Friday, July 20, 2018

2018 Channel Island Fox Update

2017 was a successful year for island fox pups!

In May, the Island Fox Conservation Working Group gathered to report on the status of island foxes across the Channel Islands. The population numbers reported here reflect the annual counting effort from late summer/fall 2017. Land managers are currently in the field counting island foxes and providing health evaluations.

For most islands, the spring rain in 2017 resulted in greater pup survival and higher population numbers. The larger islands, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and Santa Catalina, all documented population highs. The larger islands have greater plant diversity and therefore a greater variety of food resources for island foxes.

Along with these higher population densities (more foxes per kilometer) come increased concern for problems brought to the islands from the outside world: introduced disease and introduced parasites carrying disease.

blood taken during health exams is checked for disease
While the four island fox subspecies that were close to extinction in 2000 have all recovered, higher density means disease can spread more rapidly through a population. On Catalina, serology testing in 2015-2017 revealed canine Adenovirus (CAV-1) marching across Catalina within months. This virus causes "kennel cough" and canine hepatitis. Fortunately, there have been no identified island fox fatalities from the disease, but it demonstrates the fragility of these isolated populations.


2017 - Year of the Tick

Across the islands ectoparasites, parasites that live on the outside of the fox's body, have been increasing in drought years. Some islands have had more problems with fleas and lice, while others have seen increases in ticks. This past year, two tick-borne diseases were identified for the first time on Channel Islands; Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) was found on both Catalina and Santa Cruz Islands and a related disease, relapsing fever (Borrelia miyamotoi) was identified on Santa Rosa Island. Both diseases are known to impact dogs and humans. Understanding the extent of these tick-borne diseases is a priority. Ticks are being collected from island foxes and pathology will need to be run on tick specimens to determine if they carry these or other viruses. What is the extent of these diseases in the tick population? How has island wildlife been impacted? Pathology runs $15 - $50 per tick depending on the necessary tests. 

Friends of the Island Fox is committed to helping land managers with this new cost. Understanding the disease threat in the tick population is vital for island fox survival and human health. Parasite testing and serology have become a new focus in 2018.

Island Fox Update 2018 pdf provides a detailed island-by-island status report for island foxes. In summary:

The smaller islands face more immediate challenges and population volatility.
  • San Miguel Island ~ 260 foxes (low of 15 in the year 2000) - The population has recovered from extinction threat and is trying to stabilize. Concerns: Drought impact on food resources and an increase in life-threatening parasites. (see Island Fox Update 2018 above) Research is needed to understand how a new parasite is accessing the fox's diet.
  • San Clemente Island ~ 770 foxes - This Navy island has a robust population, but drought has impacted food resources and the fox population has adjusted downward. Concerns: Fatalities caused by cars have increased dramatically in the past year, (for more see Island Fox Update 2018 above)
  •  San Nicolas Island ~ 416 foxes (low of ~250 in the year 2015) - The dramatic decline on this Navy island, which began with the drought in 2013, seems to be stabilizing. More pups survived in 2017 and there were fewer emaciated individuals. Efforts to re-establish native vegetation may be providing more direct and indirect food for island foxes (for more see Island Fox Update 2018 above). Concerns: Parasites may have added to poor health in some individuals. A return to drought conditions could further challenge this island.
The larger islands have greater biodiversity of plant and prey species to support island foxes and enable island foxes to adapt to challenges, like changing climate. This is an important conservation lesson: habitats with reduced natural biodiversity are less likely to offer survival options when challenged by negative pressures. Foxes across the larger islands did very well in 2017 (see graph at top of story).

