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Fennec Fox
A pair of Fennec Foxes
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Vulpes
Species: V. zerda
Binomial name
Vulpes zerda
(Zimmermann, 1780)
Natural range shown in red

The Fennec Fox (Vulpes zerda) is a small nocturnal fox found along the northern rim of the Sahara Desert of North Africa and across the Arabian peninsula. Its most distinctive feature is its unusually large ears. The name "Fennec" comes from the Arabic for fox, and the species name zerda has a Greek origin referring to its habitat. The Fennec is the smallest species of canid in the world; its coat, ears and kidney functions have adapted to a high-temperature, low-water, desert environment. In addition, its hearing is sensitive enough to hear prey moving underground.

The Fennec can live up to 12 years in the wild, and its main predators include the Caracal and the African varieties of Eagle Owl. Fennec families dig out dens in sand for habitation and protection, which can be up to 120 m2 (1,292 sq ft) and adjoin other families' dens. Precise population figures are not known, but are estimated from the frequency of sightings, and indicate that the animal is currently not threatened by extinction. Knowledge on social interaction is limited to information gathered from captive animals. The species is usually assigned to the genus Vulpes; however, this is debated due to differences between the Fennec Fox and other fox species. The Fennec's fur is prized by the indigenous peoples of North Africa, and in some parts of the world, the animal is considered an exotic pet.



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The Fennec Fox weighs about 1.5–3.5 lb (0.68–1.6 kg) with a body length of between 24–40 cm (9–16 in), is around 20.3 cm (8 in) tall,[2] and is the smallest species of canid in the world.[3] The tail has a black tip and is the length of around three quarters of the head and body length, whilst the ears can be between 10–15 cm (3.9–5.9 in) long.[4][5] Its name comes from the Arabic word fenek, which means fox, and the species name zerda comes from the Greek word xeros which means dry, in reference to the fox's habitat.[6]

The coat is often a cream color and fluffy, which deflects heat during the day and keeps the fox warm at night.[2] The Fennec's characteristic ears are the largest among foxes relative to body size,[2] and serve to dissipate heat, as they have many blood vessels close to the skin.[7] The ears of a Fennec are sensitive enough to hear prey that may be underground,[4] and the soles of its feet are protected from the hot desert sand by thick fur.[2]


Social behaviour

"A greyscale sketch of a group of long eared foxes on a rocky outcrop in a desert. There is a crumbling brick building to the left and two of the foxes are on lookout."
An 1876 sketch of a pack of Fennec Foxes

Information on Fennec Fox social behaviour is mainly based on captive animals. The basic social unit is thought to be a mated pair and their offspring, and the young of the previous year are thought to remain in the family even when a new litter is born. Playing behaviour is common, including among adults of the species.[8]

Captive animals engage in highly affiliative behaviour, typically resting in contact with each other. Males tend to show more aggression and urine-marking around the time of the females' estrous cycle. They have been seen to bury feces by pushing soil with their noses or hind feet when in captivity. Much remains unknown of their basic ecology and behavior in the wild and a 2004 report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature stated that "in-depth study of the species, with particular emphasis on habitat use and population dynamics in the wild, is overdue."[8]

Diet and hunting

The Fennec Fox is a nocturnal omnivore. Food sources include rodents, insects, birds and eggs.[4] An individual can jump up to 2 ft (61 cm) high and 4 ft (120 cm) forward, which helps it catch prey and escape predators.[2] When hunting, large eared foxes such as the Fennec, or the Bat-eared Fox, can seem to stare at the ground while they rotate their heads from side to side in order to pinpoint the location of prey, either underground or hidden above ground.[7]

The species is adapted to live without free water, and its kidneys are adapted to restrict water loss. A Fennec's burrowing can cause the formation of dew. They are also known to absorb water through food consumption; but will drink water if available.[4]


