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Edmonton man becomes 'accidental kidnapper' in Jasper National Park

An Edmonton man recently ran into trouble in Jasper National Park after a hairy hitchhiker hunkered down under the hood of his car.

Vincent Bouchard and his two kids spent the weekend backpacking in the park and they were excited to get home. Unfortunately, the mammal in their engine compartment had other plans.

"We get in the car, start driving and then all the lights start flashing on my dashboard," Bouchard said. "Check engine light, ABS lights, oil, temperature – everything was flashing."

There's no cell phone service on the gravel road to Moab Lake, so the family waited until they reached the highway to pull over.

"I open the hood, I look inside and I am shocked," Bouchard said. "I asked my kids to come out of the car, I just can't stop laughing.

"There's a big marmot – like a really big marmot – sitting right on my engine looking at me and it seemed perfectly happy."

"So that just means I drove nine [kilometres] with a marmot in my engine compartment which is pretty crazy."

Once he had collected himself and taken a few photos, Bouchard got to work trying to get their surprise travelling companion out of the car.

"Which is not an easy task it turns out," he said.

Motivating the marmot with a few gentle pokes from a stick not only didn't help, it made matters worse as the critter buried itself deeper in the engine compartment.

The scene attracted the attention of a passerby, who stopped to offer help. Bouchard said they shared a laugh over the situation before calling Parks Canada, who sent a warden.

"The Park's warden decides first to spray the marmot with cold water, because the marmot was probably pretty warm," Bouchard said. "It helped, she stopped whistling for a little bit.

"She seems happier but she still didn't want to move."

After another round of poking and prodding, the warden called a wildlife specialist who was able to snag the animal using a maneuverable collar.

"So after about two hours, we finally have managed to get the marmot out of my engine compartment," Bouchard said. "But that was not the end of the story.

"You would think everything was good, but then we just start driving again and the lights are still flashing on my dashboard."

With the help of an amused mechanic in Jasper, Bouchard learned the marmot had chewed through a wire under the car and he said he's glad it did.

"If he didn't, I would have been driving all the way to Edmonton probably with a marmot in the engine compartment and then there's a good chance it might have died," Bouchard added.

"[The mechanic] managed to patch the wire and then [we were] back finally on our way to Edmonton, and me and my two kids manage to get back home probably around 11 p.m. . . . but with a really entertaining story to tell.

"You know, it was quite fun."

Dale Gienow, executive director of WildNorth Northern Alberta Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation, said it's not uncommon for drivers to find furry surprises along for a ride.

"We actually see this quite often, both marmots and groundhogs will sometimes end up underneath our cars and they actually do this for a couple of reasons."

Vehicles make good hiding spots and animals can also be drawn to the smell of minerals or antifreeze, which also explains the nibbled wire, Gienow said.

"They can do significant damage and trying to get them out? Not an easy task," he added. "When you're messing around with them, they're just going to hunker down there and try to stay safe as deep in that engine as they can."

For anyone who spends any amount of time out in nature, Gienow said it's always a good idea to take a look before you leave for home.

"Definitely check your vehicle, if it's sitting anywhere for any length of time, for those hitchhikers," he added. "You don't want to be an accidental kidnapper." 

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