Archive » July 12, 2012
A goodwill ambassador in the making
By SaraLloyd Truax, Staff Writer
The zoo is as much about what you don’t see, as what you do.
The Santa Barbara Zoo and the Navy have a long-standing relationship when it comes to conservation and in particular, the various species of fox that live on the Channel Islands, says CEO Richard Block as an expectant crowd gathers to watch the release of a pup into his new enclosure on July 3.
The zoo is as much about what you don’t see, as what you do. The Santa Barbara Zoo and the Navy have a long-standing relationship when it comes to conservation and in particular, the various species of fox that live on the Channel Islands, says CEO Richard Block as an expectant crowd gathers to watch the release of a pup into his new enclosure on July 3.
The male fox, named Beauregard by zoo sponsors Tom and Nancy Crawford, is nearly full-grown and weighs about 4 pounds, zookeepers explain. He was discovered alongside a road by naval personnel, apparently abandoned by his parents.
Efforts to find his native family proved unsuccessful, so the then 1-month-old pup was cared for by Navy wildlife biologists on the island. Having failed to learn basic survival skills from his parents, Beau cannot be released from captivity.
“The fox, unbeknownst to him, is going to be propelled into stardom,” says Block with a smile. Like Finnegan before him, the hope is that Beau will be comfortable on a leash and coming out to meet zoo visitors.
“I’m extremely excited,” said Lt. Cmdr. Scott Strader, who had the honor of releasing the fox into his new home. “I’ve never done anything like this.” It is that excitement zoo officials hope to generate among the public.
“People only love what they learn about,” explains Melissa Booker, a wildlife biologist on San Clemente Island. “If no one gets to see island foxes, they’ll never be supportive of their conservation.”
“It’s like magic. The fox have the ability to wow the crowd,” says Block, thrilled that those attending get not only to see the animal, but the people who do the work to preserve them.
Geographically isolated by their island habitats, these fox – each island with their own slightly different species – lack immunity to parasites and diseases of their mainland counterparts. Due to the canine distemper virus and predators – both introduced by humans – the fox nearly became extinct in the 1990s, says Sheri Horiszny, the zoo’s director of animal programs.
They were added to the federal endangered species list in 2004. Santa Barbara Zoo is one of a very few organizations that exhibit the foxes, which are unique to the islands off the Santa Barbara coast. With the help of conservations efforts, the species is doing better, zoo officials say.
“I think this story speaks to the Navy’s stewardship of the island and its animals,” says Strader. “We care for these foxes.”
It is a sentiment even Beau took to heart. Timidly, the pup exits his crate, then after receiving a scratch on his head by Strader, finally plucks up the courage to take a tour of his new digs near the condor exhibit.