Monday, October 05, 2015

What Do Island-Fox Biologists Do?

Each autumn, field biologists work hard and long hours checking the status of Channel Island foxes. What do island-fox biologists do during the course of an autumn day?

Here are excerpts from some personal accounts from Santa Barbara Zoo Animal Care staff who elected to spend a week providing 64 volunteer hours assisting National Park Service biologists in Channel Islands National Park.

Scott Daugherty (on San Miguel Island):
Our job was to place radio tracking collars on some foxes and collect biological data, so the Park Service could get an accurate count of how many foxes were on the island, and could make observations about how well the whole population was surviving. This is all accomplished by dedicated individuals, trained to trap and handle the endangered foxes safely...
capture cage hidden under a shrub

One thing that I didn’t realize before actually getting out to the island was just how much work it is to participate in these kinds of studies. Just getting to the traps was almost half an hour of hard hiking, and the traps themselves were set 250 meters apart, making each day a minimum of 5 miles of tough terrain, nearly all of it off trail. Each morning, we would get up before sunrise, and hike out to our trapping grid by first light. Each of our 18 traps needed to be checked and reset, and most foxes that were caught needed to get a full work up...

The conditions on San Miguel can be harsh, with regular winds gusting at 30 mph, and the temperature fluctuating from a warm 75˚F during the day to close to freezing over night. Like the California condor, the Channel Island fox recovery is one of the great successes of conservation study and education, and I am extremely proud to be able to participate.

photo courtesy of NPS
Damian Lechner (on Santa Rosa Island):
In September, I went out to Santa Rosa Island to meet up with Angela from the National Park Service.  We set up 3 grids of traps, each consisting of 12 traps. ....  I was shown how to handle the Foxes and [spotted] Skunks that we trapped, check for parasites, record broken teeth, vaccinate the foxes, micro chip, collect blood and urine samples, collect weights, and take whisker samples. 

island fox having teeth checked; photo courtesy of CIC
(To minimize stress to these wild animals, the goal is to complete all data collection and health maintenance tasks in 12 minutes or less.)

After arriving back at the cabin around noon, we processed the blood and urine that we collected and restocked our kits for the following day.  We continued this for the rest of the week then we collected the traps and hiked out with them on our backpacks.  I learned a lot that week, helped to save Island Species and hiked countless miles.  I’m very appreciative for the opportunity given to me to contribute to this project and hope to go out to the Island again next year.

A huge Thank You to the island-fox Field Biologists for all they do on behalf of Channel Island foxes. Vaccinating island foxes against canine distemper and rabies is vital to their future survival. You can help this effort. FIF is trying to raise funds to protect 500 island foxes.

Our thanks also to the Santa Barbara Zoo and their Animal Care staff who care for Channel Island foxes on the mainland and put in countless volunteer hours to assist the National Park. Thank you also to the Santa Barbara Zoo for sharing the personal accounts of their staff.