Sunday, September 01, 2013

A MicroChip Tells the Story of a Special Island Fox

Burnie Boots in 2008; courtesy CIC
This island fox was born in 2006 and captured as a juvenile her first autumn. She was only six months old when she received her first health check and an identification microchip. A tiny passive electronic identification tag was placed under her skin, between her shoulders. For the rest of her life, biologists would be able to identify her as an individual.

In May of 2007, a human-ignited fire swept over a large swath of Catalina Island. It just happened that our little female island fox had been living in the area that went up in flames. She was the only island fox found severely injured in the 2007 fire. Her fur was singed and her feet were badly burned. The injury to her feet led to the name: “Burnie Boots.” 

Burnie Boots with injuries from the 2007 fire, CIC
In the days immediately following the fire the fox had become dehydrated and malnourished because of her injuries. Over the course of several weeks she was nursed back to health at the Catalina Island Conservancy Foxpital.

Before her release back into the wild, Burnie Boots was fitted with a radio collar funded through Friends of the Island Fox and our first Fox Ambassador School–the girls of Westridge School in Pasadena. The radio collar enabled biologists to follow the little female fox’s movements in the wild and in the fall she was recaptured and found to be fully recovered.

In 2008, at age two and a half, Burnie was captured in the fall island-fox count. Her microchip identified her even though she had few physical signs of her earlier injuries. During her health check biologists recorded that she showed signs of having nursed pups. Conservation efforts had made a difference! Burnie Boots survived because of health treatment. She was tracked with a radio collar and now had successfully helped to increase the population of endangered island foxes on Catalina.

Burnie Boots lived a completely wild life for the next year. When she was recaptured in the fall of 2009, she was in good health and weighed 4.6 lbs. The battery on her radio collar was low and she was doing well. The radio collar was removed.

For the next three seasons, Burnie Boots avoided the fall capture, but she continued to be part of the growing island fox population on Catalina Island.

Then, unexpectedly in June of 2013, the body of a female fox was found by the side of the road near Canyon Lodge in Avalon. The microchip reader quickly read the animal’s microchip and identified her as Burnie Boots. Her injuries suggested that she had been hit by a car. Watch for Foxes signs

At seven years of age, Burnie Boots’ individual story has come to an end. But because of her microchip we know she spent all of her life in a fairly small territory in a canyon behind the town of Avalon. Even after the fire, she stayed in that territory and raised pups in the area. Though she was an aging female, there was evidence Burnie had nursed a litter of pups this year. So while her individual story has ended, Burnie lives on in the DNA she has passed on to several litters of pups. This fall maybe her pups will receive ID microchips and start stories of their own.

Microchips help biologists to better understand island fox behavior. You can play a vital role in helping to save endangered island foxes. 

Help FIF microchip 500 wild island foxes this September
Just $10 microchips an island fox for life. 
Please Donate in the upper right.