Friday, June 02, 2023

Supporting Island Fox Health Across the Channel Islands

 Every donation makes a difference!

FIF presents support for island fox disease testing

At the Island Fox Conservation Working Meeting on May 20th, 

FIF not only celebrated 


...your donations went to work!

FIF President Mike Watling presented Makenzie Henk, Wildlife Conservation Manager for the Catalina Island Conservancy with $4,100 to support testing island foxes for virus exposure. Catalina Island foxes face the greatest threat from introduced disease. Blood samples from Catalina Island foxes are tested for five viruses. More about this testing and health checks. Interview with Henk and CIC thanks Friends of the Island Fox.

Friends of the Island Fox also funded $4,540 in canine distemper and rabies vaccine to protect island foxes within Channel Islands National Park on San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and the southern tip of Santa Cruz Island. Canine distemper virus is lethal to island foxes and vaccination protects them for almost a year. 

Island foxes across the Channel Islands will be receiving vaccinations as population counting and health checks take place between June and early December. Vaccine will be going out to other islands soon. 

Your donations will help FIF provide 

nearly $13,000 worth of vaccine in the next few months

Friday, May 12, 2023

What Questions Do You Have For Island Fox Experts?

Next week 

the Island Fox Conservation Working Group 

meets for its 

25th Annual Meeting !

It's a time to celebrate the biologists, land managers, researchers, technicians, veterinarians, ecologists, government agencies, academic institutions, and conservation organizations that all came together to formulate a plan and take action to save island foxes from extinction and shepherd their recovery. 

It is also a time to ask questions of the folks that were on the ground trying to discern why island foxes were disappearing on the northern islands in the late 1990s.

And how was it discovered that canine distemper virus was killing island foxes on Catalina Island in the south?

How were the Catalina Island foxes saved from high levels of cancer?

What do we still need to find out about island foxes to protect them into the future?

Friends of the Island Fox 

is looking for your questions

Thursday May 18, we'll be posing your questions to the people of the Island Fox Working Group and videoing their answers.

Send your questions to

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

FIF Research Grant 2023

Friends of the Island is taking applications through August for the

FIF 2023 Research Grant


From dietary investigation linked with territory use to microbes affecting island fox health, new science is revealing the complex world of island foxes and the Channel Island ecosystem.

This year FIF will be offering up to $7,000 in support toward research projects benefiting greater understanding of island foxes and the Channel Islands.

Last year's grant project is working to reveal the Spotted Skunk Genome and how the island spotted skunk is related to mainland populations.

Island spotted skunk origins may help support evolving information on how island foxes initially arrived on the Channel Islands.

More on current and past FIF Funded Research

FIF grant winners are asked to provide public updates on their work. 

See presentations by Fox Researchers for "Date with a Fox" programs

Recently published island fox science

Important island fox research is funded by DONORS LIKE YOU.

It's Science for Fox Sake! 


Thursday, March 30, 2023

Join FIF on a Trip to Santa Cruz Island

Spring is a great time to visit the Channel Islands!

Friends of the Island Fox is headed to Santa Cruz Island for the day on:

May 20th, 2023

We'll check-in at Ventura Harbor at 8:15 am 

and return around 5 pm.

The $75 (per person) registration includes: boat fare, FIF naturalist guides on the island, and a donation to support vaccinating island foxes against canine distemper virus.

4/14/23 Trip is SOLD OUT

Each trip to the islands is an adventure...


... and we never know for sure what wildlife we might see. Island foxes and island scrub-jays are typically seen where we are headed.

The dock at Scorpion Landing is new and only requires two steps on the boat to access a ramp; no more metal ladder to climb.

Reservations are taken on a first come basis. 

4/14/23 Trip is SOLD OUT

Come enjoy the islands, see island foxes, and help protect their future.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Everything You Wanted to Know About Island Fox Pups

island fox pup, courtesy of I. Rose

Across the Channel Islands, island fox parents are finding hidden-away spots for a den where females can give birth to pups. Most island fox pups are born in April.

How big are island fox pups at birth? Small - about the size and weight of two AA batteries.

