The Catalina Island fox is found on Catalina Island and nowhere else in the world. An adult fox weighs just 4 to 6 pounds and is about 25% smaller than its mainland ancestor, the gray fox. Its diet includes mice, lizards, birds, berries, insects, and cactus fruit. It is Catalina's largest terrestrial predator.
In late 1999, an outbreak of distemper virus caused the fox population to plummet from about 1,300 to just 100 animals. In 2000, the Catalina Island Conservancy and its partner, the Institute for Wildlife Studies, implemented the Catalina Island Fox Recovery Plan. The plan combined relocation, vaccinations, captive breeding and release, and wild fox population monitoring.
The effort was a startling success. In 2004, Catalina’s fox population had grown to approximately 300. Because of its success, the captive breeding portion of the program was discontinued. That year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Catalina Island fox as a federally endangered species.
Today, monitoring continues. Weekly, a pilot with the Institute for Wildlife Studies flies above the Island to track the nearly 60 foxes equipped with telemetry collars. Once a year, foxes are counted and checked for illness during a large-scale trapping effort.
A serious health concern is an unusual ear cancer detected, especially in older foxes. Vehicle trauma, however, continues to be the number one cause of fox mortalities. The Conservancy has erected signs warning that foxes are present. It is important that vehicles travel 25 mph or less, especially in the early mornings or dusk, when visibility is not optimal and when the foxes are active.
As of the end of 2013, Conservancy scientists estimate there are 1,852 foxes on Catalina. Conservation scientists are continuing to investigate the prevalence and potential causes of ear tumors (ceruminous gland carcinoma) that are affecting the fox on Catalina.
To make a donation in support of the Catalina Island Fox Program, note it on your check and mail it to: Catalina Island Conservancy, PO Box 2739, Avalon, CA 90704. Or specify your wishes and donate online.
Catalina's foxes in the news...
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 1/29/10
Los Angeles Times 2/4/09
Avalon Bay News 2/12/09