Fennec fox (Vulpes zerda)
The fennec is adapted to live in harsh, arid sandy deserts and semi-deserts and mountainous regions in northern Africa to northern Sinai; in Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Kuwait, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan and Tunisia. References to fennec sightings in the United Arab Emirates were based on a Ruppell's fox in the Al Ain zoo (IUCN, Wikipedia); there are no confirmed records of the species in the Arabian Peninsula, but the fennec may occur to north Sahelian areas in the south (IUCN). The fennec prefers stable sand dunes, where it can burrow (ARKive, IUCN), but also lives in very sparsely vegetated sand dunes near the Atlantic coast (IUCN). It uses desert grasses and/or light scrub vegetation to bolster, shelter and line its dens.
The fennec is the smallest fox and weighs about 0.68–1.59 kg; vixens weigh about 0.8 kg and males weigh about 1.5 kg. It is 24-41 cm long with an 18-31 cm tail; it stands 18-22 cm tall at the shoulder. Its coat, ears, and kidney functions have adapted to high-temperature, low-water deserts with high daytime temperatures and freezing temperatures at night (Wikipedia). Long, soft hairs cover the soles of the feet, protecting the feet from extreme temperatures and helping the fox walk on loose sand (ARKive, AskNature). The fennec perceives its environment primarily through highly developed senses of hearing and smell (Animal Diversity Web). The massive ears are the largest among foxes relative to body size and serve to dissipate heat, as they have many blood vessels close to the skin (Wikipedia). The ears 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. They are about 10-15 cm long and act like radiators and dissipate hea, as they have many blood veseks t (Animal Diversity Web, ARKive, Wikipedia), as well as providing excellent hearing to detect prey moving under many centimtres of sand; the enlarged auditory bullae also serve this latter purpose (Animal Diversity Web). The ears can detect subtle differences between whines and whimpers in the calls of other fennecs and helps the fox to locate and avoid predators (Animal Diversity Web). The fennec has large, black eyes and the reflective tapetum layer in the retina enhances night vision and creates the illusion of glowing eyes. The small muzzle has a black rhinal pad and black whiskers. The coat is often a cream colour and fluffy, which . The long, soft, silky or fluffy, sandy, cream or buff coloured fur provides excellent camouflage in the desert, aiding stalking of prey and detection by predators; the coat colour deflects heat by day and keeps the fox warm at night (Wikipedia). The face is lighter with a dark streak extending from the inner eye down and outward to either side of the muzzle. The thick, bushy tail is redder, with a blackor dark brown tip and a black patch near the base. The slender legs of the fennec in North Africa are reddish sand, while foxes further south have almost white legs. The is white along the legs, face, ear-linings and underside. Juveniles are downy and almost exclusively white. The fur over the violet gland is black or dark brown. Dentition is weak, similar to that in bat-eared foxes; the carnassials are small (Animal Diversity Web).
The fennec can subsist without free water for an indefinite period, surviving by obtaining moisture through its food and conserving water by remaining in burrows during hot days and venturing out only at night (Animal Diversity Web, Wikipedia). Its kidneys are adapted to restrict water loss, while burrowing can cause the formation of dew (Wikipedia). It will drink water if available or eat vegetation as a handy source of water (Animal Diversity Web, Wikipedia). The thick, woolly fur helps insulate the fox against cold, desert nights. The fennec starts to tremble with cold when temperatures drop below 20 degrees Celsius, but only starts to pant when temperatures exceed 35 degrees Celsius. When it pants, its breathing rate rockets from 23 breaths a minute to 690 breaths a minute (ARKive). Fennec dens are designed for quick escape (Animal Divrsity Web). The fennec can jump up to 61 cm high and 120 cm forward to catch prey and escape predators (Wikipedia).
The fennec hunts alone and locates prey mainly by using its sensitive hearing to hear prey moving underground. It can seem to stare at the ground while it rotates its head from side to side to pinpoint the location of prey, underground or hidden above ground (Wikipedia). It obtains most of their food by digging and consumes any food available. It mainly eats grasshoppers, locusts and other insects, as well as rodents, rabbits and other small mammals, birds, eggs and lizards. It kills with a bite to the neck (ARKive). It also eats fruit, leaves and roots; it strips leaves off scrub vegetation. Vegetation provides almost 100% of the fox's hydration (Animal Diversity Web). There are reports that fennec foxes climb date palms while foraging for fruit; some experts consider this unlikely unless low branches are available for support (Wikipedia). Fennecs cache extra food (Animal Diversity Web). The main predators are eagle owls and possibly caracals, jackals, striped hyenas and the saluki, although fennecs are hard to capture (Wikipedia).
