Friday, May 10, 2019

This Island Fox Pup Needs You!

Across the Channel Islands, winter rains have renewed the native island plants and increased food resources for island foxes. 

2019 should be a good year for island fox pups!

Most island foxes are born in April. For the first several months of their lives, they depend on their mother for milk. Both parents will then bring food to the youngsters back at the den. Pups, generally, emerge in June and over the summer their parents teach them how to hunt and find native fruit. Healthy island fox parents have a head start in raising healthy pups.

You can help keep island foxes healthy and safe. 

This year the need for radio-tracking collars is greater than ever.

On each island 50–60 island foxes wear radio-tracking collars. Each year 30% to 50% of the collars need to be replaced or refurbished.


In 2019, Friends of the Island Fox is trying to fund:
island fox is vaccinated during health check
These radio collars will be assigned to island foxes this summer and fall during annual counting and health checks. A radio-tracking collar monitors an island fox's movements and signals to biologists when an island fox has died. Radio-tracking collars provide the first alert that disease, parasites, or unexpected predators have killed an island fox.

The sooner biologists can respond to a new threat, the more island foxes can be protected.

Friends of the Island Fox is also helping to fund important investigations into new health threats facing island foxes:
photo courtesy of Inge Rose
Foxes need your help with science-based solutions.
  • $25 tests a tick sample for 5 diseases
  • $50 checks two blood samples
  • $100 analyzes diet from 10 whisker samples
  • $220 refurbishes a used radio collar
  • $350 funds a new radio collar
Island foxes need all of us to help assure the pups of 2019 grow up in a healthy island fox community.

Please DONATE today

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Fox Foto Friday - Urocyon littoralis

The island fox's scientific name is Urocyon littoralis which means "tailed dog of the seashore." 

Though the fox's tail isn't all that visible, this photo gives a true sense of the fox in it's seashore habitat. (More on each island habitat.) This image was taken by an automated wildlife camera on Santa Rosa Island during the early days of island fox recovery. Feeding stations were set-up for foxes with supplemental food until they eased back into finding their own natural diet.

island foxes in captive breeding 2000-2008
After the Santa Rosa Island fox population declined from approximately 1,800 animals to only 15 surviving individuals, their future was questionable. Island foxes born at a captive breeding facility on the island were gradually released into the wild from 2003–2008. Why did island foxes become endangered?

Today island foxes on Santa Rosa Island have recovered to pre-crisis numbers and Friends of the Island Fox supports island fox health investigations, research, and radio-tracking collars used to monitor the population. In 2019 wildlife cameras are being used in the field again to investigate relationships between island foxes and islands spotted skunks.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Friends of the Island Fox Research Grant 2019

Friends of the Island Fox is currently accepting applications for the 2019 FIF Research Grant.

The mission of Friends of the Island Fox (FIF) is to bring together conservation professionals and concerned private citizens to create public awareness about the island fox and to raise funds to support education, research, and conservation measures to ensure the island fox's survival and protect its island home.
In 2019, Friends of the Island Fox is making $5,000 available in grant funding to researchers working on projects that align with our mission.

Applications will be accepted through July 12, 2019. Recipients will be notified September 9, 2019.

  • What is the typical size of island fox territory? 
  • How has the genetic bottleneck of 2000 impacted genetic diversity of island foxes on Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands? 
  • What are the greatest disease threats to long-term island fox survival? 
  • What is the relationship between island foxes and island spotted skunks?
  • What is the best scientific method to determine island fox age? 
The more we know about island foxes, the safer their future will be.

Previous FIF Research Grant Recipients
2018 - "The Channel Island Food Web–A Decade of Dietary Resource Use in Channel Island Fox: Implications for Reproduction, Recruitment, and Resilience in a Changing Climate." - Juliann Schamel, 2019 Update

Your donations to Friends of the Island Fox
help make this research grant possible

Friday, April 05, 2019

Fox Foto Friday - Foxes and Spotted Skunks

How can we enter the world of the island fox and the other animals that live on the Channel Islands without disturbing their natural behavior? One way is with strategically placed movement-activated cameras.

Researchers found an area with evidence of island fox activity. Evidence like tracks and scat. They positioned the special camera and left it to document the animals that walked past. Not only was an island fox using this area of Santa Rosa Island, so were the two spotted skunks, pictured below. Both were using the area at night.

