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Causes and Rates of Mortality of Swift Foxes in Western Kansas


The swift fox once occupied most of the Great Plains of North America from westcentral Texas to the prairies of Alberta (Carbyn et al. 1994). Settlement of the prairies led to declines in swift fox numbers; by 1900, the species was rare throughout much of its range (Hillman and Sharps 1978, Zumbaugh and Choate 1985). Many factors likely were responsible for the decline, including inadvertent poisoning (aimed at gray wolves [Canis lupus]), intense trapping, and habitat changes and associated loss of prey species (Scott-Brown et al. 1987). In 1995, responding to a petition for listing the swift fox as endangered in the northern part of its historic range, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that listing was warranted but precluded by higher listing priorities (Federal Register 1995).

The magnitude and cause of mortality of wild carnivores such as the swift fox is difficult to assess because they are secretive and dead animals are seldom found, yet better understanding of mortality factors is needed for management agencies to develop conservation plans for this species. Available information identifies coyotes as the principal predator of swift foxes (Laurion 1988, Covell 1992, Carbyn et al. 1994). Other predators that have been identified are golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) and American badgers (Taxidea taxus; Rongstad et al. 1989. Ecology of swift fox on the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, Colorado. Unpublished final report to the U.S. Army, Fort Carson, Colorado; Carbyn et al. 1994). In this study, we determined rates and causes of mortality for radiocollared adult and juvenile swift foxes in 2 study areas of differing landscape characteristics in western Kansas from March 1996 through January 1997.

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