Fennec foxes are the smallest of the canids. They range in size from 0.8 kg in vixens to 1.5 kg in males. They are smaller than an average house cat. Tail length is between 18 and 30 cm, and accounts for nearly 60 percent of the body length. Standing 18 to 22 cm at the shoulder, fennecs are significantly shorter than other African foxes, which average a shoulder height of 30 cm.
The ears of fennecs are perhaps their most distinctive feature. Massive in proportion to the skull, the large, 15 cm long pinnae are used both to dissipate heat and to locate prey moving under the sand. Fur in adults is thick and silky, buff-colored on the dorsal surface and white along the animal’s legs, face, ear-linings and underside. In contrast, juveniles are downy and almost exclusively white. The fur over the violet gland – found in all foxes, and of unknown function – is black or dark brown. This is also the color of the fur on the tip of the tail. The feet are heavily furred, protecting the pads from the hot desert sand.
Habitat/Range: The largest populations of Fennec Foxes occur in the central Sahara, though the species can be found in mountainous and desert regions from northern Morocco, east along the northern tip of the Red Sea to Kuwait, and south into northern Nigeria and Chad.
Diet in Wild: Small birds and rodents, reptiles, eggs, carrion, insects, terrestrial non-insect arthropods, leaves, roots and tubers, and fruit.
Diet in Zoo: Canine pellets, leafy greens, and a mixture of vegetables and fruits every day.
Predators: There is not much known about what preys on these foxes, however it is safe to believe that there are animals that do. The fennec fox’s dens are designed to allow for quick escape. Their sand colored fur acts as camouflage which allows them to hide from potential predators, and their large ears give them excellent hearing so they can locate and avoid predators.
Life Cycle/ Social Structure: The breeding season of Fennecs begins in mid winter (January to February), and pups are born after a gestation period of 50 to 53 days. 50 days is the average gestation. Fennecs have a slow reproductive rate, and vixens give birth only once yearly. Their litters are relatively small, usually containing only 2 to 4 altricial pups. At birth, the offspring are blind and helpless. At birth the pups weigh 50 g. Their mother attends to them in the den for the first 2 weeks, until their eyes open. At 4 weeks the pups begin to play within the den. At 5 weeks play extends to the area just outside the den entrance. Sexual maturity occurs when the pups reach adult size at 6 to 9 months of age. Though weaned at as early as two months, fennec offspring require care and supervision for a much longer period. Full independence is not attained until roughly 6 months of age.
Fennecs are highly social animals, living together in family groups which may contain up to 10 individuals. These kin-based clans usually include at least one breeding pair, a litter of immature pups, and perhaps a few of the pups’ older siblings. Territory is marked by both urine and scat. Dominant males urinate more at marking sites than their submissive fellows.
Life Span: Fennecs can live for up to 10 years in the wild. Captive fennecs may survive for up to 12 years.
- Fennec fox dens can have as many as 15 entrances and may even connect with dens of other families.
- They have extraordinary hearing to locate prey that may be underground.
- The fennec fox may be the only carnivore living in the Sahara Desert that is able to go for extended periods of time without free water. Their kidneys are adapted to restrict water loss, also their extensive burrowing may cause the formation of dew, which can then be consumed. They will also receive moisture from the food that they eat. They will however, drink water when it is available
Conservation Message: The primary threat appears to be the trapping for commercial use. In sandy areas, the Fennec fox is well known and people will trap and sell them as pets. Domestic dogs have also added to the threats of the fennec fox.
What You Can Do: Do not keep exotic animals as pets. They are not domestic so they still have wild instincts and a much more suitable pet is a domestic canine species. Also, trapping them out of their wild habitat in order to sell them as pets has decreased their wild populations. This is the cause of many species becoming threatened.