Feds plan major announcement about California island foxes

February 12, 2016

Native foxes on islands off the California coast were once on the brink of extinction.

But after decades of effort to save them, the island fox is now thriving, officials say.

Federal wildlife officials may even be ready to remove the bushy-tailed, housecat-sized animal from the endangered species list.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service planned what it termed a major announcement on Friday about the conservation status of four subspecies of the fox that live on San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and Santa Catalina islands.

Disease and predators nearly eliminated the native foxes on those islands. But a decade of captive breeding programs, predator removal, vaccinations and other medical efforts helped bring them back.

In recent years, the populations were stable or increasing and about 90 percent of the foxes were surviving on those islands, according to the park service.

For example, golden eagles that migrated to San Miguel and Santa Rosa devoured the foxes, leaving only around 15 on each island by 2000. As of last year, there were 520 on San Miguel and 874 on Santa Rosa, according to the group Friends of the Island Fox.

The number of foxes on Santa Cruz Island jumped from a low of 62 in 2002 to 1,750.

On Santa Catalina, canine distemper brought over from the mainland reduced the fox population to 103 in 2000, but last year it was 1,717.

Two other subspecies on San Nicolas and San Clemente aren't endangered. There were 263 foxes on San Nicolas and 1,230 on San Clemente.

Explore further: Scientists find widespread ear tumors—and promising solution—for endangered Catalina Island foxes

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