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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Working Together to Save Channel Island Foxes

The success of Channel Island fox recovery is rooted in cooperation among a broad group of government agencies, public and private conservation groups, scientists and researchers, and an active local community. Students, from elementary through high school, have played an active role as Island Fox Ambassadorsraising funds for radio tracking collars, ID microchips, and vaccinations.

This month students from the Buena High Enviromental Club (Ventura, CA) received national recognition for their efforts in restoring native plant ecosystems in Channel Islands National Park. The students from Buena High have also been strong supporters of island fox conservation.

Friends of the Island Fox's motto has always been "Working Together to Save the Island Fox." Many endangered species to not have the benefit of people working in collaboration. We have seen the Channel Island fox rebound from the edge of extinction because people working together can facilitate positive change.

photo courtesy of K. Lampkin
Three Cheers for our active young people and Many Thanks to all the people, near and far, who have helped to fund conservation efforts that have worked!
It all begins with the annual meeting of the Island Fox Working Group in June. Last year we found out about the threat posed to island foxes by trash cans on Santa Catalina. (2014 meeting of the Island Fox Working Group) You helped us respond to this conservation challenge. Any day now we hope to announce we have reached our goal on this effort.

This year drought and biosecurity are on the meeting agenda, both pose threats to stable Channel Island fox populations. Stay tuned for updates from the biologists, veterinarians, and scientists working in the field. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

FIF 2015 Trip to See Channel Island Foxes

Early summer brings island fox pups out of their dens to explore their world. Parents are busy providing for growing youngsters and teaching them how to find their own food.

The successful recovery of endangered Channel Island foxes means there are greater opportunities to see these rare island predators in their wild habitat

TRIP SOLD OUT as of 5/7/15
Join Friends of the Island Fox for a day of discovery and adventure as we travel to:

Scorpion Cove, Santa Cruz Island
Channel Islands National Park
June 20, 2015

Day Trip Itinerary:  
  • 8:15 AM: Check in with Friends of the Island Fox at the Island Packers’ Ventura Harbor dock, at 1691 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura, for a 9 AM departure to Santa Cruz Island, Scorpion Cove.

  • Arrive on Santa Cruz Island mid-morning and explore with Friends of the Island Fox leaders to view island foxes and other endemic plants and animals. 
  • 4:00 PM: Island Packers’ boat departs Santa Cruz Island, returning to Ventura Harbor around 5:00 PM

Tickets are $65.00 per person. 
(A percentage of the fee will go to support island fox recovery efforts.)
 
View from the bluff on Santa Cruz Island
Reservations are limited and will be provided on a first come basis. To book reservations, please download the Reservation Form.

Send the completed form with your check, made payable to the "Friends of the Island Fox" to the address on the form.  Reservations will be taken in the order received, and no reservations can be accepted without payment.

At the time of booking you will receive further trip details, including: maps of where to meet, what to pack, suggested clothing and other items of interest. 

Look closely at this photo. Island foxes are smart and curious, food items must be secured at all times.

If you have questions, contact FIF at islandfoxnews@gmail.com
or (805) 228-4123


What to remember when visiting the island fox. 

Previous trips to Santa Cruz Island:

May 2014 Trip
June 2013 Trip and Items on the Beach 
May 2012 Trip 

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

USFWS Announces Channel Island Fox's Record Recovery

Channel Island foxes have been in the news! 

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced the release of the final Recovery Plan for Channel Island foxes on March 11, 2015. They also stated that the USFWS will begin evaluating the current status of the four subspecies which are presently designated as Endangered (the San Miguel Island fox (Urocyon littoralis littoralis), Santa Rosa Island fox (U. l. santarosae), Santa Cruz Island fox (U. l. santacruzae), and the Santa Catalina Island fox (U. l. catalinae)).

Will any of the four endangered subspecies be removed from the Endangered Species List? 

health checks continue to monitor status
That question will not be answered until each subspecies is thoroughly evaluated regarding population health, habitat stability, and potential threats to future survival. Human impacts are a continuing concern, especially on more visited islands like Santa Catalina.

