Canids Specialist Group

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ResourcesIsland, Kit & Swift Fox Working Group


Brian Cypher & Donelle Schwalm


Recent issues:

For both kit foxes and swift foxes, habitat continues to be lost and remaining habitat is increasing subject to degradation, fragmentation, and incompatible uses.  For kit foxes in California in particular, large blocks of habitat (i.e., up to 2,000 ha) are being used for the construction of solar energy generation facilities.  The construction of such facilities within the range of the endangered San Joaquin kit fox is of particular concern, although the foxes are exhibiting some capacity to continue to use these sites following construction if the fencing around the sites is permeable.  Research is currently underway to determine the impacts of such sites as well as their potential contribution to conservation efforts.  Important habitat is being conserved for kit foxes, but the pace of habitat conservation still lags behind that of habitat loss.  Another significant concern is an outbreak of sarcoptic mange within an important population of San Joaquin kit foxes.  Mortality from the disease appears to be 100% if animals are not treated.  Investigations are underway to better understand the epidemiology of mange in kit foxes and to identify potential mitigation strategies to prevent the disease from extirpating this population or spreading to others.

The future prognosis for island foxes is significantly improved.  After 4 of 6 subspecies suffered catastrophic declines due to novel predators and disease, mitigation measures have been immensely successful and these 4 populations have returned to or are approaching pre-decline levels.  Monitoring programs have been implemented for all populations in an effort to prevent similar declines in the future.  A consortium of organizations and individuals meets annually to coordinate conservation and management efforts.  Delisting to the 4 endangered subspecies is being considered.


Recent Working Group Activities:

Tim Coonan continues to organize an annual meeting to coordinate conservation and management efforts for island foxes.  This meeting is attended by land managers, researchers, veterinarians, outreach specialists and others involved with or interested in the conservation of island foxes. 


Conservation Needs for Kit Foxes, Swift Foxes, and Island Foxes:

  • The primary need for kit foxes and swift foxes is the conservation of additional high-quality habitat.
  • Additional investigations should be conducted to assess the effects of renewable energy projects, urbanization, military activities, and other developments on kit foxes and swift foxes, and to determine such developments can be rendered compatible through the implementation of mitigation strategies.
  • Robust population viability analyses are needed for kit fox and swift fox populations on range-wide, regional, and local scales.
  • For island foxes, continued population monitoring and surveillance are needed on all six islands with island foxes to detect and mitigate any deleterious factors (e.g., disease, predators) before they cause catastrophic population declines. 
  • A robust captive population of island foxes (preferably involving multiple facilities) should be established on the mainland in California to support outreach and research as well as potentially serve as a “hedge” against any future catastrophic declines on any of the occupied islands.