Visitors to the rolling grasslands of Montana's Blackfeet Indian Reservation may wonder what animal is making a chirping sound. It sounds like a bird, but it's the mating call of the swift fox.
The long-legged, long-eared and
bushy-tailed animals were once common on the range, eating
grasshoppers and Richardson's ground squirrels. Lewis and Clark
first noticed the 4- to 6-pound foxes on the Rocky Mountain Front
in 1805. A century later, trappers captured 43 foxes east of
But extensive trapping and
declining prairie dog populations nearly wiped out the fox.
Ranchers in Montana and North Dakota hadn't seen them in decades
until 20 years ago, when Canadian biologists began a
captive-breeding program. Some foxes made their way into the United
States; then, last September, with $20,000 from the nonprofit
Defenders of Wildlife, the tribe released 30 captive-bred Canadian
foxes on the reservation.
"It warms the heart to
see them returned to their native homeland," says Ira Newbreast,
director of the Tribal Fish and Game
Montana opposed the reintroduction at
first, but officials eventually sent a letter of support to the
tribe. "There was very little controversy within the tribe,"
Newbreast says. "The swift fox doesn't pose the many concerns that
other animals, like the wolf or grizzly bear, do."
Once a candidate for the endangered species
list, the fox was dropped for consideration because it is still
relatively common throughout southeast Wyoming, Colorado and
Kansas. Some of the animals can also be found in New Mexico,
Oklahoma and Texas.