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Awesome Channel Island Foxes Removed From Endangered List

Cozying up. (Photo by Pacific Southwest Region USFWS on Flickr)
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Things were looking grim for the Channel Island foxes in 2000. The animals, found only on six of the eight Channel Islands, totaled 15 each on San Miguel and Santa Rosa islands. They were (finally) put on the endangered species list in 2004.

Now we're getting some good news: three subspecies of island fox have been removed from the federal endangered species list, reports the L.A. Times. There is an estimated 700 foxes on San Miguel Island and 2,100 foxes on Santa Cruz Island.

"We can thank the protections of the Endangered Species Act for the successful recovery of island foxes," Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. Though he added that the foxes aren't out of the woods just yet. "Continued monitoring of these fox populations will be critical to be able to respond if there are outbreaks of disease, return of predatory golden eagles, or severe impacts to foxes and their habitat from climate change."

The aforementioned golden eagles were the main reason why the foxes were endangered in the first place. In a classic case of cascading environmental effects, the use of DDT had wiped up the islands' population of bald eagles, who eat fish but do not prey on the foxes. The elimination of these birds allowed the golden eagle to flourish. And, because golden eagles DO feast on foxes, the population of foxes went through a dramatic decline.

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After the foxes were put on the endangered species list, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Nature Conservancy, and Catalina Island Conservancy teamed up to boost their numbers. They moved some of those golden eagles to Northern California, re-introduced some bald eagles to the islands, and bred foxes in captivity. The remoteness of the islands lent a big hand to the conservationists, as it allowed them to affect a bigger change in the local ecosystem.

All put together, the efforts were an unmitigated success. The foxes were taken off the endangered species list just 12 years after they were put on it. This is the fastest that any mammal has made it off the list. The previous record was held by the Steller sea lion, which took two decades before it left the list in 2013.

As we'd explained in the past, island foxes are all descendants of the mainland gray fox, but are about the size of a housecat as a result of insular dwarfism. Also, they're objectively very cute, even when they've grown up.

We should also mention that this may be the perfect time to visit San Miguel Island. Not only are the foxes back, San Miguel had also just re-opened in May after the Navy had closed it off to tourists for two years.

And if you're not already convinced that these guys are the coolest, check out how gorgeous and laid-back they are in this video from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: