Preventing Mange In Kit Foxes

 Photo by CSU Stanislaus Endangered Species Recovery Program
Photo by CSU Stanislaus Endangered Species Recovery Program

 

My college alma mater, Fresno State, is in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, The school’s mascot, Bulldogs, unfortunately became the center of controversy years ago when the city’s most noted gang adopted the bulldog and now sports Fresno State apparel as the school, leaving the school and athletic department helpless to stop the negative press from the connection between institution of higher learning and its beloved sports teams and a culture of violence and criminal activity.

Though it was never a likely decision and admission that the gang had won, there was some talk that changing  mascots was a prudent decision. I thought if it ever came to that, the school should pick a name that reflects the area around Fresno. What about the San Joaquin Kit Fox? OK, this tiny little Canidae isn’t imposing, if colleges can away with having  nicknames like Ducks, Beavers, Buckeyes, Cornhuskers, Salukis and Deamon Deacons, Fighting Kit Foxes doesn’t sound so bad, right?

OK, enough about college mascots and back to the point of all this: the San Joaquin Kit Fox is an endangered species, with an estimated Central California population of about 3,000. But as United State Fish and Wildlife biologist Dana Herman reports, the fight to preserve the kit fox from Fresno to Bakersfield includes helping stop mange from sickening or killing these Valley native critters.

If untreated mange can be fatal for animals like kit foxes. Mange can Photo by CSU Stanislaus Endangered Species Recovery Program
If untreated mange can be fatal for animals like kit foxes.
Mange can Photo by CSU Stanislaus Endangered Species Recovery Program

 

Here’s some of Herman’s report:

If you’re a pet owner, you’ve probably seen the word mange written on your pet’s monthly prevention medication or posted on the wall at your veterinarian’s office. Sarcoptic mange is a highly contagious and potentially fatal skin disease caused by parasitic mites. In foxes and other closely related species like coyotes and wolves, sarcoptic mange is caused by a canine-specific variety of mite that is not able to survive and reproduce on humans. Domestic dogs are easily protected from the disease, as long as they are receiving monthly tick and flea prevention medication.

After colonizing a mammalian host, these microscopic mites will burrow into the skin, depositing eggs, exoskeletons and fecal waste along the way; this leads to intense itching and hair loss, leaving the host more vulnerable to parasites and skin disease. If left untreated, sarcoptic mange can eventually result in death due to factors like secondary infection, hypothermia, dehydration and starvation. While mange has been widely documented in red fox populations across the globe, with the first recorded outbreak dating back to 1689, it has only just been documented in the San Joaquin kit fox within the last three years.

In 2013, the first cases of mange were reported in an urban population of kit fox inhabiting the City of Bakersfield. Since then, there have been over 90 known cases of mange in this population, with the number of infected individuals increasing each year. This outbreak is particularly troubling because Bakersfield hosts the last remaining stable population of San Joaquin kit fox.

Historically abundant throughout the San Joaquin Valley, kit fox now exist in small, fragmented populations. The overall population size of the San Joaquin kit fox is estimated to be as low as 3,000 individuals. While populations occurring in natural areas are subject to fluctuations in abundance due to availability of prey and water, urban kit foxes persist in an environment with a constant source of human-related food and water resources and fewer natural predators. Over the years, kit foxes in Bakersfield have maintained a population size of several hundred individuals and consistently high reproductive rates, but that stability may now be at risk.

So to steal a much-used college chant: Let’s Go Kit Foxes! Those of us with connections in the San Joaquin Valley hope you’re thriving for generations to come.

 

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