What do you call baby island foxes? Pups or kits. At birth their natal fur is a cocoa brown and their ears appear small and rounded. The pup pictured was born at a zoo in 2006–at that time there was a small breeding population in a few zoos. Island fox dens are not disturbed in the wild.

When do pups emerge from the den? Typically in June. When pups come out into the world they have replaced their baby fur with a coat that looks like their parents. Island fox fur

How many pups are in a litter? Typically, 2–3 pups are born in a litter. Play between siblings is an important part of learning to hunt and interact socially. If food resources are abundant, an island fox pair can have up to 5 pups. In years of drought, few pups are born. Drought year, 2021

What sounds do pups make? LISTEN to the sounds of a young island fox pup.

What do they eat?
Like all mammals, island fox pups initially nurse milk from their mother. Gradually, they eat prey brought to them by both of their parents. The parent above is bringing 3 island deer mice back to the den. Both parents teach the pups to hunt and find plant foods. Island fox diet

Are island foxes born knowing how to hunt and find food?
No. All of the island foxes currently in captivity were pups that were separated from their parents and did not learn how to provide for themselves in the wild. Island fox pups need their parents to teach them how to hunt and find food.

Video - Island fox pup reunited with mother

Friday, February 24, 2023

Island Foxes on the Cover of Molecular Ecology

Fox Foto Friday - Island foxes make the cover of another scientific journal!


Friends of the Island Fox congratulates Jasmine Lu on the publication of her paper–"Ear mite infection restructures otic microbial networks in conservation–reliant Santa Catalina Island foxes (Urocyon littoralis catalinae)"–in Molecular Ecology

Working with Dr. Alexandra DeCandia, Lu investigated the connections between bacteria communities and ear mite infection to understand why island foxes on Catalina became so vulnerable to cancerous tumors in their ear canals.

When there's biodiversity in an island fox's microbiome, good bacteria can work together to keep harmful bacteria in check. When there is a lack of diversity, opportunistic pathogens, like Staphylococcus pseudintermedius can become the dominant bacteria in a fox's ear. In combination, ear mite infestation and S. pseudintermedius promote chronic inflammation. More on bacterial imbalance in island fox ear canal

Compounding the probability for serious disease, two strains of Staph bacteria appeared to cooperate in forming a "multistrain biofilm." As the bacterial community deteriorated, other carcinogenesis-promoting microbes rose in prevalence and assumed a keystone role in the microbiome. 

A video of Jasmine Lu discussing her work on "Date with a Fox" will be available soon.

Read the scientific paper

Why does the occurrence of ear mites in Catalina Island foxes initiate this bacterial imbalance? Other island foxes encounter ear mites, but a similar imbalance does not occur.

Those smudgy swabs collected from island fox ears during health checks continue to provide data to compare microbiomes between island foxes. 

Your donations helped to fund this important research for island foxes and the furtherance of scientific understanding of the potential role of bacteria in some cancers.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Fresno Chaffee Zoo Helps Island Foxes

What are those island foxes whispering?

They are spreading the word that the Fresno Chaffee Zoo Wildlife Conservation Fund has provided island foxes with a special end of the year 2022 grant.

$2,400 will help fund Canine Distemper Virus and 

Rabies vaccinations

Canine distemper virus is typically fatal to island foxes. To protect them, a minimum number of 100 island foxes are vaccinated each year on each island.

Because the vaccine that is safe for island foxes only provides protection for 10–11 months, island foxes need to be vaccinated every year.

Vaccination takes place during annual health checks.

Catalina Island has an increased threat of CDV for island foxes. Approximately, 350 island foxes are vaccinated each year on Catalina. FIF funds Catalina shots 2022

This year FIF has the goal to provide vaccine for: 

  • 350 Catalina Island foxes
  • 100 foxes on Santa Cruz
  • 100 foxes on Santa Rosa
  • 100 foxes on San Miguel

With support from the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Riverbanks Zoo, and private donors like you, we'll vaccinate 650 island foxes in 2023.

