Catalina Island News

Adopt a Species: Catalina Island Fox

Catalina Island Conservancy

The Catalina Island fox (Urocyon littoralis catalinae) has been a resident on the Island for at least 4,000 years. The Catalina Island fox is the largest endemic mammal on the Island. A descendent of the mainland gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), it is one of the six recognized subspecies of island fox that live on six of the California Channel islands. This subspecies is found only on Catalina Island.

The Catalina Island fox is about the size of an average housecat, about four to six inches tall (shoulder height), with a head and body length of between 18 to 20 inches. Its tail stretches an additional four to 11 inches long, and an average fox weighs between four to six pounds as an adult. The fox can live eight to 10 years in the wild and up to 10 to 12 years in captivity.

The fox's preferred habitat is vegetation with a high density of woody, perennially fruiting shrubs. An omnivore, its diet includes mice, lizards, birds, berries, insects, and cactus fruit.

Mating season for the Catalina Island fox is January through March. Females have a gestation period of between 50 to 53 days, and produce a litter of one to four pups.

In 2000, the Conservancy implemented a recovery plan combining relocation, vaccinations, captive breeding and release, and wild fox population monitoring. Today, monitoring and vaccination continues. Weekly, a volunteer pilot flies a Conservancy wildlife biologist above the Island to track the nearly 60 foxes equipped with telemetry collars. Once a year, foxes are counted, vaccinated and a subset radio-collared during a large-scale trapping effort.  Signs have been erected warning that foxes are present, and a portable radar speed feedback sign reminds motorists to keep their vehicles at 25 mph or less.

Thanks to all these efforts, as of January 2010, the population of the Catalina Island fox is estimated to be 950 individuals.

It is believed that the fox may have been brought to Catalina from the Northern California Channel Islands by the first people to inhabit the Island. In late 1999, an outbreak of distemper virus is believed to have caused the fox population to plummet from about 1,300 to just 100 animals. Today, vehicle trauma is the leading cause of known fox mortalities. Also, an unusual ear cancer has been detected, especially in older foxes.

Conservancy wildlife biologists are continuing to investigate the prevalence and potential causes of ear tumors.  The Conservancy hopes to delist the fox from the Endangered Species List as soon as the population is fully recovered.

Through the Conservancy's new Adopt a Species program, you can play a leading role in wildlife protection and management on Catalina Island. Choose a "symbolic adoption" from among four of Catalina's iconic and endemic species including the federally endangered, endemic Catalina Island fox; the Catalina California quail; the endemic Catalina California ground squirrel; and the iconic American bison, introduced to the Island in 1924. The Conservancy is excited to announce it has received 29 adoption gifts in the program's first week. Won't you make it one more?

Starting at just $100, you can partner with Conservancy wildlife biologists to protect these and other Island species and help them continue to thrive. For more information, visit: and click on Adopt a Species on the home page.