The fennec fox, Vulpes zelda (syn. Fennecus zerda), is a small, desert-dwelling canid from Africa. With one of the largest ear-to-body size ratios of any animal as well as one of the longest tail-to-body size ratio of any animal, the fennec fox is a specialist at surviving in harsh, arid climates. It is the smallest species of canid on Earth.
The fennec fox’s range encompasses much of the Sahara desert, from the Atlas Mountains in northern Algeria and Morrocco to the semi-desert regions of southern Mauritania, from the Atlantic Ocean to the western edge of the Nile River in Egypt and Sudan. There are currently no range-wide threats to the fennec fox, though there is increased human activity in the Sahara which has the potential to become a disturbance to the fennec fox.
As a specialist, the fennec fox has a very narrow range of ecological tolerance. It subsists in arid, desert regions and the vast sand seas of the Sahara, including the sparsely vegetated dunes near the Atlantic coast in eastern Mauritania. Typical annual rainfall in the fennec fox’s range is between 100 to 300 mm, about 4 to 12 inches per year.
Although widely and commonly observed throughout its range, relatively little is known about the social or behavioral characteristics of the fennec fox in the wild. A 2009 field study lead by the Saint Louis Zoo in the United States was the first of its kind focused on three species of the genus Vulpes and was joined by the IUCN Canid Specialist Group, University of Oxford WildCRU, and the Sahara Conservation Fund. Another study in 2015 in Morocco should contribute to data on population movement and habitat use, however there is still little knowledge about the species outside of captivity.
Fennec foxes are omnivores and prey on rodents, insects, birds, and eggs in addition to vegetation.
Our female fennec fox, Wendy, is extremely sweet and absolutely adores people and attention. When she gets excited about a visitor, she lets out a high-pitched noise, runs in circles, and vigorously wags her fluffy tail. If the visitor makes a trilling sound (which we usually associate with our caracals), Wendy lets out a similar call that seems to be an invitation to play. She’s so chatty that we have to wonder if perhaps she is eagerly sharing her opinions about Tut, the other animals, and life at the Center in general. Then again, if she could speak to us, she’d probably just talk about treats all day! She’s extremely food-motivated and is especially fond of sweets. Ripe bananas and peanut butter are particular favorites of hers.
Tut is a little bundle of energy whose impressively large ears make his tiny body look even smaller. A very rambunctious fennec, Tut loves chasing feathered objects, tussling with stuffed animals, and rearranging his toys into the perfect pile. Tut has even developed his own game that involves seizing a toy, throwing it as high as he can, racing around to trying to catch it, and finishing with a spectacular barrel roll. He’s like a fox-shaped bolt of lightning, and we get tired just watching him! While he arrived in 2014, he didn’t meet his BFF and roommate, Wendy, until about a year later. Upon seeing each other for the first time, the two spent the entire night squeaking and chattering away...loudly. Very loudly. What on earth do fennecs talk about?