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15 August 2005


Last wild fox on San Miguel Island feared dead

Saturday, April 6, 2002 Associated Press (04-06) 19:55 PST SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) -- National Park Service officials believe the last wild island fox on San Miguel Island may be dead. The loss, which is the latest in a series of about a dozen deaths to wild island foxes in the Santa Cruz and Catalina islands area, is troubling to biologists who say the island foxes are teetering on the brink of extinction.

"We can't afford that kind of loss," said Tim Coonan, a biologist with the Channel Islands National Park Service. Biologists stumbled upon the fox's pelvic bone and the remains of a leg on March 27. Biologists were troubled that no radio monitoring device was found near the carcass. The fox had been trapped once in 1999, but because tracking collars have a life span of 12 months, tracking the fox proved a difficult task. "We're 99 percent sure it's her," said Keith Rutz, field leader for the island fox recovery program.

With about 60 wild foxes currently on Santa Cruz, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began the process last year to list the island fox under the federal Endangered Species Act. There is also a 10-year, $5 million captive breeding plan by the National Park Service to increase the fox population.

Biologists point to the golden eagles that swoop down to feast on the foxes as the cause of the steadily diminishing numbers. While 14 golden eagles have been captured and relocated, four remain at large and continue to kill foxes, said Brian Walton, executive director of the Predatory Bird Research Group at the university of California, Santa Cruz.

The National Park Service hopes to improve the survival rate of the foxes with a captive breeding program on San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands that will send small batches of fox pups into the wild. The program's goal is to increase the fox population to more than 200 in order to prevent the fox from becoming extinct.

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