We only need to raise another $2,000 to protect 650 island foxes


Friday, January 27, 2023

Virtual Program: How Microbes Influence Island Fox Health and Understanding Island Spotted Skunks

 Join Friends of the Island Fox for a virtual

"Date with a Fox"

Tuesday, January 31 at 6:30–7:30 pm (Pacific Time)

on Zoom

Hear directly from researchers investigating island fox health and biologists working in the field on the Channel Islands.

Jasmine Lu became acquainted with Channel Island foxes while working on her senior thesis at Princeton under the guidance of Alexandra DeCandia, Ph.D. Their work investigated how mite infection can destabilize the microbial community structure in the ear canals of Santa Catalina Island foxes. Their findings have recently been published in the journal Molecular Ecology. Lu will explain their discoveries; she says "It's exciting to be able to contribute to the growing body of knowledge on this fox population!"



Lara Brenner is a FIF Board Member, island biologist for the Nature Conservancy, and member of the Island Spotted Skunk Conservation Working Group. Island spotted skunks co-exist with island foxes on Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands, but little is known about these tiny predators. As island foxes have recovered, how have island spotted skunks been affected? What are we learning about the relationship between these two endemic predators and what more needs to be investigated? Brenner will provide an update on island spotted skunks.

It should be a fascinating evening. We hope you will join us for this free virtual event. Reservations are required.

Watch The Recorded Program

More on FIF and island spotted skunks

Videos of past "Date with a Fox" programs are available here.

Friday, January 06, 2023

Fox Foto Friday - Rain, Races, & Island Foxes

The rains are bringing renewed resources to the Channel Islands! Time to bask in the sun and be hopeful for a positive 2023.

This photo was taken by FIF volunteer Megan Sarrail in December on Santa Cruz Island. 

Avalon 50K Update - Island foxes are sad to report that Cassidy Smith has sustained an injury making her unable to run in the Avalon 50K on Saturday, January 7. The sponsorships she has received will be carried over to a new race and still go to work helping island foxes. 

While the rainy weather isn't the best for all-terrain races, its a good time to spot island fox tracks.


Tuesday, December 13, 2022

FIF Research Grant Will Investigate Island Spotted Skunk Genome

Meet Julia Owen, a researcher at the University of California, Davis Mammalian Ecology and Conservation Unit. 

FIF's 2022 Research Grant will help process samples in Owen's effort to decode the genome of island spotted skunks and determine their genetic history. When did this island endemic diverge from a mainland ancestor and which mainland spotted skunk is their closest ancestor?


Little is known of the island spotted skunk that shares habitat with island foxes on two islands–Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz. Because island spotted skunks are nocturnal and reclusive, basic knowledge like diet, social behavior, and even when these tiny predators reproduce remains unclear. Yet, island foxes and island spotted skunks have an impact on each other. More on foxes and skunks sharing habitat


Currently island spotted skunks (Spilogale gracilis amphiala) are considered a subspecies of western spotted skunks. Physically they all appear similar to human eyes and, until recently, the relationship between spotted skunks across North America has been regarded as primarily a division of western and eastern species. New genetic research, however, is revealing that there are substantial genetic differences and even reproductive variation between the two groups–western spotted skunks have delayed implantation of embryos and eastern spotted skunks do not. "Delayed implantation" means that spotted skunks in difficult desert, mountain, or isolated environments can breed at a time that is easier to find a mate, but the embryo within the female will stop development for a period of time and then resume development so that birth will occur at a more optimal time for success.

"Through the use of genetic and genomic tools, " Owen explains, "it is now becoming clear that island foxes and island spotted skunks have been coinhabitants of Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands for thousands of years. Investigating the evolutionary history of island spotted skunks will also provide information on the evolutionary ecology of island foxes on the northern Channel Islands."

This work could also help us understand if island spotted skunks should be considered a unique island species, like island foxes. Julia Owen adds, "shedding light on the distinctness of each population of island spotted skunks may help inform and increase conservation efforts on each island."

Friends of the Island Fox participates in the Island Spotted Skunk Conservation Working Group. For more about island spotted skunks check out their website:

See Ellie Bolas talk on preliminary research on island fox and island spotted skunk interactions