New publication helps biologists and veterinarians keep endangered island foxes healthy

Island fox pup from Santa Catalina Island – Photo courtesy D. Clifford

When your pet goes to the veterinarian, he or she might recommend conducting hematology and serum biochemistry panel, a.k.a. “bloodwork”,  to check the function of your pet’s immune system and organs.  By comparing the results of the tests with normal reference data from healthy animals, the veterinarian is able to determine if there may be an infection or problem with organ function, such as kidney or liver failure.

Wildlife veterinarians also conduct blood panels on wildlife species when faced with sick or injured animals, or health problems in a population.  However, interpreting the results of these tests is often difficult because information about what is normal for a healthy animal does not exist for most wildlife species.  For example, the blood values for a red fox cannot be accurately interpreted using the normal reference data from domestic dogs.

For endangered species, the need for appropriate blood work reference data is important for population health monitoring and for care of sick and injured animals. One such species where this information was needed is the island fox, an endangered relative of the gray fox that exists only on six of the Channel Islands off the coast of California. Four of the six island fox subspecies suffered dramatic declines in the late 1990s. Aggressive conservation efforts implemented by land managers at Channel Islands National Park, The Nature Conservancy and the Catalina Island Conservancy, government agencies and public and private organizations saved the four endangered island fox populations from extinction.

As part of the effort to keep island foxes healthy, UC Davis graduate student Hiromi Inoue, worked with the WIL’s wildlife nongame species veterinarian, Deana Clifford, and a team of researchers from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, the Institute for Wildlife Studies, and Channel Islands National Park to develop the normal blood value reference ranges for endangered island foxes. The results of Hiromi’s Master’s thesis are published in the July issue of the Journal of Wildlife Diseases. Congratulations Hiromi!

Biologists and veterinarians can now utilize these reference values to better monitor the health of both the island fox population and to treat sick and injured foxes.

Link to the article abstract in Journal of Wildlife Diseases

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