute, furry friends – in the environment they should be!