Notice that the dates on the two images are months apart. Still, images like these are helping to provide information to better understand the interactions between species and the species themselves. Island spotted skunks are considered solitary creatures, yet the image captured two together. The biologists titled this image a "rumble." What brought these two skunks together? Territorial dispute? Mating season? There is so much to learn about the lives of island foxes and their neighbors.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Island Fox Whiskers Go to the Lab

Schamel with island fox following the fox's health check.
FIF Research Grant recipient Juliann Schamel has been collecting island fox whiskers to study the diet of island foxes through stable isotope analysis. Her research project is in conjunction with Dr. Seth Newsome and the Center for Stable Isotopes at the University of New Mexico.

Juliann says "Once I learned how stable isotope ecology works and what we could learn about island fox ecology from this method...I was hooked. The invisible chemical world can reveal fascinating connections within food webs and beyond." More on stable isotopes

"This year, with the support of Friends of the Island Fox and [another conservation fund], we are able to investigate a variety of conservation-geared questions about island fox diet on San Miguel and Santa Rosa Islands. We are looking into how diet differs among habitats on the islands, among demographic groups, and between island fox and island skunk. We are also assessing if and how fox diet has changed over time (2010–present) in response to things like density changes in the fox population and rainfall (drought conditions). This last question may have important implications for the ecology of the acanthocephalan worm, a novel parasite that appeared in the San Miguel Island fox in 2012 (at the beginning of the drought) and has spread through the fox population."

The spiny-headed worm, a species of Acanthocephala, has been implicated in the low population numbers on San Miguel in recent years. Parasite threatening San Miguel Island Fox.

"By using whisker samples that are linked to a known individual with a known history within the island fox monitoring program," Schamel says, "we are able to track the diet of individuals over time to see if and how their diet may have fluctuated during the drought or as they moved to a new habitat."

A number of whisker specimens were collected this winter, including in the beach/dune habitat on Miguel and Rosa where island foxes are not typically counted. This will provide data on dietary resources in the marine adjacent habitat that has not been collected before. Schamel says "I am very excited to run these samples!"

Collected whisker samples are sorted, inventoried, and cataloged. Once they are cleaned, rinsed, and dried, each individual whisker is placed in vial.

Newsome and his lab manager at UNM use a razor and tweezers to divide each whisker into sub-samples: 0.2mg (weighed precisely with a micro-scale).

Schamel explains these sub-samples are fed into "the mass spectrometer, which consumes the samples and spits out data on carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios." The ratios are compared to a library of food resources and their known isotope ratios. "The FIF funding is actually paying the mass spectrometer for its time."

Schamel in the field on Santa Rosa Island.
So far ~100 island fox samples from Santa Rosa have been analyzed from a variety of habitats. In addition ~200 island fox whisker samples from San Miguel have been analyzed from 2010–2012, before the drought. Schamel will be at UNM this spring working on samples from 2014–2016. "There are many samples from the same individuals across this time frame, which will be exciting to see!"

Juliann Schamel hopes to present preliminary data at the 2019 Island Fox Conservation Working Group Meeting in May. 

Research like Juliann Schamel's is vital to understanding island fox health and long-term survival.  This research is only possible with donations from people like you.

Applications for the 2019 Friends of the Island Fox Research Grant will be available on on April 15, 2019.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Fox Foto Friday - Island Foxes in the Wild

an island fox during March on Santa Cruz
It's hard for people to believe that you can easily see an island fox in the wild on Santa Cruz Island. This island fox was walking across the dirt road near the visitor center. It was happy to give us time to take its photo.

The unique relationship between island foxes and people began around 9,000 years ago. The Chumash and other native peoples living on the islands regarded the island fox as an important neighbor. They did not hunt the island fox or confine it as a pet.

People are surprised when they view wild island foxes going about their daily lives with little regard for the human visitors. Maintaining this relationship means respecting the island fox and its right to live safe from threat or interference on its island home.

When Visiting Island Foxes
More on Santa Cruz Island 

Friday, March 08, 2019

Island Journal - A Visit to San Miguel Island

A visit to San Miguel Island is a rare opportunity. Island foxes are few and the land is windswept. Experience a firsthand trip to this remote Channel Island.

