Growing Up Kit Fox

By Jaime Rudd, WIL Scientific Aid

Spring is a transformative season in California’s Colorado Desert. The mild weather and gentle rains that trickle down during this time of year are what entices the desert flora and fauna to awaken from their dormancy.

California's Colorado Desert. This desert is a subdivision of the larger Sonoran Desert that encompasses Arizona, southeastern California, most of the Baja California peninsula, the islands of the Gulf of California, and much of the state of Sonora, Mexico. Map image courtesy of http://www.grabovrat.com.

California’s Colorado Desert. This desert is a subdivision of the larger Sonoran Desert that encompasses Arizona, southeastern California, most of the Baja California peninsula, the islands of the Gulf of California, and much of the state of Sonora, Mexico. Map image courtesy of http://www.grabovrat.com. Inset photo courtesy of Jaime Rudd.

Colorful desert flowers come into bloom and sweeten the air as moths, butterflies, bees and other insects bustle about collecting pollen all the while fertilizing each blossom.  Various desert reptiles come out from torpor and sprawl upon the sand as the sun’s rays rest upon their backs.  The invertebrates and small mammals, when not offering new life of their own, are out collecting seeds and eating the newly arrived vegetation. It is also the time of year when the mild-mannered spring desert welcomes the next generation of desert kit foxes (Vulpes macrotis).

A mated pair of desert kit foxes. The male (top photo), stretches after a night of hunting for both his mate (bottom photo) and himself. These foxes both serve as disease sentinels in the California Department of Fish & Wildlife's (CDFW) desert kit fox disease monitoring project. Each fox is equipped with a radio collar that emits a unique frequency allowing biologists to monitor their survival after an outbreak of canine distemper virus (CDV) occurred in this desert valley the year before.

A mated pair of desert kit foxes. The male (top photo), stretches after a night of hunting for both his mate (bottom photo) and himself. These foxes both serve as disease sentinels in the California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s (CDFW) desert kit fox disease monitoring project. Each fox is equipped with a radio collar that emits a unique frequency allowing biologists to monitor their survival after an outbreak of canine distemper virus (CDV) occurred in this desert valley the year before. Photo courtesy of CDFW, Region 6.

Monogamous in nature, kit foxes form pair-bonds that can be lifelong. During the early stage of pup-rearing and care, the female will hermit herself inside the den. Her mate is busier than usual, setting out to hunt for two, returning to the den with prey.

This female desert kit fox keeps a close eye on her den. She has 4 pups that her and her mate have been diligently been providing for.

This female desert kit fox keeps a close eye on her den. She has 4 pups that her and her mate have been diligently been providing for. Photo courtesy of CDFW, Region 6.

Once the pups are old enough, they are coaxed from their subterranean shelter under the watchful eye of their parents.

Already a couple of months old, the pups begin to explore a bit more while their parents remain close by.

Already a couple of months old, the pups begin to explore a bit more while their parents remain close by. Photo courtesy of CDFW, Region 6.

At nearly 3 months old, these pups are gaining more independence. While neither parent is seen in the photograph, they remain nearby.

At nearly 3 months old, these pups are gaining more independence. While neither parent is seen in the photograph, they remain nearby. Photo courtesy of CDFW, Region 6.

The pups will continue to stay with their parents for the duration of spring and early summer. The later summer months bring with it heat, independence, and all too often difficult life lessons. It is in these later months that the journey into adulthood and harsh desert introductions may end for some.

Remote cameras captured these images of a bobcat (Lynx rufus, top photo) and a coyote (Canis latrans, bottom photo) passing through a desert kit fox den complex.

Remote cameras captured these images of a bobcat (Lynx rufus, top photo) and a coyote (Canis latrans, bottom photo) passing through a desert kit fox den complex. Photo courtesy of CDFW, Region 6.

But for now, the season is young and it is still a time when the desert truly gives life, both day and night.

This male desert kit fox looks over his 4 pups on a cool desert evening. Sunset is one of the most active times for desert kit foxes as the adults prepare to leave their den complexes (and their young) for an evening hunt.

This male desert kit fox looks over his 4 pups on a cool desert evening. Sunset is one of the most active times for desert kit foxes as the adults prepare to leave their den complexes (and their young) for an evening hunt. Photo courtesy of CDFW, Region 6.

The Wildlife Investigations Laboratory would like to thank Jose Figueroa & David Elms from our Region 6 CDFW office for the wonderful photos captured by remote camera. Remote cameras have been a useful, non-invasive tool for biologists to detect animal presence and monitor the health and physical condition of these desert dwellers. All the photos featured in this story belong to a single mated pair that is being monitored as part of CDFW’s desert kit fox disease monitoring efforts in Riverside County.

A California Native Receives a Warm Welcome in Arizona

If you ever find yourself in Tucson, Arizona, stop by the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum (ASDM) and say hi to a California native … mountain lion that is. The zoo recently took in a wayward mountain lion cub that had been orphaned this past March.

