A record-breaking comeback was registered on Thursday when tiny Channel Island foxes were removed from the endangered species list. Officials from the US Fish and Wildlife Department stated three subspecies of small foxes from California’s Channel Islands were officially declared as a non-threatened population.
After more than a decade of being listed as endangered species, tiny island foxes showed a record-breaking recovery. The three island foxes species that registered an incredible comeback on their numbers were those inhabiting the islands of Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Cruz.
Island foxes recovery
In 2004, Channel Island foxes were listed as an endangered species when their number started to decline in alarming ways. For example, 1780 foxes from Santa Rosa reduced their number from 1,780 to 15 individuals. Others from San Miguel, Santa Barbara, and Santa Carolina Islands registered similar declines. The population went through decrease mainly because they became the target of the island ecosystem.
The Channel Island foxes had then to survive to one of the main reasons playing a role in their extinction: predators. Golden Eagles were moved to the islands as an attempt to replace bald eagles, a species highly affected by DDT pesticides. However, while there was an issue that was being treated, there was another that had to face the consequences. The new golden eagles on the region targeted island foxes and the population fell by more than 90 percent. Island foxes were also threatened by an outbreak of canine distemper in the areas they were inhabiting.
Considering such decline, authorities from the Fish and Wildlife Service decided to conduct efforts aiming to recover one of America’s rarest mammals. First, they designed and carried out on island foxes captive breeding and vaccination programs over 230 individuals to multiply the species.
Vaccinating programs are still being conducted over the island foxes because of they have no immunity to parasites or diseases. Then, authorities began addressing the primary cause of island foxes decrease. Feral pigs were removed from the islands, and once bald eagles showed an increase in their population, they were re-established to their habitat and golden eagles were relocated.
Dan Ashe, the Fish, and Wildlife Service director, said in a statement that the small island foxes showed a remarkable comeback since 2004 which is considered as the fastest recovery of any mammal in the 43-year history registered in the Endangered Species Act.
With a 50 percent chances of going extinct, three subspecies of miniature foxes native to California’s Channel Islands succeeding at reversing endangered species possibilities. Ashe attributed the increase to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s insight into the processes and technique to help endangered species.
“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!,” stated Ashe.
Although the recovery was outstandingly fast, it was not a challenge easy to accomplish. However, experts firmly believe that the island foxes comeback can be used while helping other threatened species to come back from the brink of extinction.
“Many aspects of this recovery effort ― from its scientific rigor to the collaborative enterprise that drove it ― can serve as model to advance conservation elsewhere,” said Scott Morrison, director of conservation science at The Nature Conservancy.
The removal of the island foxes from the endangered list represents the 19th species of animals or plants that have been successfully recovered from the brink of extinction.
The island fox
The island fox also known as Urocyon littoral is a tiny fox native from six of the eight California’s Channel Islands. As a descendant of the gray fox, the small fox has six subspecies, which are unique to each island where they inhabit. The subspecies of the island fox is a reflection of their evolutionary history.
On the islands, the foxes feed mice, lizards, and plants. Despite the species evolved as top predators, it has been the introduction of non-native animals what has led to the decrease in the population. With an 11-29 cm on its tail, the island fox is probably the smallest fox in North America compared to the 27–44 cm tail of the gray fox.
Channel island foxes have several names to refer to the species: California Channel Island fox, insular gray fox, coast fox, short-tailed fox, Channel Islands fox, island gray fox, and the Channel Islands gray fox.
Source: Huffington Post