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Chuck Graham

How to Outfox a Channel Islands Fox

What to Do to Ensure These Cute Critters Don’t Eat Your Stuff


In the Sierra Mountains, there are bear boxes, but out on the Channel Islands National Park, there are fox boxes. Believe it. The house-cat-sized rascals weighing in at a robust three to five pounds are the largest (and craftiest) island fauna on the windswept, volcanic chain.

I can attest. With their numbers soaring across Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel islands, it’s always best to keep a wary eye out for the smallest fox species in North America. I’ve watched them thoroughly sniff out my kayak, indulge in a raging granola party inside my two-person tent, and, yes, even climb gingerly into my lap as I enjoyed some dried mangoes. Not a picnic table, personal floatation device, backpack, pocket, or dry bag goes unexplored in their lifelong quest for potential chow. Needless to say, the cricket and endemic deer mice populations are safer since we humans began traipsing across the isles.

Not that it’s all business for these island dwellers. The cinnamon-colored cuties enjoy a good rag doll now and again, too, sneaking off with campers’ shoes and socks, shaking them furiously, easily reminding me of my rambunctious pup at home. One day while lying in my tent with an open flap, one of the little hooligans tiptoed inside and ran off with one of my well-worn trail shoes, bounding awkwardly halfway across the shaded campground on the southeast end of Santa Cruz Island. It was an amazing feat in itself, considering my size-12 trail shoe was almost as large as the tiny island thief itself.

I keep my tent zipped when I’m not there, but even that involves a little strategy. This became evident a couple of summers ago, when I caught a mother island fox red-handed teaching her mischievous kit how to open my tent. I quickly learned if the tent’s zippers are zipped near ground level, that’s an invitation for a potential island fox free-for-all. They’ve learned to tug on zippers and enter the forbidden zone, so I keep my tent zipped at its high point. A mini carabiner or even a paper clip to secure the zips together comes in handy. So heed the advice from a frequent Channel Islander with enough muddy island fox prints streaked across my tent to prove it.

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