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|The Catalina Island fox (Urocyon littoralis catalinae) has been a resident on the Island for at least 4,000 years. The Catalina Island fox is the largest endemic mammal on the Island. A descendent of the gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), it is one of the six recognized subspecies of the Island Gray fox (Urocyon littoralis) that live on six of the California Channel Islands. This subspecies is found only on Catalina Island.
There are differing theories about how the fox came to be on the Island. One theory is that they came from the mainland by floating across the channel on logs or other debris, often during stormy conditions. Another theory is that fox may have been brought to Catalina by the first people to inhabit the Island.
An adult fox weighs 4-6 pounds. This is about 25% smaller than the size of its mainland ancestors. Although diminutive, the fox is Catalina's largest terrestrial predator. An omnivore, its diet includes mice, lizards, birds, berries, insects, and cactus fruit. Taking advantage of many food resources enhances the fox's chance of survival on the Island. Foxes are often active throughout the day, but primarily forage at dawn and dusk.
Foxes are primarily monogamous. Males and females can most often be seen together during the January through March breeding season. Gestation lasts 50-53 days and they have an average litter of 2-3 pups. Family groups stay together in and around the den until early summer, when the young are able to begin foraging with their parents. By early fall, parents leave the natal area, and the juveniles are left on their own until they set out to establish their own territories by early winter. Juvenile foxes will be ready to mate at the end of their first year.
OVERCOMING NEAR EXTINCTION
The Conservancy and the Institute for Wildlife Studies — a conservation organization with prior experience working with the Conservancy on Catalina — formulated a three-pronged approach to conserve Catalina’s endemic fox, which included captive breeding, vaccinating against canine distemper, and wild fox population monitoring.
Because of this program, by December of 2004, over 300 foxes roamed the Island. Approximately 60% of those animals were vaccinated against distemper and 37 were born in the Conservancy’s captive breeding facility. Because of the program’s success, the Conservancy was able to end the Captive Breeding Phase and enter a new phase of rigorous monitoring.
In March of 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Catalina Island Fox, along with three other Island fox subspecies, as “Endangered.” Conservancy scientists are hopeful that the recovery effort will have protected the species and that it may prosper for years to come.
As of the end of 2015, Conservancy scientists estimate there are 1,812 foxes on Catalina. Every fox counts because the animal remains endangered. Conservation scientists are continuing to investigate the prevalence and potential causes of ear tumors (ceruminous gland carcinoma) that are affecting the fox on Catalina.
WHAT CAN YOU DO
Drawing the Catalina Island fox population back to healthy numbers is a serious, high priority project. For your safety and theirs: