Monday, February 09, 2009

The Island Fox and the Fishing Hook

Because island foxes live on the Channel Islands and not on the mainland, some people wonder how their actions can do anything to help the island fox. But the island fox is our neighbor and our actions affect the fox directly and indirectly.

For example, someone fishing on or around Santa Catalina Island cut loose or lost a fishing line with a lure. The large lure found its way on shore. Perhaps it smelled of fish, because it attracted a curious and hungry island fox. While the angler had no intention of hurting an island fox, the abandoned lure did not discriminate. The hook lodged in the male fox’s upper and lower lip. He became unable to eat or drink, resulting in malnourishment and dehydration.

Fortunately, the injured fox was caught and taken into the Catalina Island Conservancy clinic on November 27, 2008. The lure was removed and the island fox’s face was stitched up. He was treated with antibiotics and nutritional supplements. By December 8th, he had recovered and was able to be released back into the wild on Santa Catalina Island. Other island foxes treated by the Catalina Island Conservancy.

Abandoned fishing hooks, line and nets can cause unintentional injury to sea life, birds and mammals like the island fox. You can make a big difference for a wide variety of animals by discarding used fishing line and hooks into the trash. If you find abandoned fishing equipment carefully gather it and dispose of it appropriately, but be careful of hooks! Abandoned fishing hooks are dangerous for everyone.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Highlights from the Island Fox Conference 2007

Integrated Island Fox Recovery Team Meeting
June 19-21, 2007

This was the ninth year people concerned with saving the island fox on the Channel Islands have come together to share information and strategies. Some are scientists and biologists working in the field, others represent conservation organizations or government agencies, but everyone has the same goal - assuring the recovery of the four endangered island fox populations and maintaining the health of the two populations on the southern islands.

Reports were provided by each of the land managers or their representatives:
  1. San Miguel and Santa Rosa Islands - Tim Coonan, National Park Service
  2. Santa Cruz Island - Rachel Wolstenholme, The Nature Conservancy
  3. Santa Catalina Island - Julie King, Catalina Island Conservancy
  4. San Clemente Island - Bill Andelt, Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology Colorado State University
  5. San Nicolas Island - Grace Smith, U.S. Navy
  6. Alan Varsik, Director of Animal Programs and Conservation at the Santa Barbara Zoo and keeper of the studbook for the captive San Clemente Island fox population in mainland Zoos.
Reproduction in the wild has been very successful and endangered island fox populations continue to recover. However, golden eagle attacks reoccurred this spring threatening foxes on Santa Cruz Island. Concerns regarding disease are being raised on Santa Rosa and Santa Catalina. Wild fire appeared as a new threat, while public education became vital in helping to reduce an old threat - vehicular trauma. This past year demonstrated how fragile island fox populations are and how important it is to monitor them for the earliest signs of threats that could be catastrophic.

A Glance at the Numbers
There still is a long way to go to reach normal population numbers, but island foxes are increasing in number on all islands.


Southern Islands:

San Nicolas Island (~506 foxes in the wild)
Island fox population studies were completed on San Nicolas Island. All foxes handled had blood drawn and were given identification microchips. Some individuals were vaccinated against distemper and rabies viruses. The San Nicolas Island fox subspecies has shown a slight increase in population and has the highest density for any of the islands - 18 individuals per square kilometer in the coastal dune area. The population appears stable and there is no indication of widespread disease.

On a positive note: In previous years as many as 20-25 island foxes lost their lives to vehicular trauma. Education programs and fox-warning signs have dramatically decreased car-related fatalities. In 2007, only 2 known and 1 possible island fox death were the result of car strikes.

San Clemente Island (~450 foxes in the wild; 11 - in captivity in mainland zoos)
The territories of 71 radio-collared foxes were studied. Foxes that stayed away from roads had a greater survival rate than those that traveled along the roads. While education programs and signs have helped reduce fox deaths related to car strikes, studies are being done to see if more foxes are hit in specific areas where drivers have less visibility.

