Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Great Success! The Santa Cruz Island Fox

Ah, the Santa Cruz Island Fox. What can be said about this cat-sized apex predator? Why don't we start with the obvious...these animals are unforgivingly adorable.

This is the typical fox face. They are usually smiling, and usually on the verge of falling asleep. They probably dream about really cute shit, thus the constant sleeping.

Island Foxes, descended from Gray Foxes, are found on six of the eight Channel Islands off southern California; each island has its own distinct subspecies. Here on Santa Cruz, they were on the verge of extinction just a few years ago. Santa Cruz Island was owned by ranchers for many years, and as you can expect, they let the place go to shit. Livestock drastically changed the appearance of the island, and many animals (i.e. pigs, sheep, goats, etc.) went wild and feral. While this was happening, the resident (and territorial) Bald Eagle population was being decimated by DDT. With an abundant mammalian food source and eventually no Bald Eagles to defend the airspace, Golden Eagles moved out to the island in the 1990s. The Goldens didn't have any problems taking down the tiny foxes, which are cat-sized, and very quickly the entire population of Santa Cruz's foxes tumbled below 80 individuals. The Goldens moved out to to other islands as well; the foxes of San Miguel and Santa Rosa barely clung to existence, with a pathetic population of 15 on each island by the year 2000.

The foxes luckily escaped the anti-enviro politics of the Bush Regime and somehow got listed as Endangered in 2004...what followed was an extensive and intensive recovery effort that involved eradicating all feral animals from the island, trapping and relocating all of the Golden Eagles, captive-breeding the foxes, and reintroducing Bald Eagles to keep the Goldens out. Remarkably, practically every aspect of the recovery program had great results.

I swear this species is narcoleptic. You'll come across one as it is hunting, and then it will suddenly just flop over and go to sleep. This has happened over and over again.

I've never seen an animal who could not be bothered to open its eyes. I guess you can afford to do that if you're the island's top terrestrial predator.

Among the many cute things they do is fuck with people as much as possible. They have come into our ranch house (uninvited)...twice. The first time it happened I didn't quite know what to do (I had been outside and not had a fox in my house before), so I just held the door open and talked to it like a combination cat-dog, which is how I view them. After some whistles and baby-talk I got it to trot past my feet and out the door without any additional effort.

They are notorious for stealing things. I had to steal back my coworker's headlamp from them, which they had stolen from inside our Land Cruiser. Their consistent fondness for crapping and peeing on your stuff (car seat, backpack....doesn't matter) is probably their worst trait though.

The old blowing-in-the-ear trick always gets your partner in the mood for sweet sweet love-making.

Ohhhhhhh yeah...everything is going according to plan. Time for some fox rocket!

Or not. The female is literally pushing him away. He looks pretty bummed.

The recovery that the foxes have made is fantastic; the Endangered Species Act really did its job. In less than a decade their numbers on Santa Cruz Island jumped from <80 to around 1300 animals (almost back to historical levels), and their survival rate is said to be an astonishing 96 percent. It's great to see them every day here.

Oh yeah, did I mention that these animals have almost no fear of anything? They just love getting crushed over and over again, so their cuteness can be immortalized. The only problem with photographing them is that they are falling asleep all the time...


  1. FOX ROCKET! I am so disappointed.

  2. Awesome success story! Glad to know about these sleepy pranksters

    1. It's a fairy tale ending as far as endangered species go. Now if only I could crush their kits...

  3. That last picture killed me. I'm dead.

    The 12 weeks until I get to see those fuckers again is going to be LOOONG.

    1. Don't worry, they don't migrate south for the winter. Have fun with the CAGUs!

  4. Wow. FANTASTIC! Incredible images of a wonderful species.

  5. Super cool photos. Really bummed that fox didn't get some.


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