Sunday, November 25, 2018

Island Fox M152 Has a Health Check

When M152 was fitted with his refurbished radio collar, he also received a health check.

During the health check he wore a special hood. Having his eyes covered makes the health check less stressful and helps the island fox remain calm.

M152 was:
Weighed - to compare his weight with previous years and to provide an overall view of the population across the island. How much did M152 weigh?

Blood Sample - A sample of his blood was taken to look for evidence of exposure to disease. In 2016-2017 blood samples documented adenovirus, commonly called "kennel cough," as it moved across Catalina Island infecting 85% of the island fox population. (See 2018 Update) Fortunately, no island fox deaths were attributed to the virus, but it demonstrated how fast an infectious disease can spread through island foxes. Testing blood samples provides an early warning of dangerous diseases like canine distemper, parvo, and more. It can also indicate whether disease might be influencing low pup survival. Some of M152's blood was also set aside to test for specific white blood cells. A high number of these cells may be evidence of a parasite infection. Some of the blood sample will also be used for DNA studies to determine the familial relationships between individual foxes. How are the pups in M152's territory related to him? All of this is above and beyond simple monitoring. 
Your donations help make this health research possible.

Disease - M152 showed no signs of disease. He appeared healthy.

M152 courtesy of Channel Islands National Park
Whisker Sample - A whisker sample was taken for an important research study on diet funded by Friends of the Island Fox.

Tick Testing - M152 was examined for fleas and ticks. Luckily he was tick free! But not all island foxes are so lucky. 
small red dot is a tick on the fox's ear

Tick-borne disease is a new threat to island foxes. Two infectious diseases carried by ticks have recently been discovered on the Channel Islands: Lyme disease and relapsing fever. Ticks found on island foxes, like the one on the back of an island fox's ear, pictured at right, are being removed and tested for disease. This is important research for island foxes and people. 

How many ticks are carrying disease? How many island foxes are infected? Lyme disease seriously impacts dogs; is it impacting island foxes? The tick is removed and tested to see if it is a disease carrier.
Tick after removal and prepared for testing.
Tick-borne disease is a new threat.
We need your help to fund testing of ticks.  

Removing the tick is also beneficial to the island fox.
Island fox ear after tick is removed.

Island foxes need your help. 

Friends of the Island Fox funds radio collars
proactive health testing, and vital research

With your continued support, we can hold onto success and keep island foxes like M152 healthy into the future. 
Please donate today.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Island Fox M152 Has a History

Island Fox M152
Each island fox counted across the Channel Islands during summer/fall monitoring is a documented individual. They each receive a microchip tag (or PIT tag) like your dog or cat. Why is that important? Why does FIF help fund ID microchips?

When island fox M152 received his radio collar this fall, he already had a documented history.

- He was first captured in 2014, when he was a young adult (estimated 1-2 years old). Island foxes live to be 8-12 years old in the wild. M152 is an adult male in his prime.

- He was living in the same area four years ago, which tells us that he is an adult male with an established territory in this location. Seven pups were seen in this same area in 2018. There is a good possibility that M152 is their father or grandfather. DNA comparison of blood samples could document their relationship. A blood sample was taken from M152.

M152's territory includes hillsides and coastal beaches, lucky fox

- 2014 was a drought year and M152 weighed 4.5 lbs (he was considered "thin"). In 2018 he had beefed up to 4.9 lbs (a weight considered "healthy"). A half pound might not seem like much of a difference, but when you are tiny that's almost 10% of your body weight.

island fox chin whiskers
- What has made the difference in M152's weight? Is he just eating better this year or is he eating a different diet than in 2014? Four years ago, a whisker sample was taken from M152. This year a whisker sample was collected again. Friends of the Island Fox has funded a Research Grant to evaluate these whisker samples. Whiskers record what the fox has been eating over a four to six month period. Isotopes from the food items, prey or plant matter, are laid down in the whisker as it grows out. M152 may help us learn what an island fox needs to eat to be healthy and successfully parent pups.

