Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Visiting the Island Fox

Summer is a great time to visit the California Channel Islands. As island fox populations recover from disease and predation by golden eagles that nearly pushed them to extinction, more people are having the opportunity to see island foxes in the wild. (Why island foxes are endangered)
Observing an endangered animal in the wild is a rare experience and it comes with responsibility. Here are a few important tips to remember when encountering an island fox:
  1. Do Not Feed Them - Island foxes are smart and they know people have food. But feeding an island fox can threaten its life. Human food is not good for island foxes and does not provide the necessary nutrition. Wild foxes, especially juveniles, that become dependent on handouts never learn to forage for natural food and can die when their free food source disappears.
  2. Store Food Appropriately - Island foxes are clever. Even campers who do not intentionally feed island foxes can sometimes become a source of food. We have heard cases of a single island fox taking an entire plastic bag with eight hamburger buns right off of a picnic table. Plastic and food wrappers can appear to be food and cause injury to island foxes. (see island fox and fishing hook) The NPS campgrounds offer food lockers to secure food items.
  3. Island Foxes Are Wild Animals - Even though the island foxes are cute and friendly, they are wild animals. A woman feeding an island fox on Santa Catalina Island was bitten. The Center for Disease Control can require that any fox that bites a person be euthanized to insure that it is not carrying rabies.
  4. Leave Your Pets At Home - Island foxes can acquire diseases from domestic dogs and cats. The distemper virus, which can be carried by dogs, caused the death of over 88% of the island foxes on Catalina in the late 1990s. As wild animals, island foxes can also carry diseases that are dangerous for pets–parvovirus, coronavirus and internal parasites. Some of these diseases can be transferred simply through animal droppings and do not require animal-to-animal contact. While many island foxes are vaccinated for rabies and distemper, not all of them are. It is illegal to take pet dogs or cats on to any of the islands that make up Channel Islands National Park. On Catalina Island dogs are required to be leashed. Several island foxes have been attacked and killed by free-roaming domestic dogs.
  5. Watch for Wildlife on Road - The increase of island foxes on Santa Catalina means that more foxes are being seen along the islands few roads. Because of their small size and gray coloring, island foxes can be hard to see especially at twilight. The number one cause of death for island foxes on Catalina is being hit by a car. Roadsigns
Southern Californians have worked very hard to save the island fox from extinction. The reward is that now we can see island foxes in the wild again. If we all act with respect and responsibility toward our friend the island fox, we can insure their continued success toward sustainable populations.

On Santa Cruz Island and Santa Rosa Island, in Channel Island National Park, visitors can see island foxes around the campgrounds, landing areas, and along hiking trails. Channel Islands National Park

On Santa Catalina Island, the increase of island foxes means that more individuals are being seen around the town of Avalon and the golf course. Island foxes can also be seen in the island’s interior. Catalina Island Conservancy

If you can’t travel out to the Channel Islands, you can visit island foxes in several local zoos.

Photos courtesy of Kevin Pease.