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 1300 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 volunteer pilot flies a Conservancy wildlife biologist 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, and has installed a portable radar speed feedback sign reminding motorists to keep their vehicles at 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 2010, Conservancy scientists estimate there are 1,008 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