A University of Calgary master's student has won an award from Labatt Breweries for her work with marmots, an endangered species.
Diane Casimir, who is pursuing a master's in ecology, applied successfully to the Labatt People in Action Program. The program provides 16 weeks of minimum wage and, once in the program, Casimir's supervisor nominated her for Labatt's Future Leaders Award worth $1,500.
"When I heard I was the recipient of the Future Leaders Award for Western Canada, I was overjoyed," said Casimir. "I don't work with endangered species for the individual recognition it brings, however it is extremely rewarding to receive support for my dedication to this field."
Casimir's work focuses on the breeding habits of marmots. Very little is known about the animals, and through Casimir's work with captive marmots she hopes to help the endangered species. There are only 30 Vancouver Island marmots left in the wild, with another 78 in captivity.
"I'm an animal lover," explained Casimir of her passion for her research. "I feel we have a moral obligation because we're in the middle of an extinction crisis. The rate of species loss is higher than the dinosaur extinction. I can't stand by and let it happen."
Her research measures factors affecting breeding. Any data taken from captive animals is compared to a wild Vancouver Island marmots study conducted in the '70s.
"We're looking for differences and we test against environmental factors like how long they've been in captivity or the weather," explained Casimir. "They're shy animals and we don't see them. In the enclosure [in Toronto Zoo and Calgary Zoo] there are infra-red cameras turned on during the breeding season.
Casimir is hopeful she'll complete her degree in June after two and a half years of work. She also hopes her work with the marmots continues.
"The thoughts of a PhD flit through my mind," she said. "Maybe traveling. I did a lot of work with parrots in Mauritius. They're phenomenal animals."