Monday, April 26, 2010

How Do Island Foxes Protect Themselves?

We recently received an interesting question from a student:

How do island foxes protect themselves?

The island fox protects itself like any member of the dog family.
  • It can run away. An island fox can run fairly fast, even leaping as it sprints. (watch M67 run as he is released into the wild) Because of its small size, an island fox can run under and through dense chaparral and grasses.
  • Its coloration also helps the island fox hide, this is called cryptic coloration or camouflage.
  • It can climb, either up steep rocks or even up into trees to escape.
  • It can bark to scare away a threat. (video of barking island fox)
  • It can bite. It has sharp teeth and can bite like any small dog.
Why do they need to protect themselves?

Island foxes protect themselves against each other. During the breeding season, pairs of island foxes defend the territory where they are raising their pups. This island fox probably lost its ear in a scrape with another island fox. (photo courtesy of Geoffrey Grow)

Prior to 500 years ago and the arrival of European people, island foxes did not have any kind of a predator from which they needed to defend themselves. Today island foxes need to defend themselves from people, pet dogs, feral cats (cats that have gone wild), cars (on San Nicolas, San Clemente, and Santa Catalina Islands), occasionally golden eagles and introduced raccoons (on Santa Catalina Island).

Already this year, an island fox was killed by a pet dog on Santa Catalina Island. Feral cats are currently being trapped and relocated away from San Nicolas Island to protect island foxes and other endemic island species. Friends of the Island Fox works with the islands where foxes are hit by cars. One of our Ambassador Schools
raised funds to add signs along roads to encourage motorists to watch for island foxes.

Disease introduced either by domestic dogs and cats or raccoons accidentally introduced to the islands can be fatal to island foxes. A $10 donation can vaccinate an island fox against rabies and distemper. Friends of the Island Fox works with Channel Islands National Park and the Catalina Island Conservancy to help fund vaccinations. Private donors and Ambassador Schools have played a vital role in providing vaccinations for endangered island foxes.

You can help protect island foxes. Your donation can go a long way toward educating the local community and providing vaccinations for island foxes.