Good News: The Catalina Island Fox is Rebounding From The Brink

Once teetering on the brink of extinction, the Catalina Island fox has made such a strong comeback in the past decade that federal officials are now considering removing the fox from the endangered species list.

The Catalina Island fox is one of the smallest species of fox in North America who can only be found on Santa Catalina Island off the coast of southern California. In 1999 they were nearly wiped out by a canine distemper epidemic that brought their numbers down from an estimated 1,300 to only 100 individuals.

In 2000, the Catalina Island Conservancy, along with the help of the Institute for Wildlife Studies, initiated a $2 million recovery program that included captive breeding, vaccinations and relocations around the island. By 2004 there were 300 individuals, who were then granted federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Thanks to efforts to keep them from disappearing, today there are believed to be 1,700 foxes on the island whose growing numbers led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to announce this week that it’s considering removing them from the Endangered Species Act.

While their comeback is fantastic news, their growing numbers are unfortunately leading to more conflicts with humans. With 1 million visitors to the island, which is only 76 square miles, there’s bound to be run-ins.

“The recovery of the island fox is one of the great success stories of ecological restoration,” Dave Garcelon, president of the Institute for Wildlife Studies, told the LA Times. “But with no natural predators, this little fox is the king of beasts on Catalina — and that can get it into trouble.”

According to the conservancy, last year 25 foxes died as a result of human-related activities–for example, being hit by cars is the main cause of death for this little fox. Of the ones who died last year, 21 were killed by motorists, but biologists believe more may have been injured by cars and died later away from roads. Signs have been put up to remind drivers to be vigilant when they’re on the road, particularly at times when foxes are most active, but accidents aren’t the only problem.

Their attraction to trash is another major issue the conservancy is having to deal with. The organization is now raising funds for animal-proof trash and recycling containers it hopes won’t just discourage them from seeking out food from the island’s residents and visitors, but will also keep them from eating something that’s potentially hazardous for them and prevent them from getting trapped inside rubbish containers.

“Recovering the endangered Catalina Island fox population so quickly is one of the great conservation success stories,” said John J. Mack, the Conservancy’s chief conservation and education officer. “The Conservancy is going to be engaged in active management of the foxes and many more species on this Island for generations to come because conservation work is never done, especially on an Island visited by nearly one million people each year. Humans have been a part of Catalina’s ecosystem for thousands of years, and the Conservancy is committed to becoming a leader in modeling conservation in a lived landscape. ”

Hopefully, continued efforts to keep the island fox safe and educate the public about their place on the landscape will keep this species from ever returning to its precarious past.

Photo credit: Catalina Island Conservancy

70 comments

Anteater Ants
Anteater Ants2 years ago

great news

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Valentina R.
Valentina R2 years ago

Happy for the foxes.

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H2 years ago

"made such a strong comeback in the past decade that federal officials are now considering removing the fox from the endangered species list." This would not be the first time the USFWS has lied. Look what they have done to the wolf. Don't trust their "facts".

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Hent catalina - maria

Thanks for sharing this great news with us


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Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey2 years ago

Foxes are one of the ultimate urban survivors.

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Corey Brideau
Corey Brideau2 years ago

good news is right lol

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Janis K.
Janis K2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Kamia C.
Kamia T2 years ago

I hope they DON'T de-list it because then idiots will just drop the population down again. Santa Catalina Island is not that big at all and rather desolate, but a place that fisherman and campers go regularly, and the wildlife there needs to remain protected to keep them from getting stupid.

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Nicole Riley
Nicole Riley2 years ago

Yay this makes me happy! I like to hear good news

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