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Record Number of Endangered Island Fox Pups Born
Contact: Yvonne Menard, 805-658-5725
A captive breeding program designed to restore the endangered island fox to the Northern Channel Islands produced a record 38 pups this year. Over the past year biologists also recorded the births of 52 new pups in the wild, the National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy announced today.
"This was an exceptional mating season for the island fox, both in captivity and in the wild," said Channel Islands National Park Superintendent Russell Galipeau. "We saw more pups born in captivity this year than in any other year since our island fox breeding program began in 1999."
Of the new fox pups born in captivity, 20 were born on Santa Cruz Island, 10 on San Miguel and eight on Santa Rosa. Of the new pups recorded in the wild over the past year, 43 were born on Santa Cruz, four on San Miguel and five on Santa Rosa.
The wild pups on San Miguel Island are the offspring of two captive-born pairs released into the wild last fall. All 10 foxes released to the wild last year have survived. All four of the released female foxes have paired up with mates and have produced at least two wild litters, despite the fact that these females were juveniles and not expected to breed. Conditions on the island are prime for breeding with plenty of available food and with no sign of golden eagles. After having been without foxes in the wild for the past four years, San Miguel Island now has at least 14 foxes living in the wild.
"We're very encouraged by the high number of fox births this year, particularly of those born in the wild on Santa Cruz Island," said Dr. Lotus Vermeer, Director of The Nature Conservancy's Santa Cruz Island Preserve. "Within the past few months, the recorded population of wild foxes on the island has increased by more than 50 percent to about 125 foxes, which is phenomenal".
"As long as we stay on track with the broader restoration program, the island fox has an excellent chance at recovery in the Northern Channel Islands," Vermeer said.
The National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy are engaged in a comprehensive recovery program to save the island foxes by breeding them in captivity, relocating golden eagles, and eliminating non-native feral pigs from Santa Cruz Island. Island foxes on the Northern Channel Islands declined by over 95% between 1994 and 2000. In March 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed four subspecies of island fox as endangered, including the three subspecies on San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz Islands.
This spring, three golden eagles from Santa Rosa Island were relocated to the mainland, bringing the total number of golden eagles relocated since 1999 to 41. Nine island foxes have been killed by golden eagles in the past eight months?four on Santa Cruz and five on Santa Rosa Island. There are believed to be as few as six golden eagles remaining on the northern Channel Islands.
Bald eagles are re-establishing a presence on the northern islands. Twenty of the 34 bald eagles released on Santa Cruz Island since 2002 remain on the Northern Channel Islands and an additional four bald eagles from elsewhere have taken up residence. It is hopeful that bald eagles will reclaim their historic territories and displace the recently resident golden eagles.
Did You Know?
Island foxes are the smallest North American canids and occur only on the Channel Islands. The average weight for an adult male is 5-6 pounds, about the size of a house cat.