This young California native is the new mascot of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) and is looking for a name. Information for the naming contest can be found by clicking here. Photo credit: Rhonda Spencer, ASDM.

This young California native is the new mascot of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) and is looking for a name. Information for the naming contest can be found by visitng the ASDM home page. Photo credit: Rhonda Spencer, ASDM.

Malnourished and emaciated, this cub found itself in a precarious situation – hiding among bushes in a residential backyard in San Jose. The homeowner contacted local authorities including wildlife officers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). With the assistance of the San Jose Police Department, local animal control, and Wildlife Emergency Services (WES), CDFW successfully captured the cub and transported him to the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley (WCSV), where the lion was sedated and examined. Although the cub was bright, alert and responsive at the time of capture, he was very dehydrated and in poor body condition (emaciated), weighing only 15 pounds. He also had a severe flea and tick infestation.  WCSV volunteers gave the cub fluids, applied flea control, and moved him to a secured area to rest overnight until the cub could be transported to CDFW’s Wildlife Investigation Laboratory (WIL) in Rancho Cordova for further evaluation and medical care by a state wildlife veterinarian.

Once at WIL, the cub received additional treatments that included fluids, antibiotics, a dewormer, and tick treatment. Further diagnostic testing was performed including a complete blood panel, feline leukemia/feline immunodeficiency virus test, and fecal exam. Although his blood work was normal and the disease testing was negative, the cub would continue to be closely monitored by WIL veterinarians and staff over the next few weeks for signs of illness. While it is common for female mountain lions to briefly leave their young while they hunt, the severity of this cub’s emaciation led wildlife professionals to suspect that this cub had been orphaned. As to why he was orphaned was uncertain – it is possible that his mother was killed, but he could have also been abandoned due to ailing health.

The Wildlife Investigations Laboratory (WIL) provides safe, temporary placement of wildlife that has been confiscated, orpahned or injured animals, or "nuissance" animals. We are not a rehab facility and it is not our goal to remove otherwise healthy individuals from the wild - unless an extreme situation requires the permanent captivity of an individual. Once in a while animals come to our veterinarians in need of serious medical care. Our veterinarians must decide what is ethical and humane. For this young lion, he was emaciated and starving but otherwise healthy.

Although the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory (WIL) is not a rehabilitation facility, occasionally WIL has to intervene in wildlife animal welfare conflicts. Our devoted team of wildlife veterinarians, biologists and WIL administrative staff assist to provide safe, temporary placement for “wayward wildlife.” For some wildlife in need of serious medical care, our veterinarians must decide what is ethical and humane with regards to their treatment and recovery. It is illegal to rehabilitate and release mountain lions in California, and our veterinarians knew that with treatment this young lion would make a full recovery, so we contacted the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) – one of the nation’s leading outdoor-living museums.

Over the course of three weeks, WIL staff carefully reintroduced the emaciated cub to appropriate foods and, with the help of the Folsom Zoo, designed a balanced diet that would satisfy the nutritional needs for the growing cub. To keep the cub physically active, a variety of toys were introduced to encourage the cub’s curiosity and to give him lots of opportunities for play. It is during this course of time that WIL staff searched for a suitable facility that the cub could call home. It is currently illegal to rehabilitate mountain lions in California and thus it is our responsibility at WIL to find sanctuary placement for all confiscated and non-releasable mountain lions in appropriate permitted wildlife facilities. For this reason, WIL keeps in contact with zoos and nature centers all over the country that may have an interest in helping the department take animals that are in need of placement. This is how our little lion cub came to find a welcoming home at the ASDM.

Knowing ASDM’s strong commitment to wildlife conservation and their desire to help a non-releasable wild mountain lion in need of placement, it was an easy decision to call  and ask them if they were interested.  WIL knew this little mountain lion cub would have a large, beautiful natural enclosure to live in with plenty of good care.  WIL also knew that this mountain lion would capture the attention of the thousands of people who visited the ASDM and become the ambassador for the species country wide.

Mountain lion cub (Puma concolor). Photo courtesy Deana Clifford

Mountain lion cub (Puma concolor). Photo courtesy Deana Clifford

Once the cub was deemed healthy enough to travel and approvals for his placement were granted by both state wildlife agencies, the cub was transported by WIL staff to Blythe, California. The cub was transferred over to Arizona-Sonoran Desert staff early in the morning on April 15, 2013.

WIL would sincerely like to thank all of those involved in the safe capture and care of this mountain lion cub on March 9, 2013. We would also like to thank the Sacramento Zoo for providing frozen treats and vaccines and the Folsom Zoo for all of their assistance in creating a nutritionally balanced diet. Lastly, we would like to extend our gratitude to the ASDM for the wonderful care and welcome they have given this cub – updates and the official ASDM Press Release can be found by following the link.