  • Santa Rosa Island ~ 1,850 foxes (low of 15 in the year 2000) - The population has recovered from extinction threat and continues to thrive. Concerns: Tick-borne disease and an unusual fatal parasite, Leptospira, have been introduced to this island (see Island Fox Update 2018 above). Research is needed to quantify the threat to island foxes and people. 
  • Santa Cruz Island ~ 3,150 foxes (low of 80 in the year 2000) - In 2017, Cruz was home to the largest known population of island foxes ever recorded. Concerns: Tick-borne Lyme disease was introduced to this island. The introduction of other diseases is a major concern (see Island Fox Update 2018 above). 
  • Santa Catalina Island ~ 2,047 foxes (low of 103 in the year 2000) - In 2017, Catalina reached it's highest recorded island fox population. Fox saver bins and road signs are reducing island fox deaths from car strikes. Concerns: Tick-borne Lyme disease was introduced to this island and the threat from human impacts (introduced disease, cars, and aggression from pets and feral animals) is greatest on this island (see Island Fox Update 2018 above). Successful reunion of an island fox pup and its mother.  
2017 was a successful year for island foxes, but all land managers agree: Lower rainfall in 2018 may reduce resources leaving island foxes with less support for this year's pups. Even the larger islands may have reached or be reaching carrying capacity - the greatest number of individuals that can be sustained in a habitat. Population numbers are not expected to increase in 2018.

Friends of the Island Fox continues to support important conservation efforts for island foxes: radio-monitoring collars, vaccinations against canine distemper and rabies, ID microchips, blood testing for disease (serology), and items that reduce human impacts "Fox-saver" bins and road signs.

Tick-borne disease is a new and potentially long-term threat to island fox survival. The sooner the threat can be understood, the better the outcome will be for island foxes and people.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Fox Foto Friday - FIF Research Grant Deadline


Are you looking to study island fox behavior? Maybe diet fluctuation brought on by drought? How about tick-borne disease as a threat to island foxes?

Friends of the Island Fox is interested in supporting research that will help island foxes have a sustainable future. 


But HURRY! The deadline is Sunday July 15th.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Island Fox Success Story - Pup and Mother Reunited

island fox pup
Island fox recovery is a success story, but sometimes it is nice to focus on individual successes.

This May an island fox pup, only a few days old, was separated from its parents. It was so young, its eyes were still closed. When the pup was found on a dirt road on Catalina Island, it was weak and hungry. Biologists with the Catalina Island Conservancy rallied to the pup's aid. Veterinary care was provided and after two weeks, the pup was healthy enough to be returned. But the clock was ticking on a possible reunion and acceptance from its fox family.

Returning to the area where the pup was found, biologist Lara Brenner and Emily Hamblen captured adult island foxes, including a female who showed signs of lactating. After observing interactions between the pup and the female, the pup was allowed to approach the female and it immediately began nursing. Mom and pup were reunited. The mother fox was radio-collared so that the biologists could locate the family and check in to see how the pup was doing. But getting everyone safely returned to the wild was a challenge. Watch the heart-warming story of mother and pup.



 
Three cheers for a brave island fox pup, a devoted mother fox, and the determined Catalina biologists who facilitated a successful reunion.

Friends of the Island Fox supports the CIC Fox Program with radio collars, fox health measures and "Fox-safer" trash cans. With your help, FIF replaced the electronic elements of traffic speed sign on Catalina in 2018 to help slow down drivers on a section of road dangerous to island foxes.

Working together to make island foxes and people safer on the Channel Islands.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Visit Island Foxes and FIF at Santa Barbara Zoo

Where can you see island foxes on the mainland? 


Come out and visit Friends of the Island Fox at

"Saving Species Day" 
at the Santa Barbara Zoo
Saturday July 7th, 2018
11 AM - 3 PM

Find out about how island foxes are doing in the wild. Which islands are doing well and what new threats are facing island foxes in 2018. 

See Lewis and Clark, two island fox brothers that were orphaned on San Clemente Island and have come to live at the Santa Barbara Zoo. These two male foxes are now adults, but they still have big personalities. Watch their video.


The Zoo will be focusing on endangered species and how you can help make a difference. From island foxes to Asian elephants, the wild world needs you!


