Extinct Fox Turns Up Again in California

sierra nvada red fox photo

Photo via Keith Slausen / US Forest Service

The Sierra Nevada red fox was thought to be extinct, until three weeks ago anyway. U.S. Forest Service biologists captured photos of the fox with a camera set up on a trail, and took DNA samples of saliva pulled from a bait bag the fox bit into to experts at the University of California, Davis. And yep, we can put one extinct species back on the books, at least for now. Planet Save writes that wildlife genetics researchers working in the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, Ben Sacks and Mark Statham have been studying California red foxes for four years, looking at DNA from live animals and museum specimens. Experts thought they all red foxes in California were descended from Eastern red foxes, but through their research, it turns out that's not so. There are still native California red foxes in the Sierra Nevada -- and that includes one that was thought to be long gone since the 1920s.

"We got back to the Forest Service and said, 'Yep, you've got yourself a Sierra Nevada red fox there, and it's distinct from the Lassen Peak population,'" Sacks told the LA Times. "It's got a genetic signature that we haven't seen outside of the skulls and skins of museum specimens collected before 1926.

"Red foxes don't live to be 100 years old, so we're assuming there are more of them up there," Sacks added. "So we now have two small, isolated populations, and we don't know how big the second group is. That's about as endangered as you can get."

According to Sierra Forest Legacy, trapping for the fur industry in the early part of last century decreased the numbers of native California red foxes, and issues from habitat loss to competition from non-native fox species have kept numbers low.

Now, the biologists as well as federal biologists have set up more monitoring stations and cameras to find out everything they can about this new re-discovery.

Discoveries of new species are exciting, but perhaps even more exciting is when researchers discover one we though we'd lost for good.

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