How the Island Fox Was Saved from The Brink of Extinction

Island Foxes Island foxes are charming creatures which are native only to the islands which are located off the coast of Southern California. Living in six of the eight Channel Islands, the present numbers of these foxes is a testament to the huge success story in the conservation of their species.

Read the ways by which the balance of this population was bought back into control.

About The Island Fox 

This species is believed to have evolved from the gray fox species, and retains many characteristics like skin texture while being much smaller in size as compared to their ancestors. The foxes in each island are considered as a separate sub-species due to their differing habits in their respective environments. Bringing their numbers from about 20 in the 1990’s to about 1500-2000 presently was no easy feat and many vital aspects had to be considered.

Captive Breeding

The first step which was taken during the conservation period was to collect the remaining few members of their population. They were then subjected to captive breeding where they were protected from hazards and provided compatible conditions to breed and increase their population.

For this, six separate centers on each of the six islands were created for each of the sub-species. Slowly as external threats were successively removed, these foxes were gradually released into their natural habitats. By 2008, the whole practice of captive breeding was stopped with all the animals being released to live their natural life.

Reduction in The Number of Golden Eagles

The golden eagles were one of the major predators who fed heavily on these small and scurry creatures. An unchecked increase in their population as a result of many factors gradually contributed to the diminishment of the island fox numbers. By controlling golden eagle numbers by capturing them and shifting them to northern California, and also by reducing their other food sources, a positive shift towards the required goal was seen.

Increasing the Population of Bald Eagles

A major reason why the population of golden eagles were kept in check was due to bald eagles. Bald eagles do not prey on island foxes and kept golden ones at bay by dominating their presence within their territory. Their population saw a drastic decrease due to the increased effects of DDT which was heavily used earlier.

Once DDT use was banned and its effects were gradually decreased, a compatible environment for the introduction of bald eagles was made. Reintroduction of bald eagles in the islands started from around 2006 with the main aim to curb the golden eagles. Now with a population of over 60, the bald eagles play their role efficiently in the conservation of island foxes.

Vaccinating Against Rabies and Distemper

The primary reason for the huge reduction of the island fox population within a really short span of time was due to the outbreak of canine distemper. This disease was introduced into the closed environment from an infected raccoon which somehow made its way into the island by escaping during its transport.

The spread of this disease wiped out a large number of their population and started the vicious process of the endangerment of the species. In order to prevent such an outbreak again, the island foxes are continually vaccinated against diseases like distemper as well as rabies.

Bringing Down Feral Pigs

Another reason which increased the golden eagles over the island was the availability of feral pigs as their prey. These pigs were introduced along with others, like sheep and goat which gradually escaped domestication and turned wild.

A group from New Zealand started controlling the swine population which saw an exponential growth on the islands by using guns. After a huge amount of effort which was spread over fourteen months, the pig population was brought down to an extent which did not attract their major predator, the golden eagle anymore.

Tracking and Monitoring

An eye is kept on the lifestyle and numbers of the island foxes by tagging them. Monitoring their food habits and other parameters are critical to make sure that all the money spent and effort taken for their conservation did not go down the drain.

This is done by using radio tracking collars and also by utilizing identification microchips. With these, even the outbreak of diseases is kept in control with regular health checkups being given to the individuals of the species.

This humongous change was brought out due to the collaborative effort of the Channel Island National Park and also by various private as well as government organizations which focused on balance in nature. All this contributed to this project being one of the most successful as well as one of the most rapid ones in bringing such a positive change in the numbers of an endangered species.

Author Bio:

Emily is a fierce nature lover and environmentalist. She takes a lot of interest in conservation activities and takes part in many of them. She also blogs on the various types of bb, airsoft and nerf guns at Shoot And Hide. Camping is another one of her most favourite activities, with her spending most of her time outdoors trying to enjoy the beauty of nature to the maximum.

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Photo by Pacific Southwest Region USFWS, CC BY 2.0

 

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