The last time there was a confirmed sighting of a Sierra red fox in California was twenty years ago. It had been so long some wondered if the subspecies had gone extinct. On August 11 a motion activated camera in Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest photographed one of the very rare foxes. Scientists took DNA saliva samples from a chicken-filled sock near the area, and after analyzing them confirmed it was indeed the rare animal.
Biology professor Ben Sacks said, “This is the most exciting animal discovery we’ve had in California since the discovery of a wolverine in the Sierra two years ago.” (Source: San Jose Mercury News)
The DNA analysis showed the photographed fox is not the same as a population of red foxes in northern California over 100 miles away. This means it is a unique subspecies. One of the biologists, John Perrine said,† “What’s exciting is that it shows there are native mountain red foxes in the Sierra right now, which is something we didn’t think were still there.” (Source: San Jose Mercury News)
Ranger Mike Crawley said,† “The last known sighting of a Sierra Nevada red fox in the Sonora Pass area was sometime in the 1920s.” (Source: LA Times) The scientists also believe the one fox they confirmed is not alone, as it is very unlikely to be living completely on its own. More cameras will be set up in the area where the first fox was photographed.
Sierra red fox are not on the Endangered Species list. In California they are considered a sensitive species. One reason their numbers declined so much was trapping. According to the Sierra Forest Legacy “From 1940 to 1959, 135 pelts were taken by trappers and that number shrunk down to 2 pelts a year by the 1970ís.” Sierra red fox live between 4,000 and 12,000 feet in the Cascade, and Sierra mountains. In the Lassen Peak area there may have been only 10-15.† (Sierra Forest Legacy) The State of California has a web page for reporting sightings of the Sierra Red Fox.
Image Credit: US Forest Service, Keith Slausen
Note: the animal pictured above is one from Lassen in 2002.