Close up of a Fennec Fox

Fennec Foxes are social animals that mate for life, with each pair or family controlling their own territory.[9] Sexual maturity is reached at around nine months old. In the wild, mating usually occurs between January and February for litters to be born between March and April. However, in captivity most litters are born later, between March and July, although births can occur year round.[8] The species usually breeds only once each year.[10] The copulation tie has been recorded as lasting up to two hours and 45 minutes. Following mating, the male becomes very aggressive and protective of the female, providing her with food during her pregnancy and lactation periods.[8]

Gestation is usually between 50 to 52 days, although there have been 62 and 63 day gestation periods reported from foxes in captivity. The typical litter is between one and four kits, with weaning taking place at around 61 to 70 days.[8] When born, the kit's ears are folded over and its eyes are closed, with the eyes opening at around ten days and the ears lifting soon afterwards.[10] The life span of a Fennec Fox has been recorded as up to 12 years in captivity but only up to ten in the wild.[11][8]


"A small light brown fix sits on a white rocky outcropping"
A wild Fennec Fox in Egypt
"A light brown fox is being held up by a person. It's large ears are sticking out horizontally"
A ten-month old Fennec Fox.

The species is found in North Africa and Asia. The range is from Morocco through to Egypt, as far south as northern Niger and as far east as the Sinai Peninsula and Kuwait.[11]

A Fennec Fox's typical den is dug in sand, either in open areas or places sheltered by plants. In compacted soils, dens can be up to 120 square meters, with up to 15 different entrances. In some cases different families interconnect their dens, or locate them close together. In soft, looser sand, dens tend to be simpler with only one entrance leading to a single chamber.[8]


The Fennec Fox is classified as "Least Concern" on the IUCN Red List,[1], and as a CITES Appendix II species: species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but whose trade must be controlled to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.[12][13] It is often hunted by humans, though it does not cause any direct harm to human interests, such as livestock.[4] Like other foxes, it is prized for its fur by the indigenous people of the Sahara and Sinai.[14]

Current statistics on population are not known, but the population is assumed to be adequate based on observations of traders commonly trapping Fennec Foxes in Northern Africa for exhibition or sale to tourists. In southern Morocco, the Fennec Fox is commonly seen in sandy areas away from permanent human settlements.[15]


The Fennec Fox's main predators are Caracals and the various African varieties of Eagle Owl.[10] Other possible predators include Jackals, Striped Hyenas and the Saluki, a greyhound-like domestic dog local to the area. However Fennec Foxes are considered very difficult to capture, and reports of predators other than the Eagle Owl are considered to be anecdotal and questionable.[16][8]

They are commonly trapped for sale to the pet trade and for fur by the human population of Northern Africa. In southern Morocco in particular, the meat of the Fennec Fox is not eaten because it is considered to be foul smelling.[8]


The species was previously classified in the genus Fennecus, but have since been reclassified to the genus Vulpes which includes a variety of other types of foxes.[6] Scientists have debated that whilst similar, a Fennec Fox has a variety of differences that set it apart from other species of fox, including both physical and sociological traits.[17] This has led to two conflicting classifications: Vulpes zerda, implying that the Fennec Fox is a true fox, and Fennecus zerda, implying that the Fennec Fox belongs to its own genus.[15]

Physically, the Fennec lacks the musk glands of other Fox species,[17] and has only 32 chromosome pairs, while other fox species have between 35 and 39.[18] The species also displays uncharacteristic behaviours, such as living in packs while most other fox species are solitary.[17]

As pets

A pet Fennec scratching an ear

The Fennec Fox is bred commercially as an alternative house pet.[5] Breeders tend to remove the young kits from the mother to hand-rear, as tamer and more handleable foxes make better pets and are therefore considered more valuable.[10]

The species is classified a "Small wild/exotic canid" by the United States Department of Agriculture, along with the Coyote, Dingo, Jackal, Arctic Fox and Silver Fox,[19] and is considered the only species of fox which can properly be kept as a pet. Although it cannot be considered domesticated, it can be kept in a domestic setting similar to dogs or cats.[20] A breeders' registry has been set up in the USA to avoid any problems associated with inbreeding.[10] The legality of owning a Fennec Fox varies by jurisdiction, as with many exotic pets.[21][22]