On a positive note: Fox fatalities due to cars have numbered only 6 for the first half of 2007. This is a dramatic drop from the 55 fatalities in 2005 and 35 in 2006. During this research, island foxes were observed eating prickly pear cactus fruit. A food item not previously known to be part of their diet.

In mainland Zoos, there are currently ten male island foxes and one female. Unfortunately, all offspring born in the zoos have been male. An island fox was born at the Santa Barbara Zoo April 2007. For more: see new pup and hear an update on our Fox Talk podcast.

Santa Catalina Island (~509 foxes in the wild, 1 in captivity)
The Santa Catalina population continues to recover from the near-catastrophic decline of 1999-2000 and island fox density has increased to 3.31 per square kilometer (compare that to San Nicolas Island above). New challenges to fox recovery are cancerous tumors of the ear and wild fire. The Catalina Island Conservancy is working with the Institute for Wildlife Studies (IWS) and the University of California at Davis to culture the ear mites that appear linked to cancerous ear tumors. All island foxes caught are being closely examined. It is unknown whether the ear mites are being transferred to foxes from feral cats, are specific to Catalina, are the cause of the cancer, or if inflammation caused by irritation from the mites is uniquely causing cancer in this fox subspecies. Further study is needed to understand the connection between the ear mites and the growing percentage of foxes with cancerous tumors. Currently, 44% of the population is showing signs of this disease. It is a very high percentage and analogous to the facial cancer that is threatening the Tasmanian devil.

One island fox was injured, but no island foxes are known to have perished in the wild fire that affected 10% of the island (4,750 acres). For more on the Catalina Fire. Friends of the Island Fox donated funds for radio collars for 5 foxes in the fire area including the injured female fox that was released back into the wild on July 11, 2007.

On a positive note: Over 87% of the island foxes on Santa Catalina have now been vaccinated for canine distemper. Public education and a “pet policy” for the island’s interior have helped to decrease the number of island foxes being killed by domestic dogs. Ten roadside fox-warning signs and a speed-feedback machine in a high fox-density area have helped reduce fox fatalities due to car strikes to just 5 for the first half of 2007. The City of Avalon has formed an Animal Task Force to actively address the feral cat population. New GPS tracking collars are being tried on 10 foxes in the burn area and 10 outside of the burn area to track day-to-day movement.

Northern Islands:

Santa Cruz Island (~260 foxes in the wild, 33 in captivity)
Fall 2006, 56 Santa Cruz island foxes were released back into the wild. Released foxes were recaptured 1-2 weeks later to check on their health and none needed to be returned to captivity. 73 foxes were radio collared. While the initial island fox numbers were up on Santa Cruz Island, spring 2007 turned out to be a very dangerous time, especially for island foxes born in captivity. After nearly a year without a death due to golden eagle predation, it is believed a single golden eagle killed 21 foxes on Santa Cruz Island in a few weeks. Most of the caught foxes were young adults that had been born in captivity. As of the Fox Conference, biologists on Santa Cruz Island were still searching for the golden eagle, with hopes of catching it and relocating it back to the mainland.

On a positive note: All 5,036 feral pigs on Santa Cruz Island appear to have been removed; there has been no sign of a pig since January 2007. Without the food source provided by the pigs there will be less motivation for the golden eagle to stay on the island. Captive breeding of island foxes will continue on Santa Cruz and more releases are hoped to occur later in the year.

Santa Rosa Island (total ~40 foxes in the wild; 37 in captivity)
Island foxes continue to be released into the wild. There have been no deaths due to golden eagles since spring 2006, but several foxes have died from unusual illnesses and injuries from other foxes. The National Park Service plans to maintain 12 individuals at a breeding facility for several more years, but will be releasing the others.

On a positive note: Foxes in the wild on Santa Rosa have been reproducing at high rates.

