Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Island Fox Health Checks on Catalina Island

The Santa Catalina Island fox became endangered when an outbreak of disease, believed to be canine distemper, killed over 85% of the population in just a few years. To help prevent such catastrophic events in the future, biologists across the Channel Islands use the late summer and early fall to count island foxes and give them health checks.

In September, Friends of the Island Fox went out in the field with Julie King, fox biologist for the Catalina Island Conservancy as she did health checks on wild island foxes.

Click to Listen to Island Fox Talk Podcast in the field with Julie King as she examines a young female island fox.

An island fox health check involves:
  • taking the weight - The island fox is weighed while still in the trap.
  • evaluation of over all physical status - The biologist feels the fox’s body for any lumps, bumps or wounds. (photo above)

  • visual check of teeth, coat - Teeth are checked for wear and breakage (this female fox was under 2 years old but had a broken tip on an upper canine tooth); the coat is examined for overall heath and the presence of parasites, fleas and ticks.
  • ear exam - An otoscope is used to look in the fox’s ears. The biologist is looking for ear mites, inflammation and disease.

  • vaccinations - Island foxes receive vaccinations to help reduce the chance of disease.
  • drawing a blood sample - The blood sample provides additional information on health and possible disease exposure. A mask is put over the foxes eyes to reduce the animal's stress while being handled by humans.

How was the island fox caught for the health check?

The island foxes on Santa Catalina are increasing in number, but a new threat is causing them problems, ear mites. Cancerous tumors are forming in the ears of island foxes on Catalina. The relationship between the ear mites and the cancer is currently being studied. Friends of the Island Fox would like to help the Catalina Island Conservancy in their quest to solve this mystery that is posing a new danger to island foxes.
You can help by making a donation through the "Pay Pal" or "Donate Now" buttons at the top right of the page.

Through generous donations Friends of the Island Fox has funded 17 radio collars in the past 2 years so island foxes can be monitored in the wild. Your donation to Friends of the Island Fox helps fund conservation efforts across all of the Channel Islands to help save the island fox.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fire Foxes - Catalina Island Fox Update

Early reports on island foxes surviving the Catalina Island fire are very hopeful.

Ann Muscat of the Catalina Island Conservancy

“Habitat damage is extensive and will require further
analysis. There is no obvious loss of larger wildlife (eagle chicks in nest, deer, bison, foxes). Our staff was able to fly over the Island and monitor for 48 radio-collared foxes and all signals were picked up. This is very good news. Foxes are in the pupping season, however, and staff are now surveying the burn area for females in their dens to see if pups are surviving. A number of iron wood and oak groves were lost, but until we can overlay our vegetation maps onto the fire area, we will not know the full extent of the loss of rare and endangered plant species.”

Julie King, Senior Wildlife Biologist, Catalina Island Conservancy adds the following fox details about four foxes that were sighted in the burn area. Three were non-injured, but one female fox with “severe burns to all four paws, severe dehydration and malnutrition” was captured. The “fox is being treated in the Middle Ranch Veterinary Clinic under the direction of Institute for Wildlife Studies veterinarian Dr. Winston Vickers. An additional fox was captured in the process, a large healthy male, was given a workup, fitted with a radio collar and released at the location of capture.”

As of Saturday, May 26, 2007:

We'll be setting traps all weekend to get a better assessment of potential injuries in the burn area. I'll be sure to keep you updated if we get any additional injuries. On a happy note, the fox we are treating is responding very well to treatment. When caught, she was only 1.2kg and she's now up to 1.7kg. She's eating well and so far there is no sign of infection in her paws. It has only been 5 days, but her feet do appear to be slowly healing. She has a long road ahead of her, but she's doing much better than we had initially expected. Dr. Vickers will be out on June 4th to do an assessment. - Julie King

As the information from the Catalina fire area becomes available we will post it here. Friends of the Island Fox is rallying our resources to see what we can do to help the Catalina island foxes. These island fox survivors of the fire need our support more than ever.

Photos of the Catalina Island fire

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Island Fox Update - Santa Catalina Island

The island foxes on Santa Catalina Island face different survival challenges than the foxes on the northern islands.

In 1999, the Santa Catalina island fox population declined by over 90%.

Only approximately 100 foxes remained because of an outbreak of canine distemper virus. In this emergency situation, the Catalina Island Conservancy (CIC) and the Institute for Wildlife Studies (IWS) created a captive breeding facility to help reestablish a stable fox population. Twenty-two island foxes from the West End of Catalina Island, where the animals were unaffected by the virus, were translocated to the affected East End. A distemper vaccination program was also implemented.

[The fox pictured is Tachi, CIC's education fox. More about Tachi.]

After several successful years, captive breeding efforts concluded in 2004. Since then, the Catalina island foxes have been recovering their numbers in the wild.

Foxes are counted by setting cage traps in specific places, such as the location marked by the colored tag on this bush. The total number is estimated from individuals that are caught. Trapping also allows biologists to check the health of individual foxes and vaccinate them against distemper. The CIC estimates in 2007 that there are approximately 500 island foxes on Catalina. This population is doing well but still has a long way to go to reach the pre-outbreak estimate of 1,342 foxes.

Today, however, the Catalina island fox is facing new threats.
Since 2001, over 37 foxes have been found with cancerous ear tumors (Ceruminous gland carcinoma). These mysterious ear lesions are typically fatal. Currently, the Catalina island fox is the only subspecies with this disease. The Catalina Island Conservancy is supporting research that is being conducted by IWS and the University of California, Davis to determine the prevalence and possible causes for this cancer.

The island foxes on Santa Catalina also have the challenge of sharing their island with people and domestic pets. Cars on the few island roads have been responsible for 9 fox deaths in the past two years (2005-2006). While three more foxes were attacked and killed by domestic dogs.

Signs warning “Watch for Foxes” are one way to alert drivers and new pet policies for the interior of the island require residents and visitors to vaccinate their pets, keep them leashed and to clean up after them.

When visitors dock their boats in Catalina’s harbors they may not be aware of the island fox, just on shore. Friends of the Island Fox hopes to support the Catalina Conservancy in further island fox disease research and public education to help the residents and visitors on Catalina Island understand their role in providing a safe habitat for island foxes.

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