The Fight For The Swift Fox


saw the transferal in the Fall, 1980, of CEI swift fox to the University of Calgary’s “soft release” enclosures in southern Alberta with the intention that, the following spring, 1981, the doors would be opened and the animals exit in their own time.


Canadian Wildlife Service, CWS, and University of Calgary who were arranging the reintroduction, had failed to obtain requisite permits (Alberta Wildlife Act) from Government of Alberta, so the release was stopped and no release permitted until 1983 (Reynolds 1983).
Meanwhile, a decision was made to maintain the swift fox in the soft release enclosures until the inter-governmental problem was solved. Solving the problem took 2 years.
During that time the foxes had to be maintained, an effort expensive in manpower as the enclosures on the release site were isolated. To reduce the time spent, it was decided that the foxes would be fed carcasses, or portions of carcasses, on a weekly basis rather than small amounts of meat on a daily basis.
This feeding protocol (using large amounts of meat) attracted ravens and hawks. The birds flew into the enclosures to take meat. The feeding protocol also attracted coyotes who picked up and ate meat dropped by the birds. A “spin” was put on this, associating the use of soft release methodology with predator attraction, not, as was more probably the case, with the feeding protocol employed.
The swift foxes ignored the permit question and dug out of enclosures and known recruitment was equal to known loss.
The first “official” swift fox reintroduction in Canada took place in 1983. The management of swift fox reintroduction was entirely in federal and provincial government hands, the CEI had no input once the swift foxes left CEI property

1989 In April, the National Swift Fox Recovery Team was formed under RENEW (Recovery of Nationally Endangered Wildlife). Neither the Smeetons, nor any representative from the Charity they founded, were invited to join the swift Fox recovery team.

The Swift Fox Recovery Team set out to develop options and a management strategy. Their options were:

  • Option 1: Phasing out programme, immediate disposal of captive colony. rejected in part, by the Team, because of “loss of favorable publicity for Agencies ( Carbyn et Al.Swift fox interim Management plan, 1991, unpublished report)
  • Option 2: Recovery/feasibility Plan. Continue current attempt at reintroduction over the next 3 years. Assume recovery may not be feasible, Evaluate programme.
  • Option 3: Recovery Plan. Same as Option 2, but assumes Recovery is feasible.


The national Swift Fox Recovery Team approved the decision that captive-breeding of swift fox for reintroduction was to be “phased-out “by 1997, the annual reintroduction of captive-bred animals would be replaced by annual releases of swift fox trapped in the USA. Justification for this decision was that wild US swift fox were cheaper and ‘better than” home grown Canadian swift fox.

This decision would also save the government $9,000 per year which is what they had been contributing up to 1991, but this funding ceased in 1991, although the foxes remained the ‘property” of the federal government. The total cost of maintaining the captive colony of 25 productive pairs of swift fox was $ 69,000 per year.

This 1991 decision was not based upon knowledge of survival, breeding success, or numbers of swift fox in Canada in 1991...

as that information was not available (no swift fox census was undertaken in Canada until the winter of 1996-1997).

The federal government intended to stop its involvement in all captive breeding programmes (whooping crane, peregrine falcon, swift fox) by 1997 and so the national Swift Fox Recovery Team decision harmonized with a policy decision already made by the Federal government. (supporting documentation of these statements can be obtained from the federal & provincial governments or the CEI)

An agreement, (1993 – 2000) was made between CWS and US government (State of Wyoming) for the trapping and translocation, for annual release in Canada up to and including 2000, of 150 wild swift fox.

This was very odd because at that time: 1993, the US Federal Government had posted this finding in the US federal Government’s Federal Register:

“The Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announces a 60 – day finding for a petition to list the swift for (Vulpes velox) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. After review of all available scientific and commercial information, the Service finds that listing this species is warranted...”

US Federal Register June 1, 1994 (59 FR 28328)

The environment is our only life support system. As we approach the twenty-first century, however, there are indications that we a severing this lifeline.” State of the Environment Reporting Branch, CWS

there 20 years to play with.