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Overview

Distribution

Range Description

Widespread in the steppes and semi-deserts of the Tibetan Plateau from the Ladakh area of India, east across China including parts of the Xinjiang, Gansu, Qinghai, and Sichuan provinces and all of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and into Yunnan (Gong and Hu 2003; Wang 2003). Also present in Nepal north of the Himalaya, known specifically from the Mustang area. There are no confirmed records for Bhutan.
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Geographic Range

Tibetan foxes have been known to inhabit the Tibetan plateau of India, China, Sutlej valley of northwestern India and parts of Nepal, specifically the Mustang district.

Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Tibetan sand foxes range in color from black, to brown and rusty-colored, to yellowish on neck and back. They possess a tawny band on the dorsal region and white on the tail, muzzle and belly. The fur is thick, with a dense undercoat.

From nose to tail, The head and body length of Vulpes ferrilata measures from 575 to 700 mm. The tail adds an additional 400 to 475 mm to the total length. These animals weigh between 3 and 4 kg. There is no information available on sexual differences in size. The muzzle is elongated relative to most fox species. The teeth are well developed with extraordinarily long canines and narrow maxilla.

Range mass: 3 to 4 kg.

Range length: 975 to 1175 mm.

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
The species is found in upland plains and hills from about 2,500–5,200 m (Clark et al. 2008). Most of its habitat consists of sparse grasslands devoid of trees and shrubs (Wang et al. 2007; although see also Gong and Hu 2003), particularly where black-lipped pikas are abundant. Although definitive studies have yet to be conducted, it appears that Tibetan Foxes are closely tied to the presence of pikas, and may in fact be an obligate predator. Tibetan Foxes appear particularly adept at capturing pikas (including, at times, following brown bears Ursus arctos excavating pika burrows in order to capture pikas that escape; Harris et al. 2008), and are rarely encountered where pikas are absent. They also feed on carrion, and other small mammals (Zheng 1985).

Tibetan Foxes spend considerable time resting in small burrows or hollows (Wang et al. 2003). They are most active at dawn and dusk, although can be seen at any time of the day.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Tibetan sand foxes have been reported to inhabit barren slopes and streambeds. They appear to prefer rocky or brushy areas at high elevation. They are found on the Tibetan Steppe at a maximum altitude of 5.300 m. These animals live in excavated dens or burrows under rocks or in crevices of boulder piles.

Range elevation: 5300 (high) m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: chaparral ; scrub forest ; mountains

  • Nowak, R. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World Fifth Edition, Volume II. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • IUCN Canid Specialist Group, 2004. "Tibetan Fox (Vulpes ferrilata)" (On-line). IUCN/SSC Canid Specialist Group. Accessed March 23, 2004 at http://www.canids.org/SPPACCTS/vferrila.htm.
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Foxes hunt in pairs (one male, one female) and will share whatever food is caught. They eat mostly rodents, hares, rabbits, and small ground birds. However, anything that can be caught will be eaten. The Black lipped pika, also sharing the same range and habitat, seems to be a preferred prey item.

Animal Foods: birds; mammals; eggs

Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Tibetan sand foxes play a significant role in controlling the rodent and small animal population. They may also help to aerate the soil by digging their dens.

Ecosystem Impact: soil aeration

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Predation

When threatened, Tibetan sand foxes retreat to their dens.

Known Predators:

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Short yips are passed between animals to communicate, but since the pairs usually stay together, no long distance communication is known or thought necessary. Scent is used to define territory, but the foxes are not known to actively defend their area.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: scent marks

Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Life Cycle

Development

Kits do not emerge from the den for some weeks after their birth, but quickly develop, and within 8-10 months are sexually mature. (Schaller, 2000)

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Some researchers assume a lifespan of 8-10 years under ideal circumstances. Most foxes are lost to natural causes or human trackers before their fifth year.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
8 to 10 years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
5 (high) years.

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Reproduction

V. ferrilata is apparently monogamous, with mated pairs staying together for life.

Mating System: monogamous

Mating season falls around late February to early March, and pairs of foxes stay together and are life-long mates. They live, hunt and share the responsibility of raising the young together. The gestation period is thought to be 50 to 60 days. Kits are born in late April to early May. The litter size ranges from 2 - 5 kits. The kits do not emerge from the den for some weeks after birth, so the exact gestation period is unknown.