Other mainland locations to see island foxes

Friday, June 22, 2018

What Has Arrived at Channel Islands National Park?

 Radio collars!


Five new radio collars
still in the wrapper
and 
Six refurbished radio collars
all rebuilt and ready to go back on island foxes!
...have arrived at Channel Islands National Park. These radio-telemetry collars will be fitted on island foxes in the next few months as biological technicians count island foxes and check their health.

Your donations funded these radio collars!


Look closely, this island fox is wearing a radio collar
Foxes with worn collars will be giving them up for refurbishing or new batteries. You have funded fourteen more of these collars to go from the field to the workshop for refitting. More on Refurbished Radio Collars

Radio collars offer a frontline of defense for monitoring and protecting island foxes.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Fox Foto Friday - What is that fox doing?


You guessed it! She is marking her territory with urine. Island foxes are very territorial. Territory = food resources. Food means she and her mate can support a litter of pups.

Thanks to Daniel for taking this great photo on a trip to Santa Cruz Island with Friends of the Island Fox. Interested in traveling to see island foxes? Subscribe to the FIF newsletter for info on upcoming trips.

Marking territory with urine communicates through scent to other island foxes. Both male and female island foxes mark territory with urine and with scat. 

Island fox scat tells lots of stories:
Island fox diet and scat
Genetic science and island fox scat
Plants and island fox scat 

Friday, May 25, 2018

FIF Research Grant

Friends of the Island Fox is happy to announce 
the 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 2018, 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 15, 2018 and recipients will be notified September 1, 2018.



From diet fluctuation and territory use, to disease and longevity, there is much we still need to know about island foxes.


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

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Recycling Island Fox Radio Collars


What can you do with a radio-tracking collar that looks like this?

Recycle it!

Across the Channel Islands, a select number of island foxes wear radio-tracking collars. See more about sentinel foxes. But radio collars have a limited lifespan. Their batteries last up to 36 months, then they need to be replaced. Refitting batteries, however, isn't like put new batteries in a flashlight. The waterproof and fox-proof casing has to be removed and refurbished in a workshop.

Friends of the Island Fox is happy to announce that our February fundraiser more than met our goal to fund the recycling of radio collars for Channel Islands National Park. 

Thanks to your donations 
FIF is refurbishing all 20 of the radio collars 
that CINP planned to recycle in 2018


"The collars will get new antennas, new casings, new batteries, new bands, and/or any other new parts that may be necessary," says Laura Shaskey, Wildlife Biologist at Channel Islands National Park. "They will be completely rebuilt, however intact components will be re-used. As you can see the previously used collars are in very poor shape, chewed up, and are often missing antenna."

courtesy of K. Schafer
Another important benefit of recycling radio collars is the reusing of established bandwidths of radio frequency. In our high-tech wireless world, more and more radio frequencies are being gobbled up for human devices. Fewer radio frequencies are available for wildlife tracking equipment. Recycling collars and reusing pre-established radio-collar frequencies is a smart use of physical and audio resources.


As Shaskey points out, "Refurbishing collars is an efficient cost-effective method to replace collars, so they are as good as new for monitoring another fox for the next three years."


Because recycling a radio collar costs less, FIF was also able to purchase 5 new radio collars for use in Channel Islands National Park.



25 radio tracking collars that will be placed on island foxes 
this season because of your donations!

"Thanks again for all your support with collar purchases this year! It is a great help!" - Laura Shaskey

Friday, May 04, 2018

Who Is On San Miguel Island?


It's spring on San Miguel Island and wildlife technicians are counting one of the species important to island foxes. Can you guess which one?

Follow along with the Channel Island National Park team as they document 1 second a day on San Miguel Island.



Find out more about the island fox and this other island animal

Discover new observations of this animal interacting with bald eagles 

A huge thank you to the wildlife technicians at Channel Islands National Park for sending FIF this glimpse into their days on San Miguel.