Friends of the Island Fox funds ID microchips, blood testing

You are the important partner in all of these efforts. 
When you donate to Friends of the Island Fox you are helping
 M152 and his pups have a safer future.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Island Fox M152 Gets a Radio Collar!

photo courtesy of CINP / NPS
Meet M152! 

This male island fox just got a radio collar funded by donations to Friends of the Island Fox.

Do you see it? 

It's that bit of black just under his chin and above the biologist's gloved hand.

This radio collar will allow biologists to monitor M152 without interfering with his normal wild life. He can be checked-on from a distance by a technician with an antennae and receiver or even from a small plane flying over the island. 

Refurbished radio collars - headed to island foxes
M152's radio-tracking collar emits a unique radio-signal frequency just for him. 

Hear - Normal radio collar

His collar locates his position and reports that he is moving around normally. If M152 should stop moving for 4-6 hours–not move at all–the radio collar will give off a different signal. Hear - Distress alert from radio collar The rapid beep alerts biologists that something might have happened to him. The radio collar then enables biologists to hone in on the little fox body so they can find out what has happened.

M152's newly refurbished radio collar will provide information on his activity for the next 2-3 years.

Radio-tracking collars are vitally important to monitoring island fox populations across the islands. In 2018, donors like you helped Friends of the Island Fox fund a record 25 radio collars:

On each island approximately 20 radio collars need to be refurbished or purchased new each year. 

In 2019 FIF's GOAL is to refurbish 20-30 radio collars 
and purchase 10 new collars

Won't you help with this vital effort to monitor island foxes! 
You've helped us save island foxes from extinction. 
Please donate to help keep island foxes safe and healthy.

Stay tuned. M152 also got a health check. 
Find out what we learned about him. 


Friday, September 28, 2018

Fox Foto Friday - Some GOOD NEWS!

Friends of the Island Fox is thrilled to announce: 

The Fresno Chaffee Zoo Conservation Fund 
has chosen FIF to receive a grant of $3,200 annually
for the next three years 
to help fund island fox conservation!

The Fresno Chaffee Zoo has been a long-time partner in island fox conservation. Since 2006, they have supported a variety of efforts to save island foxes–from radio collars to testing for disease. 2013-2018 5-year grant from FCZ.

This new grant will be emphasizing island fox health.

Friday, September 21, 2018

FIF Research Grant to Investigate Island Fox Diet Through Whiskers

photo courtesy of P. Bronstein
Island foxes have lots of long black whiskers. These specialized hairs hold important information on diet that could inform decisions on island fox conservation.

Friends of the Island Fox is happy to announce: 

Juliann Schamel is the recipient of the first FIF Research Grant

Schamel is a Biological Science Technician at Channel Islands National Park and the $5,000 grant will help fund research on "The Channel Island Food Web–A Decade of Dietary Resource Use in Channel Island Fox: Implications for Reproduction, Recruitment, and Resilience in a Changing Climate."

It's a big title reflecting the broad range of important data that may be revealed. 

Schamel's work will build on important past research.

island fox scat (or poop)
In 2009, researchers collected island fox scat samples to look at seasonal diet across all six islands. Their 2014 paper revealed diet varied from island to island and included a higher frequency of insects and fruit than expected. They cautioned that islands with poor native plant diversity offered fewer food options for island foxes in the event of drought. 

photo courtesy of P. Bronstein
Just as the science warned, during the consecutive years of the recent drought, island foxes were challenged to find enough food on San Miguel and San Nicolas Islands. Decline of San Nicolas Island fox. During this time a new parasite entered the San Miguel Island fox's diet causing fox deaths.

While scat successfully reveals visual items, (insect exoskeletons, cactus fruit skin and seeds), it may not visually capture everything in the fox's diet. Also, scat data is limited to recording diet in an individual over a short time period, a few days.

In 2010, building on work done on the San Joaquin kit fox, a small sample of island fox whiskers were investigated using stable isotope analysis. 

You are what you eat. Food items (prey and plant) have their own isotope fingerprint. Carbon and nitrogen isotopes consumed by the fox are laid down in the hair shaft documenting an individual's diet over months. 

Since 2010, biologists have been gathering whisker samples from individual island foxes during health checks on the northern islands. These samples have been cataloged by year and with individual fox identification. 

