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Back from the Brink of Extinction

A perfect storm of unexpected events led to the near-extinction of the Santa Cruz Island Fox.

By 2004, the fox population in the Channel Islands fell from 1,500 to 15.

Biologist never expected that pigs would eventually put the Island Fox on the endangered species list.

Yes, pigs.

In the 1850's, ranchers brought pigs from the mainland to Santa Cruz Island as a food source.

Those pigs eventually escaped captivity, and the non-native Golden Eagle figured out that the feral pigs were a great food source.

The birds began to nest on the island, and the Island Foxes became prey.

The Island Fox recovery never became an official project. Thirty biologists worked voluntarily for ten years on getting the foxes back on track.

Contract hunters divided the island into zones. Over the course of a year they cleared out all the pigs.

Crews caught all the Golden Eagles and brought them back to the mainland.

Staffers with the National Parks Service and The Nature Conservancy raised foxes in captivity, then released them after a year in 2006.

Now, the fox population is close to what it used to be.

Biologists like Tim Coonan from the National Parks Service think that the foxes first came to Santa Cruz Island six to ten thousand years ago.

They believe that the foxes either rafted to the island by an El Niño storm, or native peoples brought them there. Now there are six sub-species in the Channel Islands.

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