Island Journal - San Miguel Island 

San Miguel Island lies at the top of the Southern California Bight, 26 miles from Point Conception. The western most of the Channel Islands, San Miguel receives the full force of the cold California current sweeping past its shores.

Recently, I went on a rarely offered day trip to San Miguel to observe firsthand how the island is recovering from years of ranching and to get a feeling of what island life must endure to survive there. 

After a night of light rain and distant thunder, the morning was overcast, but dry. On the boat trip out, the winds were light as was the swell.  The crossing was direct to San Miguel, approximately a 3-hour trip. About an hour out of Ventura, we spotted the blow of a Humpback whale.  The Islander Packers' boat took time to observe the mighty cetacean feeding in the channel.  A few minutes later, we observed 2 more blows further out.

Santa Cruz Island and Santa Rosa Island slowly passed by on our port side. Eventually, San Miguel came into view. 
There is no pier on San Miguel which means we landed by skiff. It's common to have large breakers at the beach on Miguel, which can easily swamp a skiff. Fortunately, the seas remained uncharacteristically calm. We arrived on schedule at 11:15 with 110 people on-board and 2 skiffs. Each skiff  holds 6 passengers. It took approximately 30 minutes to get everyone ashore. Once on the island we had  the mandatory island briefing by the National Park Service (NPS) naturalist.

San Miguel island is owned by the US Navy and managed by the NPS.  During WWII and through to the 1970s, San Miguel was used as a Navy bombing range. To protect visitors from any hazards that might still exist (the Navy did a complete survey in 2016 and found no unexploded ordnance), and to protect the natural resources, visitors must hike in escorted groups. However, you can freely explore the mile-long beach at Cuyler Harbor and hike up to the nearby ranger station and campground. 

To access the island interior, we hiked from the beach up the steep Nidever Canyon for approximately a half mile, gaining 600 feet in the process. The canyon is a great example of how the island is recovering. There is an incredible display of native vegetation; very healthy coastal sagebrush and coastal bluff scrub plant communities with coreopsis, buckwheat, and dudleya. Once on top, we were afforded terrific views of Cuyler Harbor. 

Our instructions were to be back on the beach by 2:30 to begin the skiffing process back to the boat for a 3:30 departure back to Ventura, which didn’t leave much time for exploring. I decided to check out the Cabrillo Monument and wander near the ranger station.

At the ranger station, I ran into one of the fox biologists that I know, so wandering became gabbing about fox whiskers and how ice plant travels the digestive system of the fox much like celery travels ours. Perhaps TMI, but hey...that’s what we talk about and that’s one way information gets passed on.

Talking scat passes the time quickly and I had to head back to the beach. On the beach, a juvenile elephant seal was thermoregulating. They're one of the pinniped species which call San Miguel Island home.

The route back to Ventura Harbor took us along the north side of Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Islands with a stop in Painted Cave, one of the largest sea caves in the world. The winds remained light and sea was like glass.

We were treated to numerous pods of common dolphins, numbering in the thousands, as well as two minke whales, the smallest of the great whales.

We also spotted the same humpback whale, very close to where we spotted it in the morning. (Humpbacks can be identified by the markings on their tail flukes). The Santa Barbara channel did not disappoint! 

No fox sightings to report, but I did see the tell-tale signs of their presence, chiefly scat, littered about in typical fox fashion. 

The day to San Miguel didn’t become the island exploration I first believed it would, but instead became a time to develop a deeper appreciation for the whole ecosystem that encompasses the Channel Islands. An ecosystem where the tiniest zooplankton feeds the mightiest whales. An ecosystem where man’s impact can have a profound negative impact or bring a species back from the brink of extinction. - Mike Watling, FIF Advisory Board

Friday, March 01, 2019

Fox Foto Friday - Spot An Island Fox?

Island foxes are rare creatures, yet sometimes they show up in unexpected places!

Take a second look, this island fox is on the calf of a devoted island fox supporter. It even has accurate island fox tracks. Tracking An Island Fox

We love art with island foxes. Check out:

island fox sculpture and carving 
Island Fox and the Art of an Ecosystem - graphite
student art project - felt
student collage and conservation projects

How will you show your support for island foxes?