San Miguel Island (80 foxes in the wild; 2 in captivity)
From the most endangered population, with only 15 surviving individuals, the island foxes on San Miguel are making a strong recovery. In November 2006, 16 foxes were released back into the wild. Watch one of the fox releases on San Miguel Island. Foxes as young as one year old are becoming parents, resulting in 32 pups being born in the wild in 2006. There have been no fox deaths caused by golden eagles in 16 months.

On a positive note: Because the San Miguel Island foxes are doing so well in the wild, ALL releasable individuals will be returned to the wild. (Two elderly females will be cared for at the breeding facility.) The last captive San Miguel Island fox is scheduled to be released July 31, 2007. This marks a milestone in helping this population recover from near extinction. Stay tuned for our next Fox Talk and report on the release from Tim Coonan.

New Insights:

- In 2006, the greatest survival threat to the island fox was vehicular trauma. 35% of known island fox deaths last year were car related. The efforts to reduce incidents with cars are vitally important.

- Monitoring island foxes in the wild is imperative to maintaining healthy populations and the ability of biologists to respond quickly to fox survival threats, whether those threats are introduced predators or disease. Radio telemetry collars are being placed on as many island foxes as possible. Other monitoring methods were also discussed:
  1. Automated telemetry systems that would sweep the island picking up signal from all foxes on a daily basis and reporting to a single terminal. Man hours would be reduced but hardware cost is unknown.
  2. Noninvasive fecal genotyping was presented by Melissa Gray, a UCLA graduate student. Even in the small San Miguel population, DNA markers can be found that allow individuals to be identified from DNA in their scat. Collecting the scat, recording locations and correlating the DNA can provide information on an individual fox’s movements in a way that is noninvasive to the individual animal.
To read the complete Summary of the “NINTH ANNUAL MEETING ISLAND FOX WORKING GROUP” with access to some of the participants presentations go to http://californiaislands.org/_wsn/page3.html


Friends of the Island Fox, Inc. strongly supports all of the conservation efforts by the various biologists and organizations working on behalf of the island fox. Our goal is to make the community at large aware of the island fox’s situation and to help all of these positive efforts to Save the Island Fox.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Channel Island Fox Talk Podcast

Happy July 4th!

Friends of the Island Fox is proud to announce our new

Channel Island Fox Talk - Podcast

We hope to bring you interviews and updates with the people that are helping to save the endangered island fox.

Channel Island Fox Talk - Episode 1
  • Pat Meyer, President of FIF and the plans for Fox Talk
  • Alan Varsik, Santa Barbara Zoo Director of Animal Programs and Conservation, with an island fox update
Channel Island Fox Talk

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Friends of the Island Fox Supports Integrated Fox Conference

Saving the endangered island fox requires the efforts of caring and knowledgeable individuals from around the country. The Integrated Fox Conference brings all of these people together once a year.

The third week in June, biologists and scientists will meet with conservation professionals and land managers for each of the Channel Islands to report on the current status of all six subspecies of island fox and to make conservation decisions for the upcoming year.

To support the efforts of the Integrated Fox Conference, this year Friends of the Island Fox is providing a grant to the U. S. National Park Service to help offset the transportation costs of the four veterinarians that provide care to the foxes on the islands and who do veterinary laboratory work during the year. These devoted people help maintain the health of island foxes and move quickly when disease threatens this endangered population.
  • Karl Hill, DVM - Santa Barbara Zoo
  • Karen Blumenshine, DVM - Wildlife Services Associates
  • Winston Vickers, DVM - Institute for Wildlife Studies
  • Linda Munson, DVM-PMI - University of California, Davis
The Integrated Fox Conference is sure to bring to light unexpected successes and new conservation challenges regarding the island fox. FIF will post a summary of the Conference, including an update on the status of island foxes on Catalina Island after the fire.

FIF thanks all of you who have donated toward island fox conservation during the first half of 2007. Your contributions have made this grant possible.

