Captive Breeding Program that Prevented Extinction of Endangered Island Fox Ends

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Date: October 24, 2008
Contact: Yvonne Menard, 8805-658-5725

The endangered island fox, one of America’s rarest mammals occurring only on the Channel Islands, are being released to the wild, bringing an end to the captive rearing program and closing the one remaining captive breeding facility on Santa Rosa Island.

This week Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett took part in this landmark event for island fox recovery by personally releasing a pair of foxes to the wild on Santa Rosa Island. In all, 31 foxes are being released this fall with the final pair set free on November 7, 2008.

The fox population on the northern Channel Islands has steadily grown by 20 to 30 percent per year since four of the six subspecies were listed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) as a federally endangered species in March 2004. By the late 1990s predation by golden eagles caused a decline in the island fox population of over 90 percent.

“This early and remarkable sign of recovery appears to be one of the quickest recoveries of an endangered species in the history of the Endangered Species Act,” said Deputy Secretary of Interior Scarlett. “We hope to see the fox population grow within a few years to a level sufficient to consider their removal from the list of endangered species.”

At the lowest point, in 1999, there were only 15 foxes each on San Miguel and Santa Rosa Islands—a catastrophic drop in fox numbers from 450 and 1,500 respectively. In 2000 there were less than 70 foxes on the largest Channel Island, Santa Cruz. Today there are over 650 foxes thriving in the wild on the northern Channel Islands. This past decade 225 fox pups were born in captivity, and 254 foxes have been released to the wild.

With fox recovery on the rise, the one remaining captive breeding facility on Santa Rosa Island will close. Captive breeding—set up as insurance against the loss of foxes from golden eagle predation—is responsible for saving the island fox from the brink of extinction on Santa Cruz, San Miguel, and Santa Rosa Islands. The captive breeding facilities were closed on Santa Cruz and Santa Miguel Islands in fall of 2007.

The captive breeding program has been just one of many measures to save the island fox. Several organizations have worked cooperatively to restore balance to the island ecosystems by relocating golden eagles that were responsible for the near extinction of the island fox, reestablishing bald eagles, and eradicating feral pigs.

Status of Endangered Channel Islands Fox

  • Wild Population 1999-2000
    • San Miguel: 15
    • Santa Rosa: 15
    • Santa Cruz: <70
    • Total: <100

  • Wild Population in 2008
    • San Miguel: 130
    • Santa Rosa: 110
    • Santa Cruz: 410
    • Total: 650

  • Captive born pup 1999-2008
    • San Miguel: 53
    • Santa Rosa: 87
    • Santa Cruz: 85
    • Total: 225

  • Foxes Released to the wild
    • San Miguel: 62
    • Santa Rosa: 93
    • Santa Cruz: 99
    • Total: 254

  • Foxes released 2008 to wild
    • San Miguel: 0
    • Santa Rosa: 31
    • Santa Cruz: 0

The Nature Conservancy, co-owner of Santa Cruz Island with the National Park Service, is committed to continue efforts to restore the balance of the island ecosystem and preserve the biological richness of the northern Channel Islands for future generations. For more information on The Nature Conservancy go to:

The Institute for Wildlife Studies, a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of wildlife species, has conducted bald eagle restoration on Catalina Island for over 25 years, as well as efforts on the northern islands within Channel Islands National Park. For links to webcams on Catalina and Santa Cruz Islands go to:

The bald eagle restoration efforts on the Channel Islands are funded by the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program (MSRP), a multi-agency government program dedicated to restoring natural resources harmed by DDTs and PCBs released into the environment. Further information on MSRP can be found at:

For additional island fox information:

Last updated: February 27, 2015

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