Darwin’s fox (Pseudalopex fulvipes)
|Synonyms:||Pseudalopex griseus fulvipes|
|Spanish:||Zorro Chilote, Zorro De Chiloé, Zorro De Darwin|
|Size||Head-body length: 48 – 60 cm (2)|
Tail length: 17 – 26 cm (2)
|Weight||1.9 – 3.95 kg (2)|
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List, and listed in Appendix II of CITES (1).
Discovered by Charles Darwin during his voyage aboard the Beagle (3), Darwin’s fox is one of the smallest fox species in the world, with a stout frame, elongated body and short legs (2). The muzzle is small and thin and extends into a rather rounded forehead, and the tail is relatively short and bushy (2). The thick coat is a dark grizzled grey to almost black colour, with a distinctive rusty-red colour on the lower legs and around the ears (2) (4). The abdomen, chest, underside of the muzzle and the inside of the ears are a pale cream to white colour (4), and the tail is dark grey (2).
Endemic to Chile, Darwin’s fox has a disjunct distribution with just two populations; a small population exists in the coastal mountains in and around Nahuelbuta National Park on the mainland, and a larger population is found about 600 kilometres south on the Island of Chiloé, southern Chile (1) (2).
On the Pacific coast of Chiloé, Darwin’s fox is found in a fragmented environment of coastal sand dunes mixed with dense, evergreen forest, whereas, on the northern part of the island, the fox uses a relatively flat but fragmented landscape of broad-leaf forest and dairy cow pastures. Preferred habitat is old-growth forest, although secondary forest and pastures and openings are also utilised (1).
Darwin’s fox is omnivorous and highly opportunistic, having a broad diet including a variety of small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, beetles, invertebrates, fruits, berries and seeds (2) (4). This variable diet is important for the fox’s survival as the availability of food items changes with the seasons within its highly fluctuating environment. Although hunting is ordinarily performed alone, up to four individuals may concentrate around a carcass for a few days. On Chiloé, these foxes also sometimes kill poultry and raid garbage dumps, and even enter houses at night in search of food, apparently unafraid of the people and dogs within (2).
Whereas this species is primarily solitary on Chiloé, except during the breeding season when temporary pairs form, pairs appear to persist throughout the year on the mainland. These pairs have been known to share their home range with offspring from previous years, with all family members associating closely with one another. Litter size is estimated to be two to three pups (2).
Darwin’s fox is considered critically endangered, being highly vulnerable to extinction due to its small numbers and very restricted range, having just two known populations (4). The greatest threat to this species’ survival on the mainland is probably the presence of unleashed dogs in Nahuelbuta National Park, which may attack the foxes and also have the potential to transmit diseases. Despite dogs being prohibited from the park, they are often allowed in with visitors, and subsequently let loose (1). Many foxes have become habituated to humans through unrestricted feeding by visitors, and spend much of their time under vehicles in the car park where they are at risk of being killed by visitors’ cars (2). The larger island population appears relatively safer, with Chiloé National Park encompassing most of the still untouched rainforest of the island and containing a sizeable fox population. However, surrounding areas also containing foxes are suffering from ongoing logging, forest fragmentation and poaching by locals (1). Some foxes have been persecuted by farmers on the island for killing their poultry, and attacks from dogs also pose a threat here (2).
Darwin’s fox has been protected by Chilean law since 1929, but enforcement can be difficult, and some poaching unfortunately continues (1). Research and monitoring of this species is ongoing, being undertaken by initiatives such as Darwin’s Fox Research and Conservation Project, which also seeks to raise awareness amongst schools, dog owners, farmers and loggers of the plight of the fox and the dangers that imperil it (5). The 430 square kilometre Chiloé National Park protects much of the island population, and the smaller 68 square kilometre Nahuelbuta National Park protects the mainland population. However, a number of foxes at Nahuelbuta are known to move to lower unprotected areas during the winter in search of milder conditions, where they become more vulnerable to mortality. It has therefore been recommended that the park be expanded to protect the foxes that use these areas (1). However, it is also essential that Park wardens become stricter about enforcing Park rules. Dogs brought in by visitors pose a serious threat, whilst continuous feeding of the foxes has habituated them to humans, and thereby made them ever more vulnerable to the dangers people bring. Indeed, it has been suggested that if current relaxed attitudes continue in Nahuelbuta National Park, Chiloé National Park may become the only long-term safe area for this rare, endemic fox (2).
For more information on Darwin’s fox see:
- Sillero-Zubiri, C., Hoffman, M. and Macdonald, D.W. (2004) Canids: Foxes, Wolves, Jackals and Dog: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN Publications Services Unit, Cambridge. Available at:
- IUCN/SSC Canid Specialist Group:
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- Endemic: a species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- Omnivore: an organism that feeds on both plants and animals.
IUCN Red List (December, 2009)