AVALON, Calif. -- The wild fox population on Santa Catalina Island is so robust that biologists say they may seek to have the small animals taken off the federal endangered species list next year, it was reported Wednesday.
The number of Catalina Island foxes -- a subspecies found only on the 75-square-mile island 22 miles off the coast of Southern California -- topped out at 784 in a new count, a remarkable rebound for animals that were nearly wiped out a decade ago after an outbreak of distemper possibly introduced by someone's pet, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"These numbers are fantastic news," Julie King, senior wildlife biologist for the Catalina Island Conservancy, told The Times.
Rain -- and a lack thereof -- contributed to the population growth, King said.
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"In 2007, we had an extreme drought with less than 3 inches of rain," she told The Times.
"As a result, mule deer were dying in great numbers, and the foxes were able to scavenge off the carcasses. By the time breeding season arrived in 2008, we literally had obese foxes, and females in such good condition that they were having larger-than-normal litters."
In addition, 2008 was "a good rain year, so the rodent population exploded," she told the newspaper. "The mice were convenient to-go packages of protein for females to retrieve and feed to their pups."
About 1,300 foxes once lived on the island. The population had crashed to roughly 100 by 1999, when the conservancy and the Institute for Wildlife Studies launched a $2 million recovery program that included vaccinations and a captive breeding facility. In 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the fox as endangered.