FIF is excited to support Schamel's research using whiskers because it has the potential to:
  • Compare diet between successful mothers and unsuccessful mothers
  • Discover dietary differences between coastal living island foxes and interior living foxes
  • Document changes in diet over the past 9 years, through the drought and as the fox populations have grown
  • Possibly reveal prey items that are a vector for the intestinal parasite on San Miguel Island which has caused fox deaths
Whiskers are amazing! Not only do they offer an opportunity to invest in greater knowledge about the secret lives of island foxes, whiskers grow back and their collection is non-invasive. 

FIF will be bringing you more on Juliann Schamel and her research as her work progresses.

Thank you to all of the 2018 grant applicants for sharing your research goals with FIF. There is so much more to learn about island fox health, behavior, and interactions with other species.

Application for the 2019 Research Grant
will be available April 15, 2019

Friday, September 14, 2018

Children Helping Island Foxes

Help for island foxes comes from many places. Recently Friends of the Island Fox received this wonderful letter from a concerned student.

Working with her school friends and family, Autumn raised $155 dollars to help island foxes. Her donation can: 
No effort to help island foxes is too small. When we all work together, we can make big things happen. 

Autumn joins our growing group of Island Fox Ambassadors - she is helping tell the island fox's story to her community and working to keep island foxes healthy and safe into the future.

Yared raised funds and then traveled all the way from Virginia to visit the island fox.

Meet some other Island Fox Ambassadors:
At the Buckley School students had a huge bake sale and one student designed and sold a T-shirt. 

You can become an Island Fox Ambassador too. Individuals, classrooms, grades, even schools and organizations have become Island Fox Ambassadors.

Island Fox Ambassadors:
  • raise awareness about the island fox
  • they work on a service project to benefit island fox conservation
  • they share their efforts with others
Service projects can raise funding, contribute to habitat restoration, or develop a conservation project to help island foxes and other wildlife (such as an effort to vaccinate local pets so they don't transmit disease to wildlife). 

Find out more about becoming an Island Fox Ambassador contact FIF at

Friday, August 10, 2018

Friends of the Island Fox Helps Save Island Foxes on Catalina Island

What is the biggest threat to island foxes on several islands? 

Being hit by a car! 
(See Island Fox Update 2018)

Island foxes are small, camouflaged for their environment, and vulnerable to speeding cars.

Thanks to Friends of the Island Fox a speed-detecting traffic sign on Catalina Island is back in operation slowing down drivers. 

I'm happy to report that with funding from FIF we have repaired our radar speed detector and deployed it on the landscape! says Lara Brenner, Wildlife Biologist for the Catalina Island Conservancy. In the next few days I will take some time to hide in nearby brush and monitor the speed machine's efficacy at convincing people to slow down. Thank you so much for your continued support of our fox program. We hope to continue working with you to decrease the impact of vehicles on the Catalina island fox population.

The traffic sign is again alerting drivers to SLOW DOWN and watch for island foxes.

Some road areas are more deadly to island foxes than others. Reducing island fox access to human food and trash, deters these tiny animals from crossing busy roads. Friends of the Island Fox is also committed to replacing old and dangerous trash cans on Catalina with "Fox-Saver" bins and putting fox-proof food lockers in campgrounds. When island foxes are denied access to human food and trash they are healthier and safer.

Thank you to ALL of our DONORS who helped fund this important fox-safety effort on Catalina. Working with the Catalina Island Conservancy, we can make sure Catalina Island foxes continue to have a solid recovery and healthy future.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Fox Foto Friday - Surviving the Heat

Summer heat is impacting the Channel Islands and island foxes just as much as the mainland.

High temperatures and low rainfall increase the challenge for island foxes to find food. Just like with people, high temperatures put greater stress on the young and the old. 

Island fox numbers are good across the islands (See the Island Fox Update 2018), but fox biologists warn that 2018 may be a harder year for island foxes.

