BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — The San Joaquin kit fox has been on the endangered species list for more than 50 years, but just a few years ago the small, furry animal seemed to thrive in Bakersfield’s surprisingly hospitable environment.
Since then the kit fox population has declined by about 50 percent according to Erica Kelly, a research ecologist for the Endangered Species Recovery Program (ESRP), an effort out of California State University, Stanislaus.
“So, five years ago we had a nice population of foxes in (Bakersfield), and then we started getting calls about sick-looking animals,” Kelly said.
After trapping and examining some of the kit foxes in the area, they discovered the local population had been infested with sarcoptic mange, a mite infestation that affects the skin.
The mites burrow into the skin and can cause a variety of problems for the animal infected. Unfortunately, the ESRP has never seen a kit fox infected with mange survive.
“For kit foxes, it’s 100-percent fatal. So, within three months of being infested with this mite they do pass away and it’s a very slow, painful death,” Kelly said.
The ESRP said mange has never been documented in kit foxes before, so a lot of its efforts are focused on researching the local population in collaboration with other organizations like University of California, Davis and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CADFW).
Jaime Rudd is a scientific researcher with the CADFW. She spoke with Eyewitness News by phone and explained how losing the kit fox population would impact the city.
“The kit foxes are really great rodent abatement, sort of naturally, so if we start to see their population decline we can start to see probably an increase in rodents,” Rudd said.
Rudd also spoke about the attraction of having an endangered species in Bakersfield and thinks it’s a great draw for visitors.
With no solid explanation for the mange epidemic, Kelly and the ESRP are continuing to research these endangered foxes and say they need the public’s help. They encourage anyone who sees a kit fox in their area to keep a safe distance, snap a picture, and send it to the ESRP at email@example.com.