Story of Two Mountain Lion Cubs

Mountain lions 'Kuma' and 'Kyla' at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue

Mountain lions ‘Kuma’ and ‘Kyla’ at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue
Photo Credit: Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue

Four years ago, the Wildlife Investigations Lab was involved in caring for two mountain lion cubs that had been victims of abuse at the hands of poachers.  Now that the prosecution of the poachers has concluded, their story can be told. Many wonderful groups and individuals have been involved in this case, from the care of these lions to the legal prosecution of the offenders. Please follow the links below for their story details.

Caring for Kuma and Kyla, a permanent home – Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue

Caring for the cubs and pursuing the poachers –  Department of Fish and Game Report

Prosecuting the poachers – Napa Deputy District Attorney’s Report

Farewell to WIL Cub

by WIL Scientific Aids, Tom Batter & Jaime Rudd

Since July, the Wildlife Investigations Lab (WIL) has been caring for a black bear cub that had been stricken with mange, ringworm and bacterial skin infections. Although she still has some patches of thin hair and scarring on her back from the severe wounds she incurred, she has made wonderful progress and is almost fully recovered.

As her stay at WIL comes to an end, her next adventure begins at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. While we are sad to see her go, we know her new caretakers will be excellent guardians. You can learn more about her and how she came to the WIL by following the link. To catch her playing in her pool (and attacking an artichoke) click here.

Here are some photographs where you can track the progress of her recovery:

Week 5

Week 7

Weel 8. Photo courtesy of WIL volunteer Jamie Sherman.

Week 10

Week 12

Week 15

HaPpY HaLlOwEeN!

All of us at the Wildlife Investigations Lab would like to wish you and your family a safe and happy Halloween!

Do you recognize this little bear cub enjoying a Halloween treat? It may be difficult considering she has a beautiful, thick coat of hair growing in! Click here to read about her  amazing recovery.

Swainson’s Hawk Rescued from Busy Freeway in Davis, CA

I was returning to the Region 2 office from UC Davis Tuesday June 19 when I saw an injured hawk in the shoulder of the fast lane – right on the yellow line of eastbound Interstate 80. Pulling into the shoulder near the center divide, I assessed the situation and made a call to Wildlife Investigation Lab’s (WIL) Stella McMillin, Krysta Rogers, and veterinarian Deana Clifford. Our rescue mission was simple, but dangerous: rescue the hawk from the freeway in a manner that was safe for the hawk, me and freeway traffic.

Adult Swainson’s Hawk

The hawk was alive but injured, and I sensed that if I approached it, it might go directly into traffic.  If I were to do nothing, the hawk still could head into traffic and cars were starting to swerve to avoid the hawk. Stella and Krysta called the California Highway Patrol while Deana contacted Yolo County Animal Services for further assistance. She also alerted the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH).

CHP Officer Marco Rivera was on the scene and ready to help within minutes. While going over a rescue plan, the hawk managed to move into the center divide among the oleander bushes – safely away from traffic. Knowing this was our window to safely act and once I guaranteed to Officer Rivera that I could capture the hawk and safely contain it, he acted. After briefly halting all the eastbound freeway traffic for me, I was able capture the hawk and place her in the only animal transport carrier I had – a live animal trap. I know this is not the ideal carrier for a raptor (or any bird), but it was all that I had in my vehicle and a freeway hawk rescue was not on my list of things to do that day! With the hawk safely in my vehicle, Officer Rivera escorted me to the Yolo Fruit Stand where I met up with Yolo County Animal Service.

With the danger of the freeway behind us, we agreed I would take the hawk to the VMTH for evaluation.

Swainson’s Hawks are a state threatened species and populations are declining throughout much of their range. In the Central Valley, these beautiful birds arrive in early March or April to breed. The breeding season can last through August until they gather again to start fall migration. Most of these hawks winter in Mexico, Central and South America. This species is one of the many that is vulnerable to pesticide poisoning. Pesticide use in Argentina was responsible for the deaths of nearly 6,000 individuals in 1995-1996. CDFG has initiated a Swainson’s Hawk inventory in response to the listing and more information can be found at the California Swainson’s Hawk Inventory.

I am happy to report that this hawk was treated for soft tissue and head trauma at the VMTH and is now being cared for at the California Raptor Center.   I am hopeful that she will be released soon!

Thanks again to Officer Rivera for his exceptional professionalism and ability to control the situation quickly and safely – he helped to give this hawk a second chance! A big thank you goes out to Deana, Stella, and Krysta for their assistance.

CDFG does not advise anyone to risk their safety and the safety of others to care for sick and injured wildlife. If you should find an injured bird or wild animal, please visit CDFGs Living with Wildlife to learn more.

For more information about pesticide use and wildlife conflicts, please read A Sad End for a Coyote by WILs Stella McMillin.

Adult Swainson’s Hawk

For more information on Swainson’s Hawks or other wonderful birds in our area please visit All About Birds by Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology or the Seattle Audubon Societies Bird Web.

More information on wildlife rehabilitation and a complete list of wildlife rehabilitation facilities in your area can be found by clicking on the links.