The Fennec Fox (Vulpes zerda) is a small canid which is native to the deserts of North Africa. It is the smallest of the canines but has the largest ears in proportion to its body size. Fennec foxes are found in North Africa from Morocco to Egypt, south to north Niger and Sudan, east to Sinai Peninsula and Kuwait.
A male fox is called a ‘reynard’, the female is called a ‘vixen’ and young are called ‘kits’. A group of foxes is called a ‘skulk’ or a ‘leash’.
Fennec Fox Description
The Fennec Fox measures 35 – 40 centimetres (14 – 16 inches) in length and weighs up to 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds). It has a bushy, black tipped tail which measures 17 – 30 centimetres (7 – 12 inches) long. Their tails are known as ‘sweeps’ and they help the fox change direction when running as well as warming their nose and feet when it is curled up asleep. Their thick fur is pale brown to almost white in colour enabling them to camouflage easily in their desert environment. Thick fur may seem unusual for a desert animal, however, they need it for insulation during cold desert nights. Their fur reflects the sun during the day and conserves heat at night. There is also thick fur on the soles of their feet which protects them against the hot sand.
Fennec Foxes have sharp, curved claws which help them dig their burrows. The Fennec fox shows close resemblance to its cousin, the fox, apart from its exceptionally large ears which stand permanently erect and can measure 15 centimetres (6 inches) in length. Their ears are so sensitive that they can hear insects such as beetles and locust walking on the sand and also locate underground prey. Their ears also radiate body heat and helps keep the foxes cool in the searing heat of their desert environment.
Fennec Fox Habitat
Fennec Foxes inhabit the sandy Sahara Desert and other semi-arid regions of North Africa. The Fennec Fox can dig with great speed and they construct elaborate burrows which interconnect forming a cozy underground community. Burrows are lined with soft materials such as bits of fur and feathers to make them comfortable when they sleep during the day.
Fennec Fox Diet
The Fennec Foxes are nocturnal and come out at night to seek their prey. Their omnivorous diet (eating meat and plants) includes small birds, lizards and mice. The Fennec Fox sometimes drinks at water holes, although it does not need to do so. With most of their diet being desert vegetation such as grasses, roots, fruits and berries from where they obtain their moisture, they can survive without water for long periods of time which is an adaption to their desert habitat. The Fennec Foxes kidneys are also adapted to restrict water loss. Like other foxes, the Fennec Fox stores excess food in its den.
Fennec Fox Behaviour
The Fennec Fox has uncharacteristic behaviours compared to other foxes. While foxes are normally solitary creatures, the Fennec Fox forms groups. These small communities consist of around 10 individuals. Males are territorial and mark their boundaries with urine. Males also become aggressive with each other when mating season approaches. Fennec Foxes are sociable animals that mate for life and each pair or family has its own territory.
Fennec Fox Reproduction
The breeding season of the Fennec Fox occurs January through to March and births occur only once a year. After a gestation period of 52 days, a litter of 2 – 5 young are born. The young weigh around 50 grams and have grey skin at birth. The males are kept away from the maternal den until the young are older. The young suckle their mothers milk for about 4 – 5 weeks. The life span of the Fennec Fox is up to 12 years.
Fennec Fox Conservation Status
The Fennec Fox is classed as ‘Data Deficient’ by the IUCN. It is not threatened with extinction and cause no harm to human interest, unlike other foxes. It is, however, hunted for its fur by people of the Sahara and Sinai and, like many other animals, they also suffer from habitat loss.