The rare Sierra Nevada red fox, said to be one of the most endangered mammals in North America, made history when pups, about one month old, were captured on film for the first time.
The footage from Central Oregon was obtained from one of the 16 camera traps made possible by the Oregon Zoo Foundation’s Future for Wildlife program, according to the Oregon Zoo.
The camera traps were set along the Cascade Mountain Range in the Deschutes National Forest, one of three known ranges of the Sierra Nevada red fox in Oregon and California.
Jon Nelson, wildlife curator at the High Desert Museum, knew of the existence of a den with pups earlier this spring but had no video proof. That came when museum volunteer Rhianna Axon checked the camera trap video and saw the three adorable pups frolicking about while their parents stood guard.
“Not only is it the first natal den of the animal ever discovered in the region,” Nelson said, “it’s the first time that pups have been recorded on video.”
The Sierra Nevada red fox — a small-bodied, color-morphed subspecies of the red fox that actually is often gray — has at times been considered one of the rarest animals in all of North America, though some scientists now wonder whether it has just been too elusive to see.
Axon, originally from New York, has monitored this camera for about a year. Though it’s the pups’ video debut, their parents were first photographed last year, she said. Locals say the pair has roamed the area for several years.
Nelson sent fur samples to the U.S. Forest Service, which confirmed through U.C. Davis’ canine genetics lab that this family is indeed Sierra Nevada, not one of the two other similarly small-sized subspecies of montane red fox.
According to the Oregonian, Sierra Nevada red foxes were seen in Oregon for the first time in decades in 2012, reviving hope that the species would avoid extinction. Before then, only 50 Sierra Nevada red foxes were estimated to exist, all in Northern California.
“They’re incredibly cryptic animals,” Keith Aubry, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service who conducted the first field study of the foxes in 1979, told the Oregonian. “We really have no clue how many of them there are or where they occur.”
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