The red-grey, five-pound Catalina Island fox—the Island’s largest native animal—was once plentiful on Catalina Island with about 1,300 animals believed to roam wild in the late 1990s. But that all changed in 1999 when a census showed that just about a hundred of the shy creatures remained.

A Fox Recovery Program initiated by the Catalina Island Conservancy identified the most likely source of the population crash as canine distemper.

The three-part Fox Recovery Program included (1) capture, vaccination, and release of the healthy foxes; (2) captive breeding, and (3) release of pups and monitoring. And in 2004, the program had been so successful that the captive breeding facility—once home to twelve pairs of foxes—was able to be closed and the breeding pairs released back into the wild.

The Conservancy continues to monitor the recovering fox population, and in 2008, a census showed that close to 800 foxes once again roam wild on Catalina! Foxes facing extinction from other causes continue to be monitored and restored by other organizations on other California Channel Islands.

But Catalina’s little foxes are not yet out of the woods. The Island’s fox population faces a new challenge — mysterious ear tumors that infect only Catalina’s foxes.

During monitoring, Conservancy wildlife biologists identify foxes with ear tumors and in many cases, they are sampled by a veterinarian for further study. The tumors often lead to complications that prove fatal to the foxes. So, the search is on for the cause, and for the cure.

You can be part of the solution by supporting the Conservancy’s fox recovery efforts on Catalina now.