San Joaqin Kit Fox Population Threatened by Skin Disease Cause by Mites

Mar 19, 2017 10:50 AM EDT

A new study revealed that the population of fox species endemic to central California's San Joaquin Valley is now being threatened with a highly contagious skin disease caused by mites.

The study, published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases, showed that skin disease known as sarcoptic mange presents a real danger to the fragile population of San Joaquin kit foxes, a subspecies of the smallest canid in North America.

"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 an author of the stud, in a press release.

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Over the course of the study, the researchers were able to confirm 15 cases of sarcoptic mange. Out of those, nine were diagnosed with the disease when they were captured, while the remaining six were found dead. The researchers successfully treated three of the kit foxes found alive. The researchers also found no evidence that untreated foxes can recover from the infections, suggesting that prevention and treatment are crucial to contain and stop the further spread of the disease.

Sarcoptic mange is zoonotic disease caused by mites known as Sarcoptes scabiei. These mites burrow into the skin, causing hair loss and skin lesions, compounded by intense itching and self-trauma. Severe cases of sarcoptic mange can be fatal, highlighting the need for urgent management strategies to put a stop to potential outbreak of disease among the unique population of San Joaquin kit foxes.

Aside from sarcoptic mange, the San Joaquin kit foxes face other threats to their survival, including loss of habitat and local competition with non-native species such as red fox. At present, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife estimate the total population of San Joaquin red fox to be fewer than 7,000.

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