See last year’s
  • Highlights from the Integrated Fox Conference, June 20-22, 2006Highlights 2006
  • Mid year population UPDATE

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Six Islands, Six Different Island Foxes

Island foxes are found on six of the eight Channel Islands off the coast of southern California.
(Where does the island fox live? What is an island fox? Experiencing Santa Cruz Island )

A pair of San Clemente island foxes at the Santa Barbara Zoo. (Where can you see an island fox?)

Island foxes all have similar lifestyles and habits:
  • About the island fox
  • Males consistently weigh more than females
  • What do island foxes eat? Their favorite food is the deer mouse. (Each island has its own subspecies of deer mouse.)
  • Island foxes are good climbers, which allows them to reach bird nests and eggs
  • Island fox pups are born in the spring. Island foxes usually have 2-3, but may have as many as 5 pups

But the foxes on each island are slightly different from each other. The differences are great enough that each island has its own subspecies of island fox.

National Park Service biologist Tim Coonan points out that the San Miguel island fox weighs significantly more than the island foxes on the neighboring island of Santa Rosa.

A San Miguel island fox being fitted for a radio collar.

A pair of Santa Rosa island foxes. (Experiencing Santa Rosa Island)

Tail length is a specific physical trait that varies between the different subspecies. Studies show island foxes from different islands have more or less tail vertebra.

In descending order:
  1. San Nicolas Island 22 tail vertebra
  2. Santa Catalina Island 21 tail vertebra
  3. San Clemente Island 19 tail vertebra
  4. Santa Rosa Island 19 tail vertebra
  5. Santa Cruz Island 19 tail vertebra
  6. San Miguel Island 15 tail vertebra
Between the shortest-tailed island foxes on San Miguel Island and the longest tailed on San Nicolas Island there is a difference of 7 vertebra. Interestingly, Schoenherr, Feldmeth and Emerson point out in Natural History of the Islands of California (Univ. of California Press 1999) that the island foxes on San Nicolas Island appear to have the least amount of genetic diversity. This suggests the San Nicolas population may be descended from as few as a single pair of foxes.

All of the island fox populations are vulnerable because they live in such limited habitats. Small population numbers mean that a single introduction of a disease, like the canine distemper outbreak on Santa Catalina Island, can threaten an entire island fox population. (Santa Catalina island fox Update) Catastrophic events, like the arrival of an unexpected predator–the golden eagle–can cause near extinction.

The island foxes on San Miguel Island were reduced to only 15 individuals because of predation by golden eagles. This genetic bottleneck means future San Miguel Island foxes will be more genetically alike than they were in the past.

Conservation and research efforts are necessary across the islands to preserve and protect the six subspecies of island foxes.

Donations to Friends of the Island Fox supports conservation and education efforts to Help Save all six subspecies of island fox. See how your donations can make a difference.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Island Fox Goes to the Fair

28th Annual Los Angeles Environmental Education Fair
Saturday, March 20 from 9 AM to 4 PM

“A greener tomorrow, today!”

Friends of the Island Fox (FIF) will be at the L.A. Environmental Education Fair (LAEEF) this coming Saturday at the L.A. County Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Arcadia.

“The LAEEF focuses on young people. ... [especially] hands-on activities that engage students in a natural science experience...”

Come out and join FIF for a fun and informative day. FIF representatives will be talking to students and teachers about the island fox and our free outreach programs.

Fox in the Classroom - FIF representatives visit schools with an interactive presentation about the island fox and its Channel Island habitat. (grades 2 - college; Santa Barbara, Ventura & Los Angeles counties)

Fox Ambassador Program - Classes and schools can participate in the Fox Ambassador Program. You’ll play an active role in helping the endangered island fox.

Friends of the Island Fox will also come out to your community group and give a Fox Talk. This interactive presentation will give your group the most up-to-date information about the island fox, its history, research and current status on the Channel Islands.

For more information or to schedule a visit from Friends of the Island Fox contact us at:

(805) 386-0386 or admin@islandfox.org

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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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