Cape foxes (Vulpes chama) are found in sub-Saharan African desert. The species ranges from the southern tip of South Africa and Cape Province, north through Namibia, Botswana, Transvaal, Natal and into the Albany district. This is the only species of Vulpes in Africa that is known to range below the equator (IUCN, 1998).
Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )
V. chama is a small fox. Head and body length is 55 cm and height at shoulder is 36 cm. Males weigh about 2.6 kg and females are approximately 5% smaller than this. The pelage is gray-silver, with reddish head and forelimbs. There are white cheek patches, and black patches on the hind limbs. The ventral parts are whitish. V. chama has a bushy tail measuring about 34.4 cm, almost half the length of the head and body. (IUCN, 1998).
Average mass: 2.6 kg.
Average length: 55 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Average mass: 4000 g.
Habitat and Ecology
V. chama prefers open habitat such as arid savannas as well as semi-desert scrub, and avoids forests (IUCN, 1998).
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: scrub forest
V. chama is known to cache food. The diet of this species consists mainly of small rodents, rabbits, insects and beetle larvae, and small reptiles. V. chama also scavenges, and has been known to take livestock, which tends to get them into trouble with humans (Nel, 1984). The different distances between canine teeth, measured from bite marks, between the cape fox (15mm) and the black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) are used in determining which species is responsible for killing livestock (IUCN, 1998).
Animal Foods: mammals; reptiles; carrion ; insects
Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)
Cape foxes are sympatric with the aardwolf (Proteles cristata), the black-backed jackal (Canis meomelas), and the bat-eared fox (Octocyon megalotis) and therefore may limit their populations through competition. However, there is enough separation in activity times, space, and diet to allow for their coexistence (Bothma, 1984).
V. chama probably helps to regulate populations of small mammals through its predatory behavior, which in turn probably has an effect on the plant communities upon which such small mammals feed.
- Bothma, J., J. Nel, A. MacDonald. 1984. Food Niche Separation Between Four Sympatric Namib Desert Carnivores. Journal of Zoology, 202: 327-340.
Predation upon this species has not been documented. It is likely that large birds of prey and larger carnivores may take these foxes, especially the young. No anti-predator adaptations or behaviors have been noted in the literature.
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
Lifespan has not been reported for this species
Status: wild: 10.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
These animals breed monogamously. The male and female form pairs in the spring. Pups are born in early summer months.
Mating System: monogamous
V. chama forms pairs in southern hemisphere winter months of July and August. The gestation period is 51-52 days with three to five pups a litter. Canids have one litter per year, but in some dens of the cape fox multiple litters have been observed. Pups are usually born in late spring to early summer (September–November) but cape foxes are known to have litters as late as December.
The male provides for the female for the first and second week after birth and both parents care for the young at the beginning. It is not known how long the male stays with the family group (Nel, 1984). Pups start foraging at four months, and become independent at 5 months. Sexual maturity is reached by 9 months (IUCN,1998).
Breeding season: Pups are usually born in early summer.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 4.
Range gestation period: 51 to 52 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 9 months.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 9 months.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); viviparous
Average number of offspring: 4.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 274 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 274 days.
Both male and female care for the pups in the beginning, although the male may leave the family. Canids typically produce altricial young. Cape fox young stay near the den until they are able to follow the mother at about 4 months of age. They typically disperse around 5 months of age, and become sexually mature at 9 months of age.
Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2004Least Concern
- 1996Lower Risk/least concern
More than 2,500 individuals are killed annually, which is approximately 16% of the population. This is taking a toll on the population. Protected cape fox populations are in the Soetdoring Nature Reserve (1.3/km2) and the Willem Pretorius Game Reserve (0.65/km2, south) and north (0.12/km2) (IUCN, 1998).
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
Occurs in protected areas in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. The Cape Fox occurs in many provincial and private nature reserves, as well as on game ranches in all South African provinces, although the species has a much more restricted range in Limpopo Province and KwaZulu-Natal (Stuart 1981; Rautenbach 1982; Lynch 1975; Rowe-Rowe 1992). In Swaziland, the species may occur in Nhlangano Nature Reserve in the south-west and pups have been successfully reared in Milwane Game Reserve (Monadjem 1998).
Although treated as a problem animal across most of its range, it is partially protected in several South African provinces, as it does not appear on the official lists of problem species. However, no permit is required from any authority to kill this fox in problem animal control operations. No protection measures are currently enforced and at the present time, this is not necessary.
