Back in 1999, the Santa Catalina Island fox looked like a goner, thanks to a stowaway raccoon. The wayfaring raccoon delivered a cargo of distemper, a virus that kill the foxes. The numbers plummeted from over 1,300 animal to the brink of extinction.
The island fox (Urocyon littoralis) is native to six of the Channel Islands of the coast of Southern California. Each of those islands has a subspecies of fox that evolved separately.
To save the species, the Catalina Island Conservancy and the Institute for Wildlife Studies, set up a $2-million recovery program. The surviving foxes were vaccinated against the virus and a captive breed facility established to boost the numbers.
And it looks like all’s well that ends well: the current fox population on the island is estimated at nearly 1,700 animals, which may be the upper limit the island can support, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Now they just have to get along with us humans, and vice versa. About one million people visit the Southern California island each year, and the foxes are rather fearless. That combinations has led to some problems.
At least 21 animals were killed by cars last year, and others were killed by drowning in water containers, dog attacks and rat poison, according to the Catalina Island Conservancy.
‘“The recovery of the island fox is one of the great success stories of ecological restoration,” Dave Garcelon, president of the Institute for Wildlife Studies, a nonprofit research organization, told the LA Times. “But with no natural predators, this little fox is the king of beasts on Catalina — and that can get it into trouble.”
Trouble or no, the foxes are back.