|Two fennec foxes.|
The fennec fox or fennec (Vulpes zerda) is a small nocturnal fox found in the Sahara of North Africa. Its most distinctive feature is its unusually large ears, which also serve to dissipate heat. Its name comes from the Arabic word فنك (fanak), which means fox, and the species name zerda comes from the Greek word xeros which means dry, referring to the fox's habitat. The fennec is the smallest species of canid. Its coat, ears, and kidney functions have adapted to high-temperature, low-water, desert environments. In addition, its hearing is sensitive enough to hear prey moving underground. It mainly eats insects, small mammals, and birds.
The fennec has a life span of up to 14 years in captivity. Its main predators are the African varieties of eagle owl. Families of fennecs dig out dens in sand for habitation and protection, which can be as large as 120 m2 (1,292 sq ft) and adjoin the dens of other families. Precise population figures are not known but are estimated from the frequency of sightings; these indicate that the animal is currently not threatened by extinction. Knowledge of social interactions 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....
The coat is often a cream color and fluffy, which deflects heat during the day and keeps the fox warm at night. The fennec's characteristic ears are the largest among all foxes relative to body size, and serve to dissipate heat, as they have many blood vessels close to the skin. The ears of a fennec are sensitive enough to hear prey that may be underground; the soles of its feet are protected from the hot desert sand by thick fur.
Information on fennec fox social behavior 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 believed to remain in the family even after a new litter is born. Playing behavior is common, including among adults of the species. Fennec foxes make a variety of sounds, including barking, a purring sound similar to that of a domestic cat, and a snarl if threatened.
Captive animals engage in highly social behavior, typically resting while 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."
Diet and hunting
The fennec fox is an omnivore. Food sources include plants, rodents, insects, birds, eggs, and rabbits. 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. 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 to pinpoint the location of prey, either underground or hidden above ground. There are reports that fennec foxes climb date palms while foraging for fruit; however, some experts consider these reports unlikely unless low branches are available for support.
The species is able to live without free water, as 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.
Fennec foxes are social animals that mate for life, with each pair or family controlling their own territory
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.
A fennec fox's typical den is dug in sand, either in open areas or places sheltered by plants with stable sand dunes considered to be their ideal habitat. 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.
The fennec fox is bred commercially as an exotic house pet. Breeders tend to remove the young kits from the mother to hand-rear, as owners prefer tamer and more handleable foxes, thereby making them more expensive.
The species is classified a "small wild/exotic canid" by the United States Department of Agriculture, along with the coyote, dingo, jackal, and Arctic fox, and is considered the only species of fox, other than the Russian domesticated red 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. A breeders' registry has been set up in the United States to avoid any problems associated with inbreeding. The legality of owning a fennec fox varies by jurisdiction, as with many exotic pets