The ultimate determination to downlist any of the subspecies will not occur until at least a year after the status review is completed. Still, there is much to celebrate. As quoted in the press release from Channel Islands National Park:

Due to the remarkable success of the Endangered Species Act, recovery actions by land managers and conservation partners have led to dramatic population increases on all four islands since listing, effectively bringing the species back from the brink of extinction, said Steve Henry, field supervisor of the Service’s Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office. To date, it appears that this is the fastest population rebound due to recovery actions and ESA protections for any land mammal in the United States.

Channel Island foxes are once again highly visible in the wild.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has provided the necessary protection and attention to help save four subspecies of Channel Island foxes from extinction.

Thank you to all of the dedicated professionals and concerned private citizens that have contributed to this vital effort. Our motto has never been more true: 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Origins of the Island Fox by Courtney Hofman

(Thank you to our guest blogger, researcher Courtney Hofman) 

photo courtesy of Kevin Schafer
People have long wondered how the island fox first arrived on the Channel Islands. Did they swim? Were they swept out to sea on a piece of debris? Did Island Chumash and Gabrieliño people or their ancestors introduce them? Researchers have proposed a number of possible hypotheses of how the fox arrived but to test each hypotheses we must first examine the data on when foxes arrived on the islands.
For a long time scientists thought that island foxes had been on the islands for at least 16,000 years and some argued they had been there as early as 40,000 years ago (Aguilar et al. 2004). This is well before people arrived on the islands some 13,000 years ago. These early date estimates were based on island fox bones recovered from paleontological sites. However, direct radiocarbon dating of these same fox bones indicate that they are less than 7000 years old (Rick et al. 2009). Additional radiocarbon dates on island fox bones recovered from archaeological sites indicate that island foxes may have arrived on the islands approximately 7100 years ago, well after people.
When combined with radiocarbon dates, genetic data can also be used to test hypotheses about the origins of the island fox. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited from a fox’s mother and can tell us a lot about the history of the island fox. In my recent study, mitochondrial DNA was sequenced from 185 island and mainland gray foxes to explore how these different populations are related to each other (Hofman et al. 2015).

Median-Joining Network of Island and Mainland Mitochondrial DNA
By comparing these DNA sequences, we know that northern island (Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel) foxes are closely related to each other while the southern island populations are more distinct (Santa Catalina, San Clemente and San Nicolas). Together with radiocarbon dates, mitochondrial DNA suggest that island foxes arrived on the northern islands between 9200 and 7100 years ago and were likely quickly moved by humans to the other islands. We cannot yet say how the foxes first arrived on the islands. More genomic and archaeological data are needed to distinguish between a human or natural introduction. 

  • Aguilar, A., Roemer, G., Debenham, S., Binns, M., Garcelon, D. and Wayne, R. K. (2004). High MHC diversity maintained by balancing selection in an otherwise genetically monomorphic mammal. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 101: 3490–3494.
  • Hofman, C. A., Rick, T. C., Hawkins, M. T. R., Funk, W. C., Ralls, K., Boser, C. L., Collins, P. W., Coonan, T., King, J. L., Morrison, S. A., Newsome, S. D., Sillett, T. S., Fleischer, R. C. and Maldonado, J. E. (2015). Mitochondrial Genomes Suggest Rapid Evolution of Dwarf CaliforniaChannel Islands Foxes (Urocyon littoralis). PLoS ONE 10:e0118240.
  • Rick, T. C., Erlandson, J. M., Vellanoweth, R., Braje, T. J., Guthrie, D. A. and Stafford Jr., T. W. (2009). Origins and Antiquity of the Island Fox (Urocyon littoralis) on California’s Channel Islands. Quat. Res. 71: 93–98.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What Color Is An Island Fox?

photo courtesy of Kevin Schafer
What color is an island fox?

It might seem an easy question, but there is more to the color of a Channel Island fox than initially meets the eye.

At first glance an island fox (Urocyon littoralis) appears to be a mixture of white, reddish or rust, and gray markings, with a little black. The island fox's ancestor, the gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) has similar coloration, though typically less rust.

The primary color on an island fox is a grizzled gray along its back.

island fox back

This cryptic coloring provides very successful camouflage because it is not a solid color.