Breeding interval: It seems these animals breed once annually.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs in late February or early March.

Range number of offspring: 2 to 5.

Range gestation period: 50 to 60 days.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization ; viviparous

All canid young are altricial. V. ferrilata young o not emerge from their natal dens until they are several weeks old. The exact timing of weaning has not been reported. Because the species is monogamous, both parents are involved in caring for the young.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; altricial ; pre-fertilization (Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); extended period of juvenile learning

  • Schaller, G. May 2000. WIldlife of the Tibetan Steppe. University of Chicago Press.
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Schaller, G.B., Ginsberg, J.R. & Harris, R.

Reviewer/s
Sillero-Zubiri, C. & Hoffmann, M. (Canid Red List Authority)

Contributor/s

Justification
The Tibetan Fox is widespread in the steppes and semi-deserts of the Tibetan Plateau, and is also present in Nepal north of the Himalaya. In general, population depends partly on prey availability and partly on human hunting pressure. The species is not considered threatened at present.

History
  • 2004
    Least Concern
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V. ferrilata was formerly (1996) on the IUCN Redlist as a species of Lower Risk (least concern), but is currently unlisted.

US Migratory Bird Act: no special status

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Population

Population
Fox abundance depends partly on prey availability and partly on human hunting pressure. In northwest Tibet, in a remote region of desert steppe with little prey, only five foxes were seen in 1,848 km of driving. In south-west Qinghai in a benign environment with much prey, 15 foxes were tallied in 367 km (Schaller 1998). In Serxu county, north-west Sichuan Province, an area with abundant with black lipped pika (Ochotona curzoniae), eight Tibetan Foxes were sighted along 11 km country road during a night count in 2001 (Anonymous 2000), and 27 sightings (at least 12 individuals) were recorded along line transects in the same area in August 2003 (Wang Xiaoming and Wang Zhenghuan, pers. obs.).

However, more recent studies with marked animals (Liu et al. 2007) have suggested that Tibetan Foxes can achieve relatively high densities where preferred prey is abundant and human hunting pressure low. Densities of 2-4/km² may occur (R.B. Harris pers. comm., 2008). A very coarse and unreliable estimation of population density of Tibetan Foxes in the Tibetan Autonomous Region was provided by Piao (1989), which extrapolated to an estimate of 37,000.

Population Trend
Unknown
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Threats

Major Threats
The species is not believed to be under serious threat. Hunting and snaring occurs, but is not common because the coarse pelts of Tibetan Foxes are of minor value. Domestic dogs can kill Tibetan Foxes, and may be a major source of mortality in some areas (Wang et al. 2007). More insidious threats are ongoing government-sponsored programmes of poisoning pikas in much of the Tibetan plateau. Secondary poisoning of Tibetan Foxes may occur, although does not appear to be common. However, reductions or complete elimination of their major prey would certainly be damaging to Tibetan Fox populations. If such pika reduction programmes continue or increase, the status of the Tibetan Fox would require reassessment.
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Not listed in CITES Appendices. The species is legally protected in several large Chinese reserves, including Arjin Shan (45,000 km²), Xianza (40,000 km²), Chang Tang (ca. 334,000 km²), Kekexili (ca. 45,000 km²), and Sanjiangyuan (ca. 152,000 km²). However, actual protection remains minimal. Likely to occur in other protected areas throughout the species' range, but no reliable information available. The species lacks special protection outside reserves.

Gaps of knowledge
All aspects of the fox's natural history needs to be studied.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

These animals apparently have no negative impact on humans.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The only known predators of this species are humans, who commonly trap and kill V. ferrilata for their fur. There is a large industry in the higher areas of Tibet and Nepal for the fox’s fur, which is usually made into hats. The fur is prized for this, because of its great ability to protect its wearer from the wind and other elements.

Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material

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Wikipedia

Tibetan sand fox

The Tibetan sand fox (Vulpes ferrilata) is a species of true fox endemic to the high Tibetan Plateau and Ladakh plateau in Nepal, China, Sikkim, and Bhutan, up to altitudes of about 5300 m. It is classed as Least Concern for extinction by the IUCN, on account of its widespread range in the Tibetan Plateau's steppes and semi-deserts.

