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Image: Two Island Foxes

Conservation Success! How Out of the Box Thinking Saved an Adorable Fox

This article originally published August 6, 2019.

Finally, a tale of great hope for the future of endangered species on our planet! The answers we need to solve the world’s biggest problems may come from thinking past the obvious. Here’s how World War II, eagles, and pigs have everything to do with the disappearance of an island fox off the coast of California and how we brought them back!

Off the coast of California on the Channel Islands, a species of tiny, docile foxes, called Island Foxes live their lives hunting mice and insects. They are unique to these islands and have called them home for thousands of years until a few decades ago when they nearly went extinct.

With their numbers dwindling dangerously, biologists and scientists intervened. But first, they had to figure out why the foxes were disappearing! And the answer wasn’t as straightforward as most people would believe.

Image: Two Island Foxes
Source: Pacific Southwest Region USFWS // Flickr

Bringing A Species Back from the Brink

Saving an endangered species isn’t a simple process. It isn’t just about starting a breeding program to bring their numbers up or defending against the loss of their habitats. There’s a whole complex web of cause and effect — and if we want them to survive, we need to look at all the pieces.

The story of the Island Fox is a great example of this kind of complexity. Even on a small chain of islands, there were many factors to consider as scientists processed how best to save the dwindling species. There was no point in starting a breeding program if there were bigger problems at play on the islands.

So, how did they manage to do it? Well, here’s the story from the amazing YouTube Channel Skunk Bear!

Via: Skunk Bear 1

If you want to hear more from Skunk Bear, check out their YouTube Channel, or go follow them on Facebook! They are NPR’s science video creators and every one of their videos is a joy to watch—and will leave you walking through the world way more knowledgable.

It Gets Complex Out There

When we think about the biggest problems we face in conservation today, there are a lot of elements that need attention before arriving at solutions. Saving elephants is a process of habitat management, economic interests, anti-poaching efforts and rehabilitation for orphaned baby elephants. Ridding our oceans of plastics may start with efforts far upstream. The answer to saving an ecosystem may involve the complex relationship between sea bunnies and otters.

These major issues are not the fault or success of one intervention, they require that we appreciate their complexity. To make a systemic change we have to look at the chain of events, even the seemingly minor connections, to understand where best to put our efforts.

In the case of these foxes, simply starting a breeding program or eradicating the wild pigs would never be enough to create a sustainable environment for the foxes. So often, we tackle one corner of a problem without addressing the other issues that need solving.

If we want to make a change for the species facing extinction, it takes a community of knowledgeable people, each with their own areas of expertise, coming together over a common goal.

That’s never an easy proposition; it requires thinking big and small at the same time. It forces us to confront our own biases and the things near and dear to our own areas of expertise. But when we are working in the service of a bigger cause, or an adorable Island Fox, we leave room for these biases to shift—all in the name of solving the problem.

Next, take a look at this article about the island of South Georgia where huge conservation efforts were made to bring back its wildlife from the brink of extinction!

It’s a remarkable reminder of what’s possible with collaboration and why we need big-picture thinking when it comes to conservation.

Adventure to the Island that Came Back from Extinction

Can we really save an entire ecosystem when it is nearly hunted to extinction? We can! Let’s adventure to an island of survival where life is once again finding a way.

Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast

What we do here and now has an impact on species thousands of miles away.

What we buy, how we use our resources, even how we eat, can have a ripple effect. We are as much a part of any chain of events as wild pigs or invasive species.

But unlike pigs and invading pond weed, we have the ability to educate ourselves and change our impact. Like any complex problem, there won’t be one right answer. It will be a series of little rippling out across a web of connections that creates lasting and sustainable change.

Now, more than ever, we can understand that web of connection. In appreciating its complexity we are poised to make better decisions to save species and have a positive impact on the planet.

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!


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  1. NPR’s Skunk Bear. “The Hopeful Story Of A Doomed Fox.” YouTube, NPR’s Skunk Bear, 3 Dec. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AVRSGkartg. Accessed 11 July 2019.
Image: Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber


Since 2015, Liesl has been a writer, editor, and is now the CEO at the Goodness Exchange. She is a life-long camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often root-tripping—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV

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