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Island Fox M152 Has a Health Check

When M152 was fitted with his refurbished radio collar, he also received a health check.

During the health check he wore a special hood. Having his eyes covered makes the health check less stressful and helps the island fox remain calm.

M152 was:
Weighed - to compare his weight with previous years and to provide an overall view of the population across the island. How much did M152 weigh?

Blood Sample - A sample of his blood was taken to look for evidence of exposure to disease. In 2016-2017 blood samples documented adenovirus, commonly called "kennel cough," as it moved across Catalina Island infecting 85% of the island fox population. (See 2018 Update) Fortunately, no island fox deaths were attributed to the virus, but it demonstrated how fast an infectious disease can spread through island foxes. Testing blood samples provides an early warning of dangerous diseases like canine distemper, parvo, and more. It can also indicate whether disease might be influencing low pup survival. Some of M152's blood was also set aside to test for specific white blood cells. A high number of these cells may be evidence of a parasite infection. Some of the blood sample will also be used for DNA studies to determine the familial relationships between individual foxes. How are the pups in M152's territory related to him? All of this is above and beyond simple monitoring. 
Your donations help make this health research possible.

Disease - M152 showed no signs of disease. He appeared healthy.

M152 courtesy of Channel Islands National Park
Whisker Sample - A whisker sample was taken for an important research study on diet funded by Friends of the Island Fox.

Tick Testing - M152 was examined for fleas and ticks. Luckily he was tick free! But not all island foxes are so lucky. 
small red dot is a tick on the fox's ear

Tick-borne disease is a new threat to island foxes. Two infectious diseases carried by ticks have recently been discovered on the Channel Islands: Lyme disease and relapsing fever. Ticks found on island foxes, like the one on the back of an island fox's ear, pictured at right, are being removed and tested for disease. This is important research for island foxes and people. 

How many ticks are carrying disease? How many island foxes are infected? Lyme disease seriously impacts dogs; is it impacting island foxes? The tick is removed and tested to see if it is a disease carrier.
Tick after removal and prepared for testing.
Tick-borne disease is a new threat.
We need your help to fund testing of ticks.  

Removing the tick is also beneficial to the island fox.
Island fox ear after tick is removed.

Island foxes need your help. 

Friends of the Island Fox funds radio collars
proactive health testing, and vital research

With your continued support, we can hold onto success and keep island foxes like M152 healthy into the future. 
Please donate today.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Island Fox M152 Has a History

Island Fox M152
Each island fox counted across the Channel Islands during summer/fall monitoring is a documented individual. They each receive a microchip tag (or PIT tag) like your dog or cat. Why is that important? Why does FIF help fund ID microchips?

When island fox M152 received his radio collar this fall, he already had a documented history.

- He was first captured in 2014, when he was a young adult (estimated 1-2 years old). Island foxes live to be 8-12 years old in the wild. M152 is an adult male in his prime.

- He was living in the same area four years ago, which tells us that he is an adult male with an established territory in this location. Seven pups were seen in this same area in 2018. There is a good possibility that M152 is their father or grandfather. DNA comparison of blood samples could document their relationship. A blood sample was taken from M152.

M152's territory includes hillsides and coastal beaches, lucky fox

- 2014 was a drought year and M152 weighed 4.5 lbs (he was considered "thin"). In 2018 he had beefed up to 4.9 lbs (a weight considered "healthy"). A half pound might not seem like much of a difference, but when you are tiny that's almost 10% of your body weight.

island fox chin whiskers
- What has made the difference in M152's weight? Is he just eating better this year or is he eating a different diet than in 2014? Four years ago, a whisker sample was taken from M152. This year a whisker sample was collected again. Friends of the Island Fox has funded a Research Grant to evaluate these whisker samples. Whiskers record what the fox has been eating over a four to six month period. Isotopes from the food items, prey or plant matter, are laid down in the whisker as it grows out. M152 may help us learn what an island fox needs to eat to be healthy and successfully parent pups.

Friends of the Island Fox funds ID microchips, blood testing

You are the important partner in all of these efforts. 
When you donate to Friends of the Island Fox you are helping
 M152 and his pups have a safer future.