Endangered San Joaquin kit fox population at risk from contagious infection

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Endangered San Joaquin Kit Fox

San Joaquin kit foxes have already been classified as an endangered species and now new reports have emerged that these foxes are battling for their lives fighting off sarcoptic mange, a skin disease caused by mites.

Researchers have published a paper in Journal of Wildlife Diseases wherein they have revealed dynamics of sarcoptic mange while also providing vital information on how to save the San Joaquin kit fox from this infectious disease.

San Joaquin kit fox, a subspecies of the smallest canid in North America, is endemic to central California’s San Joaquin Valley, but habitat loss due to development of the area over the last century has led to a sharp decline in its population. Latest statistics indicate existence of fewer than 7,000 San Joaquin kit foxes.

A critical population located in the city of Bakersfield is threatened by sarcoptic mange, first identified in spring of 2013. Sarcoptic mange is a highly contagious, zoonotic disease caused by Sarcoptes scabiei, a mite that burrows into the skin. Hair loss and skin lesions, compounded by intense itching and self-trauma, can be fatal in severe cases. Urgent management strategies are needed to stop transmission of the disease to other members of this unique population, as well as to to other kit fox groups and other canids, both wild and domestic.

“The research results presented in this paper established a critical foundation for understanding the epidemiology of sarcoptic mange and its impacts on an extremely important population of endangered San Joaquin kit foxes,” said Dr. Brian Cyphers, Associate Director and Research Ecologist of the Endangered Species Recovery Program at California State University, Stanislaus, and one of the paper’s authors.

During the study, the research team confirmed the diagnosis of sarcoptic mange in 15 kit foxes either captured or found deceased. The team successfully treated three animals of nine found alive. They found no evidence that untreated kit foxes can recover from the infection, meaning prevention and treatment are critical to containing the spread of the disease.

“With this foundational study, we have been able to leverage additional funding to continue our research, including identifying potential strategies to eliminate the disease from portions of this kit fox population and possibly from the entire population,” said Dr. Cyphers.