There is an underlying downy fur of a light tan, interspersed with long guard hairs. While some guard hairs are black, others along the back are variegated in color. A guard hair may be black, with a thin bit of brown, then white, and finally tipped in black. The combination of colors creates an overall appearance of gray.

island fox pup in the fog
However, the multiple layers of varying color create a break-up pattern; there is no solid color for the eye to discern. This allows the island fox to disappear into landscapes with low light levels–shade, twilight or fog.

island fox on mottled flooring at a medical facility

This characteristic also makes it challenging for auto-focus on a camera to successfully focus on island foxes. The fox in the photo to the left is actually standing, but it is hard to visually distinguish its back from the floor.

The variability in island fox fur also means that small hereditary changes in the fur can make large general changes in appearance. 

A little less black at the tip of the guard hairs and the overall appearance is much lighter. Such an island fox may appear more beige or brown and blend in better with the environment of the southern islands: San Nicolas or San Clemente. Lighter colored individuals may also be more successful hunting sand dune or beach habitats.

northern island foxes during captive breeding 2000-2006

A bit more black on the tip of the guard hairs and the overall coloring appears much darker and more gray. This coloring is more beneficial in habitats with denser vegetation, Santa Catalina, Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands.

The plasticity of their camouflage coloring has helped island foxes remain successful hunters in varied Channel Island habitats.

 

Friday, February 06, 2015

Double Action to Save Catalina Island Foxes

Help Friends of the Island Fox reduce a major threat to the Santa Catalina Island fox (Urocyon littoralis catalinae): human trash

Yes, eating human food is bad for island foxes. Adults dependent on human food fail to teach hunting skills to their offspring. (Island fox diet) However, the greater threat is the attraction of trash and the behavior island foxes engage in to reach readily available human food waste.

The first problem is that standard trash and recycling containers pose a threat to these small foxes. This old trash can, next to a fence, allows an island fox to easily climb inside. The fox's diminutive size means it can easily fit through openings and fall into trash receptacles. 

Aging bins are an enticing hazard.

photo courtesy of Lesly Lieberman and CIC
Once inside, island foxes have a difficult time getting out of these containers. Trash can lids are designed to push open from the outside. Catalina Island biologists have documented numerous cases of island foxes dying inside trash cans.

 

photo courtesy of Julie King, CIC
The second issue is that accessible trash cans encourage island foxes to cross roads and enter dangerous areas. Notice the island fox under the left side of the trash can pictured here. It is pulling trash out of the rusted bottom of this can. 

Catalina Island Conservancy biologists Julie King and Calvin Duncan report: 

Between April and May 2014, four foxes were hit and killed by vehicles in close proximity to open trash cans near Bird Park in Avalon and two more were hit and killed there in November. It is unknown how many other foxes may have been hit by vehicles in the area but did not immediately succumb to their injuries, and were therefore not accounted for.

courtesy of Julie King, CIC
Car strike has become the greatest killer of island foxes on Catalina Island. The island fox pictured to the right was killed by a car, notice the trash can on the other side of the road (to the left). Clusters of unnecessary island fox deaths are occurring in areas adjacent to public spaces with numerous trash cans.
New "Fox Saver" trash bins

But there is a solution to the double threat: trash bins that island foxes can not access.

“Fox Saver” bins are the same sturdy containers used at Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks to keep bears out of human trash. Opening the bin requires long human fingers. There is no opening for an island fox to easily enter.

Once the attraction of available human food waste is eliminated, we hope there will be less motivation for island foxes to cross roads, and maybe less attraction to venture into Avalon.

Purchasing these all-steel bins, shipping them to Santa Catalina Island, and installing them on a cement pad comes with a sizable price tag. Each bin costs $2,000. The Catalina Island Conservancy has a goal of replacing 150 trash bins across the island.

Friends of the Island Fox aims to raise $6,000 to fund three “Fox-Saver” bins to be placed in
Avalon's Bird Park area. This should actively reduce island fox deaths along one of Santa Catalina's busiest roads. Your donation will help meet this goal and save island fox lives.

The Catalina Island fox is making a strong recovery, but its current restored population combined with growing human activity  has increased direct human threats to island fox survival. 

Help us make a positive impact by funding 
"Fox Saver" bins!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Friends of the Island Fox at Sierra Club Event

What is the current status of the endangered Channel Island fox? 

