A suspected canine distemper epidemic as the cause of a catastrophic decline in Santa Catalina Island foxes (Urocyon littoralis catalinae).
The island fox (Urocyon littoralis catalinae) population on Santa Catalina Island, California, USA declined precipitously in 1999 with an approximate 95% reduction on their eastern range, an area representing 87% of the island. During this investigation, between October 1999 and April 2000, evidence of live foxes dramatically decreased. The only carcass recovered during the decline succumbed to a co-infection of canine distemper virus (CDV) and toxoplasmosis. Sequence analysis of the viral P gene, derived by polymerase chain reaction, indicated that the virus was closely related to CDV from a mainland USA raccoon (Procyon lotor). Nine of 10 foxes trapped in 1999-2000, on the eastern portion of the island after the decline, had serologic evidence of exposure to CDV, whereas only four of 19 foxes trapped in this region in 1998 had antibodies reactive against CDV. The confirmation of CDV in one deceased fox, evidence of exposure to CDV in east-end foxes in 1999-2000 compared to 1998, and documentation of raccoon introductions to the island, implicates canine distemper as the cause of the population decline.