Bringing Back the Island Fox
Bringing Back the Island Fox
Saving the Island Foxes
The Channel Islands off California are home to the second smallest foxes in the world. They are about 20 inches (50 cm) long, and 12 inches (30 cm) tall, and have a tail that is 4 to 11 inches (10-28 cm) long. There are six subspecies of island fox, each unique to a particular island in the archipelago. The first grey foxes were descended from the mainland gray fox. Scientists think these foxes traveled to the northern islands from the mainland on floating logs over 10,000 years ago. Until the mid-1990s, the fox populations were stable. However, a rapid increase in the golden eagle population had a disastrous effect on the island foxes.
The addition of four new titles to Crabtree’s “Animals Back from the Brink” series brings the total number of books in the series to 14. Like most Crabtree series, these books are structured around two-page chapters which contain brief blocks of text accompanied by numerous full-colour captioned photographs. Each book begins with an introduction to the animal species that is risk and why it is in this state. The content of books’ second chapter, “Species at Risk”, is essentially common to all, and, in it, the authors introduce the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) which, since 1964, “publishes the Red List of Threatened Species each year, which tells people how likely a plant or animal species is to become extinct.” These pages also identify the criteria the scientists use in determining where to place some 80,000 species of plants and animals on the Red list’s nine point scale that ranges from “Not Evaluated (N E) Not yet evaluated against the criteria” to “Extinct (EX) No living individuals survive.” The chapters which follow identify the specific threats to the survival of the book’s animal as well as the people and/or organizations that identified the species’ survival problem and how they went about rectifying the situation in order to bring the animal back from the brink of extinction.
All four books end with the same six closing sections: “What Does the Future Hold?” (Called “Looking to the Future” in the blue iguana book), “Saving Other Species”, “What Can You Do to Help?”, “Learning More” (which lists four books and four-six briefly annotated websites), a “Glossary” of words bolded in the text, and a one-page “Index”.
The islands in the title of Bringing Back the Island Fox are a group of six islands located off the coast of California. What makes these islands special is that each has its own native fox population. (See Excerpt above) The book’s contents tell a most engaging story of how, in order to save these small mammals, an invasive species had to be completely eradicated while another endangered animal, a bird, had to be reintroduced in order to drive away an invading predator. Some of the domestic pigs that had been introduced into the islands escaped, becoming feral and competing with the foxes for territory. At the same time, the islands’ fish-eating bald eagles were disappearing as they were unable to successfully reproduce because of the effects of DDT, an insecticide, that had poisoned the fish they ate. The absence of the territorial bald eagles meant that gold eagles could then safely occupy the bald eagles’ former ranges and prey not just upon the feral pigs but also the islands’ foxes. Professional hunters were hired to kill the some 5,000 feral pigs, and the golden eagles were captured and relocated. Bald eagles bred in captivity were released in the Channel Islands to ensure that the golden eagles would not return, and the foxes were captive bred on the islands in order to increase their numbers so that today they are classified by the IUCN as Near Threatened (NT).
Teachers can go to Crabtree Teachers Guides where, under the “Life Science” heading, they can find free downloadable teacher’s guides for the “Animals Back from the Brink” series. The “Crabtree Plus” feature, which is to give readers of the series “access to videos and activities about the conservation of animals and ecosystems”, was, at the time of this review, identified as “Coming Soon”.
The contents of Bringing Back the Island Fox serve as an excellent example of the complexities involved in bringing back an animal species from the brink of extinction.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.