It is sometimes referred to as the Tibetan fox, or simply as the sand fox, but this terminology is confusing because the corsac fox (Vulpes corsac), which lives in arid environments north and west of the Tibetan Plateau, is often called the "sand fox" or "Tibetan fox" as well. Rüppell's fox (Vulpes rueppellii) is also known as the "sand fox".

Physical description[edit]

Tibetan foxes are small and compact, with soft, dense coats and conspicuously narrow muzzles and bushy tails. Their muzzles, crowns, necks, backs and lower legs are tan to rufous coloured, while their cheeks, flanks, upper legs and rumps are grey. Their tails have white tips. The short ears are tan to greyish tan on the back, while the insides and undersides are white.[3] Adult Tibetan foxes are 60 to 70 centimetres (24 to 28 in) from head to body (juveniles are somewhat smaller) and a tail length of 29 to 40 centimetres (11 to 16 in). Weights of adults are usually 4 to 5.5 kilograms (8.8 to 12.1 lb).[4]

Among the true foxes, their skulls are the most specialised in the direction of carnivory;[5] They are longer in their condylobasal length and in mandible and cheek tooth length than those of hill foxes. Their cranial region is shorter than that of hill foxes, and their zygomatic arches narrower. Their jaws are also much narrower, and their foreheads concave. The canine teeth of Tibetan foxes are also much longer than those of hill foxes.[6]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The Tibetan sand fox is restricted to the Tibetan Plateau in western China and the Ladakh plateau in Northern Pakistan. It is found across Tibet, and in parts of the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Xinjiang, Yunnan and Sichuan. Outside of China, it can be found in northern Bhutan, and in the northernmost border regions of Nepal and India, north of the Himalayas. No subspecies are recognised.[7]

The sand fox is found primarily in semi-arid to arid grasslands, well away from humans or from heavy vegetation cover. It inhabits upland plains and hills from 3,500 to 5,200 metres (11,500 to 17,100 ft) elevation, although it is occasionally seen on lower ground, down to 2,500 metres (8,200 ft).[7]

Behaviour[edit]

They primarily prey on pikas, followed by rodents, marmots, woolly hares and lizards. They may also scavenge on the carcasses of Tibetan antelopes, musk deer, blue sheep and livestock. Tibetan foxes are mostly solitary, daytime hunters as their main prey, pikas, are diurnal.[8] Tibetan foxes may form commensal relationships with brown bears during hunts for pikas. The bears dig out the pikas, and the foxes grab them when they escape the bears.[4]

Mated pairs remain together and may also hunt together.[9] After a gestation period of about 50 to 60 days, two to four young are born in a den, and stay with the parents until they are eight to ten months old.[10] Their burrows are made at the base of boulders, at old beach lines and low slopes. Dens may have four entrances, with entrances being 25–35 cm in diameter.[8]

Diseases and parasites[edit]

Tibetan foxes in the Sêrxü County of China's Sichuan province are heavily infected with Echinococcus, while foxes in western Sichuan are definitive hosts of alveolar hydatid disease.[8]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ Schaller, G.B., Ginsberg, J.R. & Harris, R. (2008). Vulpes ferrilata. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 22 March 2009. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
  3. ^ Sillero-Zubiri, Hoffman & MacDonald 2004, pp. 148–149
  4. ^ a b Harris, R.B., Z.H. Wang, J.K. Zhou, and Q.X. Liu (2008). "Notes on biology of the Tibetan fox (Vulpes ferrilata)". Canid News 11: 1–7. 
  5. ^ Heptner & Naumov 1998, p. 482
  6. ^ Pocock 1941, p. 145
  7. ^ a b Clark, H.O. et al. (2008). "Vulpes ferrilata (Carnivora: Canidae)". Mammalian Species: Number 821: pp 1–6. doi:10.1644/821.1. 
  8. ^ a b c Sillero-Zubiri, Hoffman & MacDonald 2004, p. 150
  9. ^ Liu, Q.X., R. B. Harris, X.M. Wang, and Z.H. Wang (2007). "Home range size and overlap of Tibetan foxes (Vulpes ferrilata) in Dulan County, Qinghai Province". Acta Theriologica Sinica 27: 370–75. (Chinese)
  10. ^ Clark, H.O, Jr., D. P. Newman, J. D. Murdoch, J. Tseng, Z.H. Wang, R. B. Harris (in press). "Vulpes ferrilata". Mammalian Species. 

Bibliography[edit]

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