The little island foxes of California are back, maybe for good. Three fox subspecies found only on the state's Channel Islands have made a big comeback since they were placed on the endangered species list in 2004 and have just been removed. No mammal on the list has made a faster recovery, reports AP. The foxes are only the size of house cats and had nearly been eradicated by golden eagles. How that happened illustrates an odd chain reaction: Those carnivorous eagles had been drawn to the islands in the 19th century when settlers brought livestock, the Washington Post explains.
They feasted on piglets, then discovered the foxes—which had been on the islands for thousands of years—and all but wiped them out in the ensuing decades. The recovery plan had several components. Wildlife officials first moved the predator golden eagles to Northern California and re-introduced fish-eating bald eagles to the islands. They also bred foxes in captivity for release in the wild. Now an estimated 6,000 of the diminutive critters are back on the islands, up from the perilous figure of under 200 not too long ago. "We're ecstatic that we've reached this point so quickly," says a US Fish and Wildlife Service rep. (Read more California stories.)