All four of the subspecies of endangered Channel Island foxes are doing well. In fact, three of the subspecies are considered to be close to recovered. What constitutes recovery?
- Population numbers that have returned to healthy levels
- Reduction of threats (those that caused the original near extinction and/or new challenges to survival)
- Stability of the first two for at least five years
A graph of the population figures from Santa Cruz and Santa Catalina Islands shows the rapid declines toward extinction in the late 1990s. (Caused by unnatural golden eagle predation on Santa Cruz and introduced distemper virus on Santa Catalina.)
From 2000 to 2007 island foxes increased in captive breeding facilities on each of the islands and were gradually released into the wild. Once the threats to their survival were reduced, populations of island foxes increased rapidly in the wild. Golden eagles were relocated and bald eagles were reestablished on the northern islands, while vaccinations for distemper and rabies were instituted across the islands.
On both Santa Cruz and Santa Catalina the island fox populations now fluctuate around a number that represents the carrying capacity or maximum population that can survive on each island's resources. The population of any living species alters naturally in response to available food, water and habitat.
The population numbers for island foxes are compiled annually by biologists in the field each autumn. These hard-working people from across the six islands come together each year in June with veterinarians, scientists and government officials to discuss the status and threats to each of the six subspecies of island fox. We will have more from the annual meeting of the Integrated Island Fox Recovery Team as we compile our notes. It's been a happy busy week.