Saturday, November 10, 2007

Counting Island Foxes

If you are a fox biologist on the Channel Islands, late summer through early autumn is a busy season. During this short window of time, island fox populations are counted and individual animals receive health check-ups. To get their hands on these pint-sized, but sharp-toothed predators, special box-type traps are put out in specific areas.

In September, Friends of the Island Fox rode along with Julie King, fox biologist for the Catalina Island Conservancy. The day on Santa Catalina Island started very early, because all of the traps on a string must be checked before the day starts to get warm.

Most foxes are captured in the evening or during the night. Even so, the traps are set in shaded spots so that a fox won’t become overheated. Each trap has a covering over the top and grass or hay inside to make it more comfortable

The fox is first identified by its “pit tag.” A scanner responds to the microchip tag and displays the animals identification number.

Endangered island foxes on Santa Catalina, San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands are given microchip identification tags like those you would use on your pet dog. The fox in the trap is scanned with the microchip reader to identify it. In this way, the biologist knows when the fox was last caught and whether or not it needs vaccinations, a health check or radio collar maintenance.

If the fox does not have a microchip or pit tag, it will receive one.

If it has already been caught this season and has had its health check, the biologist will release the fox and reset the trap. If not, then the island fox will spend 15-20 minutes with the biologist getting a full health workup.

Join us November 20th for an audio podcast as biologist Julie King does a health check on an island fox.