Thank you to Michael Lawshe for this great photo of an island fox searching in the dry grass.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Island Journal - Sometimes You See Where A Fox Has Been

The opportunity to visit Channel Island foxes in their natural environment is part of the success of saving island foxes from extinction. Friends of the Island Fox loves to highlight individual experiences. On Santa Cruz Island there are locations where you almost always see island foxes (Scorpion Campground and Prisoners Harbor). Guest writer Michael Lawshe has a different story from Santa Rosa Island.

Island Journal: Santa Rosa Island, June 16, 2018

We took an 8 am boat out of Ventura, with Island Packers, directly to Santa Rosa Island. The sky was overcast and the sea was remarkably flat. We crossed the channel, passing Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands to...

Taking a hike, we noticed dozens of great little caves and crevices in the hillsides. 

Perfect for a fox!

Sometimes you see a fox, sometimes you see where they have been! 

Here is a path to a secluded fox resting place.

Do you see the little footprints in the sand?

They're a little bigger across than the size of a quarter. 

We didn't see the island fox, but we are pretty sure they were watching us. It was a great day. - Michael Lawshe

More on: 
reading island fox tracks
seeing island foxes
Experiencing Santa Rosa Island
A Day with Biologists On Santa Rosa 

Friday, July 20, 2018

2018 Channel Island Fox Update

2017 was a successful year for island fox pups!

In May, the Island Fox Conservation Working Group gathered to report on the status of island foxes across the Channel Islands. The population numbers reported here reflect the annual counting effort from late summer/fall 2017. Land managers are currently in the field counting island foxes and providing health evaluations.

For most islands, the spring rain in 2017 resulted in greater pup survival and higher population numbers. The larger islands, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and Santa Catalina, all documented population highs. The larger islands have greater plant diversity and therefore a greater variety of food resources for island foxes.

Along with these higher population densities (more foxes per kilometer) come increased concern for problems brought to the islands from the outside world: introduced disease and introduced parasites carrying disease.

blood taken during health exams is checked for disease
While the four island fox subspecies that were close to extinction in 2000 have all recovered, higher density means disease can spread more rapidly through a population. On Catalina, serology testing in 2015-2017 revealed canine Adenovirus (CAV-1) marching across Catalina within months. This virus causes "kennel cough" and canine hepatitis. Fortunately, there have been no identified island fox fatalities from the disease, but it demonstrates the fragility of these isolated populations.

2017 - Year of the Tick

Across the islands ectoparasites, parasites that live on the outside of the fox's body, have been increasing in drought years. Some islands have had more problems with fleas and lice, while others have seen increases in ticks. This past year, two tick-borne diseases were identified for the first time on Channel Islands; Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) was found on both Catalina and Santa Cruz Islands and a related disease, relapsing fever (Borrelia miyamotoi) was identified on Santa Rosa Island. Both diseases are known to impact dogs and humans. Understanding the extent of these tick-borne diseases is a priority. Ticks are being collected from island foxes and pathology will need to be run on tick specimens to determine if they carry these or other viruses. What is the extent of these diseases in the tick population? How has island wildlife been impacted? Pathology runs $15 - $50 per tick depending on the necessary tests. 

Friends of the Island Fox is committed to helping land managers with this new cost. Understanding the disease threat in the tick population is vital for island fox survival and human health. Parasite testing and serology have become a new focus in 2018.

Island Fox Update 2018 pdf provides a detailed island-by-island status report for island foxes. In summary:

The smaller islands face more immediate challenges and population volatility.
  • San Miguel Island ~ 260 foxes (low of 15 in the year 2000) - The population has recovered from extinction threat and is trying to stabilize. Concerns: Drought impact on food resources and an increase in life-threatening parasites. (see Island Fox Update 2018 above) Research is needed to understand how a new parasite is accessing the fox's diet.
  • San Clemente Island ~ 770 foxes - This Navy island has a robust population, but drought has impacted food resources and the fox population has adjusted downward. Concerns: Fatalities caused by cars have increased dramatically in the past year, (for more see Island Fox Update 2018 above)
  •  San Nicolas Island ~ 416 foxes (low of ~250 in the year 2015) - The dramatic decline on this Navy island, which began with the drought in 2013, seems to be stabilizing. More pups survived in 2017 and there were fewer emaciated individuals. Efforts to re-establish native vegetation may be providing more direct and indirect food for island foxes (for more see Island Fox Update 2018 above). Concerns: Parasites may have added to poor health in some individuals. A return to drought conditions could further challenge this island.
The larger islands have greater biodiversity of plant and prey species to support island foxes and enable island foxes to adapt to challenges, like changing climate. This is an important conservation lesson: habitats with reduced natural biodiversity are less likely to offer survival options when challenged by negative pressures. Foxes across the larger islands did very well in 2017 (see graph at top of story).

