Jun 17, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Catalina Fox Populations—From the Brink of Extinction to Potentially Off the List

Mar 09, 2015 04:11 PM EDT


Though the Catalina fox species may be the smallest species of fox in the world, it appears that size may not have anything to do with their survival. And while the animal may have been endangered decades ago, locals and visitors to the island of Santa Catalina are realized that their abundant numbers may be a sign of drastic change.

Native to only a few of the islands in the Southern California archipelago, the small species was decimated in the late 1990's, when in 1999 the canine distemper virus brought their native populations down to roughly 100 foxes. Many thought that the small island natives were done-for, and even if they survived, many feared that recessive genetic traits would cripple the species. But thanks to successful conservationists and a very effective recovery program, that included captive breeding and vaccination of the wild pups, researchers have seen the small species flourish again.

But now, in the face of being removed off of the endangered species list with numbers as high as an estimated 1,700 foxes present on the island last year, the species is again faced with some challenges - though different than before.

While the island species has rebounded quite remarkably, researchers say that their growing numbers are being left unchecked by predation, and now they fear that the foxes are dying by more domestic issues. Rather than being swept up by a large bird, the foxes are dying of car crashes and ingestion of things like rat poison. Drowning has also become a huge concern as the small foxes often are trapped, drowning before they are able to escape containers.

Though the foxes are a great example of conservation in action, researchers with the Fish and Wildlife Service are faced with a great question - what to do with the species now?

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