Federal status: Threatened
Canidae, together with wolves, coyotes, and domestic dogs
Endemic to Santa Catalina Island
The Santa Catalina Island fox is one of six subspecies of the island gray fox (Urocyon littoralis). Adults typically weigh 4 to 6 pounds. They have light gray and white coats with brown sides and white underbellies.
Habitat & Behavior
On Catalina Island, the island fox can be found in all vegetation types but prefers shrublands and woodlands with vegetation cover and complex structure. The foxes are less common in non-native grasslands. The island fox is Catalina’s largest native predatory mammal, but has a diverse, omnivorous diet: it will forage for berries and cactus fruit as well as hunt mice, lizards, and birds.
Due to its confinement to Catalina Island, the island fox can be heavily affected by diseases and predation. It is particularly susceptible to diseases brought from the mainland, because its geographic isolation has prohibited the species from gaining immunity to common diseases. In 1996, the population crashed from 1,300 foxes to about 100 due to a strain of canine distemper virus. Its population is also heavily affected by predation from predatory birds such as golden eagles.
The Catalina Island Conservancy responded quickly to the huge drop in island fox numbers, developing a plan that closely monitored population levels, introduced captive breeding, and vaccinated the foxes against mainland viruses. This plan proved to be very effective, and there are an estimated 2,000 foxes roaming the island today. When visiting the island, consider whether your pets have been vaccinated recently. Keep dogs on a leash and properly dispose of their waste to prevent the potential spread of disease.
Where can you spot it?
This island fox species is endemic to Santa Catalina Island; it may be observed near Two Harbors.
- Catalina Island Conservancy. Recovery of the Catalina Island Fox.