Swift Fox Reintroduction Programs

Cochrane Ecological Institute's Swift Fox Reintroduction programs began in 1972 under the direction of Beryl and Miles Smeeton. This has resulted in the Species being downlisted by the Canadian Government from Extirpated to Endangered.





Cochrane Ecological Institute has been involved with developed and implemented three Swift Fox (Vulpes velox) Reintroduction Programs

The Swift Fox

The story of the return of the once extirpated (extinct over its Canadian range) swift fox to its native habitat on the northern Great Plains of North America is a twisted skein made up of a multitude of wildly different threads. Threads of history, spirituality, legislation, altruism, ambition, paternalism, cultural misunderstandings, cultural renaissance, and exploitation twined about a cause, the determination of a pair of pensioners, Miles and Beryl Smeeton, to return this smallest and most social of North America’s fox species, the swift fox, back to its native land in Canada.

I am the swift fox,

I live in uncertainty

If there is anything difficult

If there is anything dangerous to do

That is mine

Sioux Swift Fox Society song.

By 1978 swift fox were classified as extinct in Canada and extirpated over 90% of their historic range in the USA.

It is self evident that, when a sociable species has been reduced to a fraction of its numbers and extirpated over most of its range, time is no longer on its side. The ever lengthening parade of extinct wildlife, some of whose last lonely representatives have died in captivity, demonstrates this truism. For the swift fox, by the 1970’s, it was clear that extinction was inevitable unless powerful and constructive action was taken immediately

1971 - 1997 Canadian Swift Fox Reintroduction Program Saskatchewan and Alberta , Canada

In 1972, Miles & Beryl Smeeton, Alberta ranchers, decided to take action.

The Smeetons founded The Cochrane Ecological Institute, CEI, as they were devoted to restoring the prairie by breeding and reintroducing the swift fox back onto its native habitat in Canada.

~ Miles Smeeton

Whether it is feasible to reintroduce an animal (swift fox) that has become extinct through the spread of civilization is questionable, but that is what we hoped to discover. Very little is known about swift foxes, and they have a poor record of breeding in captivity: nevertheless, we intended to breed them and one day release them in their natural environment. Had we understood all the problems and work involved…we might have thought twice about the project..”

CEI Developed Portable Protective Shelter (PPS) Release Methodology

Introduced PPS to Canadian program in 1993 to 1997

These Portable protective shelters, PPS, were developed at the CEI. They are designed to be placed over an abandoned badger hole in the release sites. When the foxes are released, they are placed, in their transport kennels (see illustration) adjacent to the PPS. Food and water is also placed beside the PPS.
One of the keys to post release survival is to have a protected and familiar place that the foxes can use at will. The PPS provides that protected familiar place to reintroduced swift foxes in unfamiliar environment. Release sites (in the Blackfeet and Blood (Kainai) programmes) are selected on the basis of;
· Jurisdictional release site approval,
· a pre-release survey of habitat suitability (predator pressure, prey availability, availability of escape terrain)
· incorporates Aboriginal traditional knowledge.
The goal of successful reintroduction is to encourage the reintroduced swift foxes to stay in the release site area. The use of PPS does encourage the reintroduced swift fox to stay in the release sites.
Post release monitoring over the length of the Blackfeet swift fox reintroduction programme, during the reintroduction (1998 – 2002) and after (2002 – 2005) established high survival (75% for reintroduced adults) and good breeding success..

The swift fox population grew at a rate f 16% in 2003/04 and 14% in 2004/05…Based on the population growth rate, the number of foxes counted, and the fortunate discovery of a (breeding pair) of swift fox in Augusta, Montana, I consider this reintroduction a success. The Blackfeet tribe has....attained their goal of restoring a culturally important species to Tribal Lands and have even initiated a comeback for swift fox along the Rocky Mountain Front” (Ausband, D. M.Sc. Thesis University of Montana,2005 ).

Hard release

After experimenting with the release method developed by the Canadian government, the “hard release” method, see illustration “releasing a swift fox, Courtesy G. Scotter, Canadian Wildlife Service” which resulted in a less than 30% survival of swift fox released by South Dakota State Government, the Agency altered their reintroduction methodology to reflect the PPS method developed by CEI and used in the Blackfeet and Kainai Swift Fox reintroduction programmes. The modified reintroduction method used by the State Agency was to put imported, translocated swift fox down an abandoned badger hole and then cover the hole with chicken wire for a minimum of 48 hours. Survival success using this method increased from 30% (hard release method) to 60% using the modified PPS method (pers com SD State govt.)

Portable Protective Shelter (PPS) Release Methodology

The foxes remain in their kennels until they have recovered from the stress of transport. Then the kennel doors are opened and the foxes emerge from their transport kennels in their own time. Transport kennels and any uneaten food is removed after 7 hours. Some foxes enter the PPS immediately, some do not, but over the period following release ( five days) all reintroduced swift fox will use the PPS. PPS are removed from the reintroduction site after 10 days.

1998 - 2003 Blackfeet Swift Fox Reintroduction Program, Blackfeet Reservation, Montana, USA

In 1998 the CEI was invited by the Blackfeet Tribal Fish and Wildlife Department, Browning, Montana to join in a partnership to start the first swift fox re-introduction in the USA on the Blackfeet Tribal Lands. Defenders of Wildlife also became partners in this project and the first swift foxes were released on Blackfeet land in the fall of 1998.

2003 - 2004 Kaini Swift Fox Reintroduction Program Blood Reserve , Alberta, Canada

The swift fox is not only a key species in the prairie/foothills ecosystem, but is also an integral part of the Blackfoot Confederacy's spiritual and cultural heritage. Thus, its return to the Blood Tribal Lands, its historical homeland, has strengthend the spiritual aspects of the Blood culture. This effort was a Canadian first and was a cross-border endeavor because the successful re-establishment of swift fox on Blood Tribal Lands supported the newly reintroduced swift fox population on Blackfeet Tribal Lands in Montana, thus providing mutual benefit to both projects, both Tribes and both countries.

Here are our blackfoot reports

2017 Captive Breeding paper CEI

2003 Blackfoot Swift Fox Project Monitoring

2002 Blackfoot Release Report CEI

2001 Blackfoot Release Report CEI

2000 Blackfoot Release Report CEI