Fennec fox (Vulpes zerda)

Also known as: fennec
French: Fennec
GenusVulpes (1)
SizeLength: up to 60 cm (2)
Weight1 kg (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) by the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

Weighing around only one kilogram, the fennec is the smallest of all foxes (4). It is easily recognised by its massive ears, which are about ten centimetres in length, its large, black eyes and small muzzle (2). The fur of the fennec fox is long, soft and sandy coloured, providing excellent camouflage in their desert habitat (2). The face is lighter with a dark streak that extends from the inner eye down and outward to either side of the muzzle (5). The thick, bushy tail is a little more reddish, with a black tip and a black patch near the base (2). The slender legs of the fennec fox in North Africa are reddish sand, whereas foxes from further south have almost white legs (2).

Occurs in northern Africa to northern Sinai; in Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan, and Tunisia (5).

The fennec fox inhabits sandy deserts and semi-deserts, preferring stable sand dunes, in which it can burrow (2) (5).

The small fennec fox is perfectly adapted to life in the harsh deserts of Africa, where daytime temperatures are record breaking, and freezing temperatures at night are not uncommon. The soles of the feet are covered by long, soft hairs that protect the feet from extreme temperatures, and help the fox walk on loose sand (2). Their large ears act like radiators and dissipate heat (5), as well as providing excellent hearing with which to detect prey (2). The fennec fox can subsist without water for an indefinite period, and survives by obtaining moisture through their food, and conserving water by remaining in burrows during the hot days and venturing out only at night. The thick, woolly fur helps insulate the fox against the cold, desert nights (2). The fennec fox starts to tremble with cold when temperatures drop below 20 degrees Celsius, but incredibly, they only start to pant when temperatures exceed 35 degrees Celsius. When they do pant, their breathing rate rockets from 23 breaths per minute up to an astonishing 690 breaths per minute (4).

Fennec foxes are monogamous, and the pair lives with their offspring in a family unit of up to ten individuals (2). Fennec foxes mate in January and February and females give birth in March and April (5). Usually a litter of two to five cubs are born every year, after a gestation period of around 50 days. The male provides food and defends the burrow (which can be up to ten meters in length) until the cubs are four weeks old. They are weaned at 61 to 70 days and reach adult size and sexual maturity after only 9 to 11 months (2). In captivity, the fennec fox has been known to live for almost 13 years (2). Fennec foxes feed primarily on grasshoppers and locusts, but also eat other insects, rodents, birds, lizards and roots. They hunt alone and locate prey primarily by sound, killing their target with a bite to the neck (2).

Dogs and humans are thought to pose the greatest threat to the fennec fox (2). In northern Africa the fennec fox is hunted and trapped, and sold commercially. They are captured for the pet trade, sold to locals to be raised for meat, or killed for their fur which is used by the indigenous people of northern Africa (5). They are also killed by domestic dogs (2). These threats have resulted in a decline in numbers in certain populations in north-western Africa (2), and new permanent human settlements, such as those in southern Morocco, have resulted in the disappearance of fennec foxes from those areas (4).

The fennec fox is listed on Appendix II of the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that international trade in this species should be carefully regulated (3). Its conservation status has not yet been assessed as it was deemed that there was too little information to determine its risk of extinction (1). The fennec fox is legally protected in Morocco (5), and occurs in a number of protected areas throughout its range, such as Bir El Abd Conservation Area in Egypt, and Aïr and Tenere National Reserve in Niger (5). Fennec foxes have been bred in captivity, which has increased knowledge of this species, and yet much remains unknown of their behaviour and ecology in the wild. Further studies on wild populations are needed to enable the conservation status of the fennec fox to be assessed (1) (5).

For further information on this species, other foxes and their conservation see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)