Janice Mackey, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8908
Deana Clifford, Wildlife Investigations Lab, (916) 358-2378
Researchers Follow Up on 2012 Distemper Outbreak
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has completed the second year of surveys of desert kit foxes in eastern Riverside County.
The recent monitoring was part of a follow-up program to assess the overall health of the foxes, following a distemper outbreak that began in late 2011. Researchers from CDFW’s Wildlife Investigations Lab (WIL) trapped, examined and tagged 70 foxes over a two-week period. The examination included drawing blood for detection of the canine distemper virus, swabbing the eyes, throat and nose to detect viral shedding and fitting a small number of foxes with radio collars to continue ongoing survival monitoring.
“Proactive wildlife management programs such as the desert kit fox surveys will allow us to monitor the overall population health and determine if any stress factors are causing them harm,” said CDFW Wildlife Veterinarian Deana Clifford. “We are delighted that we did not find any sick foxes from distemper during this survey. We plan to return this spring after the pupping season to examine this year’s pups, as weaning pups are especially vulnerable to distemper.”
In January 2012, CDFW investigated the first-ever canine distemper outbreak reported in desert kit foxes, which caused the deaths of at least 11 desert kit foxes. The infected foxes were found 20 miles west of Blythe on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and leased to Genesis Solar LLC to construct a utility-scale solar project. At the time, wildlife officials trapped, tested and tagged 39 foxes. Researchers also attached radio collars to 12 foxes in order to obtain health information for the study. These collars are equipped with a mortality signal that pulses twice as fast as normal if the animal has not moved for six hours.
The desert kit fox, found in the southeastern deserts of California, is about the size of a well-grown house cat with very large ears and a thick, sandy-yellow coat that enables it to blend effortlessly into the desert environment. They can survive in dry climates because it obtains all its water from food sources. Its more northern relative, the San Joaquin kit fox, is listed as endangered under both state and federal endangered species acts due to loss of habitat and other factors.