Ten Santa Cruz Island fox pups have been released into the wild, the last of a group reared in captivity as part of an effort to restore the endangered species.
The pups scurried into wooded canyons Monday in the middle of the 96-square-mile island off the Ventura County coast, said Tim Coonan, a biologist with the National Park Service.
There were once 1,500 foxes, but their numbers dwindled to as few as 80 because of pigs and turkeys brought to the island by ranchers. The pigs and turkeys provided prey for golden eagles, which also began feeding on the foxes.
The island fox population has since rebounded to more than 300 with the help of the breeding program, Coonan said. About 85 foxes have been raised in captivity and released since 2003.
"This is the final stage of the captive breeding program," Coonan said. "The island foxes themselves are going to recover the population, and they will only increase from here."
The released pups were born in the spring and over the next month will have access to feeding stations containing dog food to ease the transition.
Their parents, about 10 foxes, will be released in a month.