  • Santa Rosa Island ~ 1,850 foxes (low of 15 in the year 2000) - The population has recovered from extinction threat and continues to thrive. Concerns: Tick-borne disease and an unusual fatal parasite, Leptospira, have been introduced to this island (see Island Fox Update 2018 above). Research is needed to quantify the threat to island foxes and people. 
  • Santa Cruz Island ~ 3,150 foxes (low of 80 in the year 2000) - In 2017, Cruz was home to the largest known population of island foxes ever recorded. Concerns: Tick-borne Lyme disease was introduced to this island. The introduction of other diseases is a major concern (see Island Fox Update 2018 above). 
  • Santa Catalina Island ~ 2,047 foxes (low of 103 in the year 2000) - In 2017, Catalina reached it's highest recorded island fox population. Fox saver bins and road signs are reducing island fox deaths from car strikes. Concerns: Tick-borne Lyme disease was introduced to this island and the threat from human impacts (introduced disease, cars, and aggression from pets and feral animals) is greatest on this island (see Island Fox Update 2018 above). Successful reunion of an island fox pup and its mother.  
2017 was a successful year for island foxes, but all land managers agree: Lower rainfall in 2018 may reduce resources leaving island foxes with less support for this year's pups. Even the larger islands may have reached or be reaching carrying capacity - the greatest number of individuals that can be sustained in a habitat. Population numbers are not expected to increase in 2018.

Friends of the Island Fox continues to support important conservation efforts for island foxes: radio-monitoring collars, vaccinations against canine distemper and rabies, ID microchips, blood testing for disease (serology), and items that reduce human impacts "Fox-saver" bins and road signs.

Tick-borne disease is a new and potentially long-term threat to island fox survival. The sooner the threat can be understood, the better the outcome will be for island foxes and people.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Fox Foto Friday - FIF Research Grant Deadline

Are you looking to study island fox behavior? Maybe diet fluctuation brought on by drought? How about tick-borne disease as a threat to island foxes?

Friends of the Island Fox is interested in supporting research that will help island foxes have a sustainable future. 

But HURRY! The deadline is Sunday July 15th.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Island Fox Success Story - Pup and Mother Reunited

island fox pup
Island fox recovery is a success story, but sometimes it is nice to focus on individual successes.

This May an island fox pup, only a few days old, was separated from its parents. It was so young, its eyes were still closed. When the pup was found on a dirt road on Catalina Island, it was weak and hungry. Biologists with the Catalina Island Conservancy rallied to the pup's aid. Veterinary care was provided and after two weeks, the pup was healthy enough to be returned. But the clock was ticking on a possible reunion and acceptance from its fox family.

Returning to the area where the pup was found, biologist Lara Brenner and Emily Hamblen captured adult island foxes, including a female who showed signs of lactating. After observing interactions between the pup and the female, the pup was allowed to approach the female and it immediately began nursing. Mom and pup were reunited. The mother fox was radio-collared so that the biologists could locate the family and check in to see how the pup was doing. But getting everyone safely returned to the wild was a challenge. Watch the heart-warming story of mother and pup.

Three cheers for a brave island fox pup, a devoted mother fox, and the determined Catalina biologists who facilitated a successful reunion.

Friends of the Island Fox supports the CIC Fox Program with radio collars, fox health measures and "Fox-safer" trash cans. With your help, FIF replaced the electronic elements of traffic speed sign on Catalina in 2018 to help slow down drivers on a section of road dangerous to island foxes.

Working together to make island foxes and people safer on the Channel Islands.