Scientists have found evidence of two more Sierra Nevada red foxes, one of the rarest mammals in the United States. The discoveries came in September and October 2010, when the foxes were captured in photographs by motion-activated wildlife cameras, set up in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. The photos were taken soon after the first sighting of a Sierra Nevada red fox in 20 years, back in August.
The August sighting raised the possibility that the camera might have spotted the last surviving fox in the species, wildlife biologist Adam Rich told the Sacramento Bee. But the sightings this fall confirm that there is a strong, but small, population in the wild. Scientists analyzed scat – feces – left behind by the foxes near the camera trap, and found that there was enough genetic diversity in their DNA to support a breeding population. That means that while the species is still critically endangered, the foxes are still alive and well.
The Sierra Nevada red fox is a small fox, weighing just 10 pounds on average, and measuring only two feet long from its nose to tail. They were once common among the California’s mountain ranges, but they were hunted for their soft and dark fur, and much of their habitat has been lost, contributing to their endangered status. But the photographs revive hope for the Sierra Nevada red foxes’ survival.
Learning to love science. As a producer for EarthSky, Lindsay Patterson interviews some of the world's most fascinating scientists. Through EarthSky, her work content is syndicated on some of the world's top media websites, including USAToday.com and Reuters.com. Patterson is also charged with helping to stay in steady communication with the thousands of scientists who contribute to EarthSky's work of making the voice of science heard in a noisy world. She graduated from Colorado College with a degree in creative writing, and a keen interest in all forms of journalism and media.