Gaps in knowledge
Although the Cape Fox has been extensively studied in South Africa's Free State province (Lynch 1975; Bester 1982; Kok 1996), there is little information for elsewhere within its range. Aspects such as diet and reproduction are quite well known but little information is available on aspects of social ecology and behaviour in the wild. Some investigation into the role, if any, this species plays in disease transmission is necessary.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
These foxes are presumed to prey on livestock, in particular lambs. Farmers have permission to remove animals causing damage to livestock. Numbers have been abundant in the past but appear to be in decline since 1985 because of this (IUCN, 1998).
Negative Impacts: crop pest
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
Pelts are used in fur blankets (IUCN 1998).
Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material
It has black or silver gray fur with flanks and underside in light yellow. The tip of its tail is always black.
The Cape fox tends to be 45 to 61 cm (17.7–24 inches) long, not including a 30 to 40 cm (11.8-15.75 inch) tail. It is 28 to 33 cm (11–13 in) tall at the shoulder, and usually weighs from 3.6 to 5 kg (8–11 lbs).
It inhabits mainly open country, from open grassland plains with scattered thickets to semidesert scrub, and also extending into fynbos. It is widespread in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa, occurring in most parts of the Western and Northern Cape provinces, the Eastern Cape (excluding the southeastern side), the Free State, western and northwestern KwaZulu-Natal and the North-West province. It also occurs in Lesotho, a high mountainous region.
The Cape fox is nocturnal and most active just before dawn or after dusk; it can be spotted during the early mornings and early evenings. During the day, it typically shelters in burrows underground, holes, hollows, or dense thickets. It is an active digger that will excavate its own burrow, although it generally modifies an abandoned burrow of another species, such as the springhare, to its specific requirements. They are solitary creatures, and although they form mated pairs, the males and females are often found alone, as they tend to forage separately. They are not especially territorial but will mark their territories with a pungent scent. Although a normally silent fox, the Cape fox is known to communicate with soft calls, whines or chirps. However, it will utter a loud bark when alarmed. When in an aggressive mood, the Cape fox is known to growl and spit at its attacker. To show its excitement, the fox lifts its tail, the height of the tail often indicating the measure of excitement.
Cape foxes are omnivorous and will eat plants or animals. Although they prefer invertebrates and small mammals such as rodents, they are opportunists and known to hunt and eat reptiles, rabbits, spiders, birds, and young hares. They will also eat eggs, beetle larvea, and carrion, as well as most insects or fruits. Cape foxes have been reported to be able to kill lambs up to three months of age, although this is a rare occurrence.
Typical of most Canid species, Cape foxes will mate for life. They are capable of breeding all year long, unlike the red fox, although they typically have offspring in the months from October to January. The female Cape fox has a gestation period of 51 to 53 days and gives birth to a litter of one to six cubs (or kits). Reared underground in burrows, the cubs will stay close to the den until they are about four months old. They are weaned at around six to eight weeks of age, but do not begin to forage until they are four months old. Cubs usually become independent at five months of age, at which point they will disperse (typically in June or July). They typically weigh from 50 to 100 grams (1.7 - 3.5 ounces) at birth. Both parents will care for the young, with the male also providing for the female during the first two weeks. A family group usually consists of the parents and their offspring, but different family groups sometimes mix during feeding. Multiple litters are possible and have been observed; however, the female usually chases out the cubs from the last litter when she is expecting another one. Cape foxes are fully grown within about a year, with both the female and the male reaching sexual maturity at 9 months. The Cape fox has a life expectancy of about six years, but can live for up to 10 years.
The Cape fox is thought to help regulate populations of small mammals. Predators of the Cape fox include large raptors, such as eagles and owls, a well as caracal, leopard, hyena, and lion. They often succumb to diseases such as rabies and canine distemper, and in more recent times have started to become victims of traps set out for problem animals. A large number of Cape foxes are killed on the road by vehicles. Many are hunted and persecuted as vermin. Some may be mistaken for jackals and held responsible for livestock losses. About 2,500 individuals are killed yearly; this is about 16% of the total Cape fox population. Cape foxes are not regarded as a threatened species.
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- Wozencraft, W. C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 532–628. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
- Stuart, C. & Stuart, T. (2008). Vulpes chama. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 09 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
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