CSU Bakersfield’s Campus Kit Fox Population


Department. From camera stations located on Bakersfield’s campus.

Jessica Espinoza Diaz, Social Media Manager

Recently, CSU Bakersfield’s Public Safety team sent out an email to Campus Students, Staff, and Faculty about the change in speed limit of a campus road. The email reads, “Effective immediately, the speed limit for CSUB Way, around the curve, has temporarily been reduced to 15mph. This is required mitigation for a kit fox den near the roadway. Please slow down and abide by the speed limit.” 

Few recipients of the email may not have been aware that the university was home to an endangered species. In fact, in 2018 The Runner covered the Sarcoptic mange that was threatening their population numbers.  

For more information about the kit fox population and their mange outbreak, we got in contact with Dr. Brian Cypher, a researcher for CSU Stanislaus, who has studied the foxes here on campus. He connected us with a few of his group members who are closely monitoring the endangered species. Erica Kelly and Nicole Deatherage are part of The Endangered Species Recovery Program (ESRP) and  both are CSU Bakersfield graduates from the Biology MS program. The following is a Q &A with Kelly and Deatherage about the endangered species and their history with the university. 

Q. How is the kit fox population, in Kern County/Bakersfield, doing in their efforts to bounce back from the 2018 mange breakout?

A. Sarcoptic mange first appeared in San Joaquin kit foxes in Bakersfield in 2013 and in Taft in 2019. As of yet, those are the only two locations where mange has been detected in kit foxes . The population in Bakersfield has been monitored extensively and our annual remote camera survey shows their numbers have declined by nearly 70% since starting the survey in 2015. Historically, the Bakersfield kit fox population was estimated to be between 400-500 individuals, but more recent estimates are only 100-200 individuals.  The situation in Taft is newer and we don’t have a clear idea of how much that population has been affected yet.

Q. How much damage to the population did the disease cause? 

A. While kit foxes have adapted well to urban development, mange has only appeared in San Joaquin kit foxes living in urban areas. The Bakersfield kit foxes have been a robust and informative population to study kit fox biology and also add to the numbers and resiliency of the overall population of kit foxes in the San Joaquin Valley. More than 90% of kit fox habitat has been converted for human uses (housing, agriculture, industrial, etc.), so all remaining populations are important.

Q. Have they or will they be able to bounce back to their original numbers?

A. We have not observed an official increase in numbers since the start of the mange epidemic in Bakersfield. From our camera survey data, the population has somewhat “bottomed out” and leveled off the past few years (see graph below) and this leveling off is likely due to the population dropping to low enough levels that mange doesn’t have many opportunities to spread to and kill other kit foxes. We have however had 11 litters reported this year, as compared to only four litters reported last year, which may be indicative of an increase in population numbers. Sarcoptic mange has been studied extensively in a similar canid, the red fox, and may display a cyclical pattern where the number of foxes with mange rises and falls repeatedly. This is likely a result of the population dropping and mange not spreading as quickly (similar to what we are seeing with the kit foxes) and then the population recovering and mange having more foxes and more opportunities to infest individuals. In red foxes, mange does not appear to ever die off but it also does not seem to kill the entire population either. Mange will likely behave similarly in the kit foxes and this is supported by a recent modeling paper published by Dr. Brian Cypher and colleagues.

Q. In an interview with The Runner in 2018 Dr. Brian Cypher mentioned his disappointment with CSU Bakersfield’s embrace of the kit foxes population present on our campus. Do you think they have made more of an effort since then?

A. CSU Bakersfield has always been a hot spot for kit foxes in Bakersfield. Kit foxes enjoy the open landscaping, abundant rodents, quiet evenings, and structures to den under at school campuses. They also offer something to the school by way of rodent and insect control (these are their favorite natural foods), discussions about endangered species and their ecology, research opportunities, and are just an interesting species to observe, particularly if there are pups out and about! The Endangered Species Recovery Program (ESRP) was happy to see that CSU Bakersfield had roped off the recently discovered natal den, slowed the speed limit, and sent out a campus wide email informing about the litter. That is the best thing that can be done for a kit fox litter.

Q. Has CSU Bakersfield made more of an effort to protect the species as they begin to recover from the fatal mange outbreak?

A. We have consistently had members of the public, including people at CSU Bakersfield, report fox sightings to us over the years which is very useful for our data, even if the fox is not sick with mange.

Q. What could the school or its students do different as we continue sharing our campus with such incredible creatures?

A. Continuing to report kit fox sightings, including road kills or other dead kit foxes, to ESRP is very helpful, particularly if they can also take a picture of the fox and send it to us . We can usually tell if a fox has mange or is otherwise injured by a cell phone picture. We are a very small organization and rely heavily on members of the public as our eyes and ears for kit fox information. Sightings can be reported to our office phone: 661-835-7810, our email: [email protected], our Facebook group (please join!): Facebook.com/groups/friendsoftheSJKF, or my mobile phone (Nicole Deatherage, wildlife biologist): 703-209-2113. If you do see a fox, be sure to give them plenty of space. Kit foxes are primarily nocturnal, so they are usually sleeping during the busiest times at campus and will mostly keep to themselves as long as they are not being fed.

Some sightings of the kit foxes and their pups have been made on the campus. Frankie Nadal, a copy editor at The Runner said the following about his sighting, “I’ve seen a few different animals scampering around campus.It was the week before Spring Break, on that Thursday. Early afternoon, around 2 p.m., and out across the admin quad. I was on my afternoon walk, taking a small break from work, and on my way back to the Veterans Center, there was an older person sort of standing and staring about. They called me over and pointed out the kit foxes. There were a few of them, a mother and some of her young, I think. The little ones were playing while she was herding them around, it was just adorable! Unfortunately, my eyesight isn’t the best, and I had to get back to work, so I couldn’t really follow them when they were off. I imagine they went back to their den, though, seeing as how that area is now closed off for environmental protection.”