Camera captures two rare foxes feared to be extinct

The endangered Sierra Nevada red fox hadn’t been sighted in the past 20 years. But a series of photographs of the foxes in the wild has revived hope for the species’ survival.

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.

Oliver Ryder: Frozen Zoo closer to saving endangered species

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.

Lindsay Patterson