Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Visiting The Channel Island Fox

Santa Cruz Island fox (Urocyon littoralis santacruzae)
Summer is a great time to visit California's Channel Island fox.

May 3, 2014 - Friends of the Island Fox led a trip to Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park

The day began with a visit to the National Park Headquarters in Ventura and a tour of the Visitor Center.  As well as the island fox, Santa Cruz is home to numerous endemic plants and animals (species found only on the Channel Islands, like the island scrub jay)
Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center
Much of the water surrounding the Channel Islands is also protected by the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary. Kelp forests surrounding the islands provide food and shelter for a variety of marine species. Ranger Tina provided an in depth talk on tide pool creatures.

The island received six inches of rain in early April which helped to make the island green and the wildflowers bountiful.

Island foxes were also abundant. Our first island fox of the day was spotted within minutes of arriving on the island. Over the course of the day, groups saw up to 10 individual island foxes. 

Video courtesy of trip participant Douglas E. Welch - see more trip photos at WelchWrite.com

This trip we observed interesting interactions between island foxes:

One older individual, climbing up the hillside leaving the campground, area became alert and defensive when another fox began following it. The older fox arched its tail, making itself appear larger, and defensively turned around to face its follower. However the island fox following the older individual was smaller and appeared younger, more spry. When the smaller fox reached the defensive fox, it immediately displayed submissive behavior–licking under the chin of the older fox. The older fox relaxed. There seemed to be recognition between the two individuals. It looked somewhat like a pup with a parent, but both of these island foxes were definitely adults. It is possible that the smaller fox was either an adult offspring from another year or a female approaching a male, not her mate. The two island foxes walked side-by-side for a couple of yards along the hillside. (see video above) Then the older fox continued on its way out of the campground area. The younger fox, turned around and back tracked along the path she had just walked and went the other direction. 

In another situation, two healthy adult island foxes coming from opposite directions toward the stream bed at the edge of the campground, specifically avoided each other. They passed within ten feet of each other and actively avoided an encounter. One of these island foxes was wearing a radio collar.

Seeing multiple encounters between individuals is an exciting demonstration of the successful return of this endangered species.  (More about island foxes)

Scorpion Anchorage, Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park
You can visit three of the islands where island foxes live: Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands, in the Channel Islands National Park, and Santa Catalina Island. Each island has its own unique traits and treasures, but they all have Channel Island foxes.

courtesy of Kevin Pease
Island foxes have a long relationship with humans. We can all help that relationship continue long into the future by participating in conservation efforts to protect this species and by respecting these wild animals when we visit their only home in the whole world.