Come join us and find out.

Friends of the Island Fox will be joining the Ventura Sierra Club for an evening program hosted by Jim Hines. 

We'll be presenting a FREE family friendly program:



Island Foxes: In Their Island World
February 5th 2015
7-8:30 PM (Doors open at 6:15 PM)
at the Community Meeting Room
Ventura City Hall
501 Poli Street, Ventura, CA 93001

NOTE: Plenty of free parking behind city hall

We'll be talking about the vital role island foxes play in their island habitat, new information on island fox diet, the amazing recovery of all four endangered subspecies, and the future: concerns about impacts from changing climate, human trash, and biosecurity

As well as the presentation, there will be information on conservation efforts and educational displays. Compare your hand to a fox footprint. Compare an island fox to a gray fox or a red fox. How small is an island fox? How big is a golden eagle?

Bring your questions and then help us spread the word about protecting our rare Channel Island foxes. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Island Fox at Santa Barbara Zoo

Join Friends of the Island Fox at the

 Santa Barbara Zoo
Fox Festival
Sunday, February 15th
11am - 3pm

The Santa Barbara Zoo provides a home to Channel Island foxes that are unable to survive in the wild. Throughout the recovery of endangered island foxes, the zoo's Veterinary staff and Animal Care staff have participated in conservation efforts across the islands and have helped write the book on how to care for this rare California species.


Currently there are only five island foxes in captivity and two of them live at the Santa Barbara Zoo. If you can't visit the Channel Islands, this is the closest location in southern California to see a live island fox.


On Sunday, February 15th, we will be helping the Santa Barbara Zoo celebrate all foxes. Included with zoo admission:
  • Fox related activities and crafts
  • Channel Island fox information booth with biofacts
  • Keeper talks and animal enrichment throughout the day

Come meet the Channel Island fox. Compare it to the African fennec fox. Decide for yourself with one is smaller. Which one has the largest ears? How is their coloring adapted for their habitat?

Purchase an island fox pin, T-shirt, guide, or stuffed animal from the FIF booth and help support island fox conservation!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Give the Gift of Saving Island Foxes


Since 2005, you have helped Friends of the Island Fox fund more than $60,000 in conservation efforts to save the endangered island fox.

In 2014 donors funded our  

In addition, in 2014 FIF:
 

In the year 2000, four subspecies of island fox were facing imminent extinction. San Miguel and Santa Rosa Islands each only had 15 surviving individual island foxes. On all six islands combined there was a total of approximately 1,400 island foxes. 


In just fourteen years, island fox populations have returned to historic levels. The official population numbers from 2013 estimate over 5,700 island foxes across all of the islands.

Maintaining this successful recovery of the island fox means continued monitoring. Disease and introduced threats can quickly impact these rare island populations.

This holiday season give the gift of directly saving an endangered species.
Donate through the "Island Fox Donation" box on the upper right hand side of the screen (the box with the smiling island fox).

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Island Foxes Take a Holiday

It's that time of year when island foxes take a holiday, a holiday from family life.

courtesy of National Park Service
Channel Island foxes typically form monogamous pairs. A male and a female with adjoining or overlapping territories, mate for life. Their committed relationship helps them to successfully defend territory with important food resources and enables them to successfully raise offspring.

Pups are born helpless and require dutiful parental care to survive. While the female may not allow the male into the den to see the pups for a period of time, the male plays an important role in supplying the female and the pups with food.

After the pups have been raised to an age where they can fend for themselves, 6-8 months, they set out to find their own territories. Female pups tend to establish territories close to their parents, while male pups disperse to the opposite side of the island. Male dispersal may be a natural selection adaptation to avoid breeding with close relatives.

When the pups head out, the parents tend to take a holiday from each other as well. From November to early January, island foxes live a more solitary life. Perhaps this separation enables island foxes to find adequate food during the late fall and early winter. Perhaps it creates a greater opportunity for those who have lost a mate, to find a new one. Or perhaps, after a spring and summer filled with parenting, island foxes just need a break and a little solitude.

When the male and female reunite in late December - early January, they will be ready to start a new family in the spring.

As well as monitoring for unexpected fatalities, radio tracking collars help biologists to understand island fox movement and territory size.