State wildlife biologists in Lassen Volcanic National Park have been trying to learn about the Sierra Nevada’s rare red fox for the past 30 years. Although the foxes have proved to be very elusive over the decades, researchers are finally making gains to learn about their lives as a high-elevation winter mammal.
Researchers recaptured a pair of mating Sierra Nevada red foxes just south of Lassen Park on February 20. The team was able to replace their non-functioning GPS systems in order to track them and learn key characteristics about the animal. These are the same red foxes they were able to capture in the winter of 2018.
Data gathered from this ongoing research provides critical insight into one of California’s rarest mammals and perhaps Lassen’s most tenacious winter resident.
In 1980, the red fox was listed as a threatened animal in California. When scientists attempted to intensify their studies of the animal in 2008, they were committed to capturing one for study. In 2018, these are the first two they’ve caught, and now their tracking devices will allow scientists to understand the red fox’s home range and how it uses its habitat. They also hope to learn about its den sites and reproductive rates.
The Sierra Nevada red fox once thrived in the mountainous areas of Northern California, including the Lassen area and the Sacramento Valley. But populations have declined immensely in the past century, likely because the size of their unique high-elevation habitat has shrunk.
Much has already been learned by the two captured red foxes. For example, the male fox traveled seven miles a day around the peaks in Lassen, a surprisingly quick travel rate. Now that scientists can track the animals, they will have an easier time locating and capturing the others in the den. The researchers hope to capture at least four more red foxes in the next calendar year.
Although you may not see them, vast species of wildlife call NorCal wilderness their home. It’s so much fun to be able to learn about these creatures and their habits. Isn’t science cool?