  1. ^ a b Asa CS, Valdespino C, Cuzin F, de Smet K & Jdeidi T (2008). Vulpes zerda. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 2 December 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d e Nobleman, Marc Tyler (2007). Foxes. Benchmark Books (NY). pp. 35–36. ISBN 978-0761422372. Retrieved 2009-12-19. 
  3. ^ "Small Mammals: Fennec Fox". Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Retrieved 2009-12-17. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Fennec Fox". Retrieved 2009-12-19. 
  5. ^ a b Roots, Clive (2006). Nocturnal Animals. Greenwood Press. pp. 162–163. ISBN 978-0313335464. 
  6. ^ a b "FENNEC FOX (Fennecus zerda aka Vulpes zerda)". The Animals at Wildworks. Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  7. ^ a b Rogers, Leslie J. (2003). Spirit of the Wild Dog: The World of Wolves, Coyotes, Foxes, Jackals and Dingoes. Allen & Unwin. pp. 46–47. ISBN 978-1865086736. Retrieved 2009-12-19. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sillero-Zubiri, Claudio; Hoffman, Michael; Mech, Dave (2004). Canids: Foxes, Wolves, Jackals and Dogs: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. World Conservation Union. p. 208. ISBN 978-2831707860.,+Wolves,+Jackals+and+Dogs:+Status+Survey+and+Conservation+Action+Plan.&cd=2#v=onepage&q=Canids%3A%20Foxes%2C%20Wolves%2C%20Jackals%20and%20Dogs%3A%20Status%20Survey%20and%20Conservation%20Action%20Plan.&f=false. Retrieved 2009-12-19. 
  9. ^ "Fennec fox". BBC Science and Nature. 2008-07. Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Roots, Clive (2007). Domestication. Greenwood. pp. 113–114. ISBN 978-0313339875. Retrieved 2010-01-14. 
  11. ^ a b "Fennec Fox". Wildlife at Animal Corner. Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  12. ^ "Fennec Fox". CITES Species Gallery. Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  13. ^ "How CITES works". Discover CITES. Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  14. ^ "Fennec Fox Fennecus Zelda". African Bushmeat Expedition. Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  15. ^ a b "Vulpes zerda". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  16. ^ "Fennec Fox". Friends of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo. Rosamond Gifford Zoo. 2005-11-21. Retrieved 2010-01-27. 
  17. ^ a b c Waltz, Donna Maria (2008-02-07). "The Desert Fox". Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  18. ^ Wrenin, Eddie (2009-16-24). "Gotta catch them all! The Pokémon cubs receive their first public showing at Tokyo Zoo". Daily Mail. Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  19. ^ "Animal Inventory Sheet". United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  20. ^ "Fennec Foxes - Introduction". Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  21. ^ "The Fennec Fox Page". Petit Paws Exotics. Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  22. ^ "Fennec Fox State Laws". Retrieved 2009-12-21. 

External links

Simple English

Fennec Fox
File:Fennec Fox (Vulpes zerda) Wilhelma
A fennec fox to Wilhelma Zoo, Germany
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Vulpes
Species: V. zerda
Binomial name
Vulpes zerda
(Zimmermann, 1780)
File:Distribution of the Fennec
Natural range shown in red

The Fennec fox (Fennecus zerda), is a small fox that lives in sandy deserts. It is found in the Sahara (in northern Africa) and the northern part of Saudi Arabia. This agile fox has huge ears and very large eyes; the large ears help the fox lose excess heat and enable it to hear its prey from a long distance away. Escaping the daytime desert heat, this mammal is nocturnal (most active at night); it rests during the day in a burrow in the sand. This social animal lives in groups of up to 10 individuals, and it marks its territory with urine. The life span is 10 to 12 years.


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