Lewis

  • Was orphaned at three months old, found with brother Clark on San Clemente Island in 2016
  • Is more fluffy than Clark
  • More outgoing and playful of the two, is less skittish than his brother
  • Stays close to Clark, is less independent
  • Can often be found snuggling with Clark in the hammock at the upper end of their hillside enclosure

Clark

  • Can be identified by a small dark spot on his lip, right under his nose
  • Is leaner of the two
  • More cautious, reacts to people and noises
  • Is more independent

Meet the Boys

These two island fox brothers were found orphaned on San Clemente Island and brought to the Santa Barbara Zoo.

Small Yet Mighty

Island foxes are descendants of mainland gray foxes, but have grown smaller over thousands of years to adapt to the limited resources of their island homes.

About the size of housecats, island foxes are the smallest foxes found in the U.S. But even at five pounds, they are the largest land mammal on the Channel Islands and the apex predator.

On the islands, they hunt both on the ground and in trees, as they are agile climbers. It depends on the island, but foxes can catch deer mice, birds, crickets, beetles, earwigs, snails, and even crabs found along the shoreline. They also forage for fruit from cactus, manzanita, saltbushes, and sea figs.

Island Homes

Island foxes are found on six of the eight Channel Islands – and nowhere else on earth. On a clear day, four of the Channel Islands are visible from the Zoo’s hilltop.

Each island has its own genetically distinct fox subspecies, as they evolved independently. The number of the foxes’ tail vertebrae, or ear and leg size, for example, varies from island to island.

No foxes live on Anacapa Island, as it has no reliable source of fresh water, or Santa Barbara Island, which is too small to support a population.

Back from the Brink

Fans of island foxes rejoiced in August 2016 when subspecies on three of the islands were removed from the roster of federally endangered species.

In just 12 years, conservation efforts successfully responded to a nearly 90% decline of the wee candid, making it the fasted de-listing ever of any mammal on the list.

Why had the foxes disappeared so quickly? It was a chain reaction:

  • Use of pesticide DDT wiped out the islands’ resident bald eagles in the early 1990s
  • Bald eagles don’t prey on foxes – but golden eagles do
  • Golden eagles moved in – were eating island foxes into near extinction

Canine distemper and a viral disease that swept through the population were also factors. Regardless, at one time only 15 foxes remained on Santa Rosa Island, for example.

Captive fox breeding, golden eagles removal, and bald eagles reintroduction all helped bring up the numbers to early pre-crash levels.

The Santa Barbara Zoo is proud to have provided veterinary and animal care staff support to this effort, and of our continuing work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service to monitor and study island foxes.

From the Keepers

Island foxes are omnivores, and eat a lot of different things. A few years back, we put out several different ingredients that could be used to make beer, and let our foxes ‘pick’ which ones were to go in that year’s Zoo Brew signature brew. They were curious about all of them, but kept coming back to eat the cherries. Clark didn’t eat the hops, instead he peed on it to mark it as his. Draughtsmen Aleworks created a beer they called Zorro Cereza Cerveza, which is Spanish for ‘fox cherry beer.’

Heather, Senior Mammal Keeper Senior Mammal Keeper

Conservation Status

See “Back from the Brink.” The ICUN Red List now places them at “Near Threatened,” as opposed to the “Critically Endangered” status of the recent past.

Have a “Green” Lawn

DDT, a powerful pesticide, was dumped into the Pacific Ocean off the Southern California coast from 1947 to the early 1960s, eventually leading to a crash of the island fox population (see Back from the Brink). After a rain, runoff from residential gardens — and any pesticides used in them – also go into the ocean. Control insects and weed problems in your garden and lawn by using “green” gardening practices instead of pesticides. That helps keep sea life – and the creatures on up the food chain, including foxes and humans – from harm.