Recovering from potential extinction involves a lot of effort, money and a strong species unwilling to go the way of the dinosaur. Such species do exist. The one highlighted today is the miniature island foxes who are indigenous to California’s Channel Islands.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the foxes that roam the islands of San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz were declared federally endangered after golden eagles nearly wiped them out.
Officials say, by 2000, there were only 15 foxes left on both San Miguel and Santa Rosa and 55 foxes that remained on Santa Cruz. But thanks to work of the government and other animal advocates, it looks like this savvy subspecies of critters were able to turn things around.
Researchers say the Channel Islands have been home to this diminutive Island fox for thousands of years. But no one knows how they came to call this territory their own. They do know that in the 19th Century, ranchers and farmers introduced non-native pigs, cattle and sheep. Later, DDT wiped out the native, fish-eating (and therefore fox-friendly) bald eagle. In its place came the non-native golden eagle that preyed on feral pigs and unfortunately these Island foxes.
Recovery testimonials . . .
“The Island Fox recovery is an incredible success story about the power of partnerships and the ability of collaborative conservation to correct course for a species on the brink of extinction,” said U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who visited Channel Islands National Park in March with fourth graders participating in the ‘Every Kid in a Park’ program to witness their fox conservation efforts.
“The Endangered Species Act is an effective tool to protect imperiled wildlife so future generations benefit from the same abundance and diversity of animals and plants we enjoy today. What happened in record time at Channel Islands National Park can serve as a model for partnership-driven conservation efforts across the country,” added Jewell.
“It’s remarkable to think that in 2004, these foxes were given a 50 percent chance of going extinct in the next decade. Yet here we are today, declaring three of the four subspecies recovered and the fourth on its way,” said the Fish & Wildlife’s Service Director Dan Ashe. “That’s the power of the ESA – not just to protect rare animals and plants on paper, but to drive focused conservation that gets dramatic results. More than 300 experts, non-profit organizations, state and federal agencies came together to not only prevent the extinction of Channel Island foxes, but to fully restore them in record time. That’s something to celebrate!”
All’s Well that Ends Well
The recovery effort was a collaboration between the National Park Service, Nature Conservancy and Catalina Island Conservancy in a multi-stage program involving relocating the golden eagles, eliminating feral pigs, and then trapping and captive-breeding the Island foxes.
By 2008, about a year after the pigs were eliminated, some 230 captive-bred foxes were released back into the wild. There are now almost 6,000 on the four islands. A happy ending to a real-life tale that could have gone very dark.