The fennec is monogamous; a pair mates for life (Wikipedia). Each pair or family controls its own territory (Wikipedia). The basic social unit of up to 10 individuals is thought to be a mated pair and their young; the young of the previous year are thought to stay remain in the family even after a new litter is born (Animal Diversity Web, ARKive, Wikipedia). Playing behaviour is common, including among adults (Animal Diversity Web, ARKive). Fennecs make various contact 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 with each other. In this social structure, each breeding couple (or family, as parents often enlist the aid of older siblings to care for cubs) has its own territory, bounded by urine and piles of faecal matter. Fennecs vigorously defenders of both territory and pups. Social rank is communicated mainly through play and via visual and tactile communication. Fennecs also comunicate via sound and via pheromones and scent marks (Animal Diversity Web). Families dig out dens in sand for habitation and protection, which can be 120 m2 and adjoin the dens of other families (Wikipedia). A typical den is dug in sand in open areas or places sheltered by plants with stable sand dunes. In compacted soils, dens can be up to 120 square metres, with up to 15 different entrances (Wikipedia). In some cases different families interconnect their dens, or locate them close together (Wikipedia). In soft, looser sand, dens tend to be simpler with only one entrance leading to a single chamber (Wikipedia).
Reproductive opportunity may be affected by social position, so that only dominant males pair with females (Animal Diversity Web). 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. Fennecs mate in January and February (Animal Diversity Web). The copulation tie lasts up to two hours and 45 minutes. Following mating, the male becomes very aggressive and protective of the female, providing her with food during her pregnancy and lactation periods (Wikipedia). Vixens stay in oestrus for a few days and give birth to 1-6 altricial cubs once a year in March and April, after a gestation period of 50-53 days (Animal Diversity Web, ARKive, Wikipedia), but up to 62-63 days in captivity (Wikipedia). Births can occur from March-July or year round in captivity (Wikipedia). The blind, helpless cubs weigh 26-50 g (Animal Diversity Web). The ears are folded over and the eyes are closed; the eyes open at around 10 days and the ears lift soon afterward (Wikipedia). The mother attends them in the den for the first 2 weeks, until their eyes open (Animal Diversity Web). The male provides food to the family and defends the burrow, which can be up to 10 metres long, until the cubs are four weeks old, when they begin to play within the den (Animal Diversity Web). At 5 weeks old, the cubs also play just outside the den entrance and the father watches for danger to playing cubs (Animal Diversity Web). Fennecs are very aggressive in defending their young; added protection for the cubs may be a reason to maintain community structure (Animal Divrsity Web). The cubs are weaned at 30-90 days and may be licked, carried and closely watched for up to 70 day (Animal Diversity Web) and become independent at 6 month, although they still associate with their parents (Animal Diversity Web). The cubs reach adult size and sexual maturity after 6-11 months (Animal Diversity Web, ARKive, Wikipedia). Fennecs can live up to 10 years in the wild and 16.3 years in captivity (AnAge, Animal Diversity Web, ARKive).
The fennec is listed as Least Concern and as a CITES Appendix II species. It is relatively widespread and common throughout the Sahara; no known major range-wide threats are believed to result in a population decline that would warrant listing in a threatened category (IUCN, Wikipedia). Sightings indicate that the animal is currently not threatened by extinction, but trade must be controlled to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival (Animal Diversity Web, ARKive, Wikipedia). Dogs and humans probably pose the greatest threat (ARKive). In northern Africa, the fennec is hunted, trapped and sold commercially (ARKive, IUCN, Wikipedia). It is captured for the pet trade and exhibition in zoos, sold to locals to be raised for meat or killed for its fur (Animal Diversity Web, ARKive, IUCN, Wikipedia). Breeders tend to remove the young kits from the mother to hand-rear, as owners prefer tamer and more handleable foxes, making them more expensive; the 'pet' fennec cannot be considered domesticated (Wikipedia). In southern Morocco, the meat is not eaten as it is considered to smell foul (Wikipedia). It is also killed by domestic dogs (ARKive). These threats have resulted in a fall in numbers in some populations in north-western Africa and new permanent human settlements, such as in southern Morocco, have led to fennecs disappearing from those areas (ARKive, IUCN). It is legally protected in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt and occurs in several protected areas throughout its range, such as Bir El Abd Conservation Area in Egypt, and Aïr and Tenere National Reserve in Niger (ARKive, IUCN). The only documented regression concerns northern Moroccan Sahara, where the fennec disappeared in the 1960s from four localities, which were restricted sandy areas near permanent human settlements (IUCN). Fennecs breed in captivity. The fennec is Algeria's national animal and the nickname of its national football team (Wikipedia).
The largest populations of Vulpes zerda occur in the central Sahara, though the species can be found in mountainous and desert regions from northern Morocco (roughly 35 degrees N latitude), east along the northern tip of the Red Sea to Kuwait, and south into northern Nigeria and Chad (15 degrees N latitude).
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); ethiopian (Native )
Distribution in Egypt
Narrow (Western Desert and North Sinai).
Fennecs 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 30 to 40 cm 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. Not enough is known about fennecs to state conclusively whether they are sexually dimorphic. The family Canidae, however, exhibits the limited sexual dimorphism common in groups of mostly monogamous species. Since V. zerda is monogamous, it is reasonable to assume this species follows the pattern of slight sexual dimorphism.
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. Enlarged auditory bullae also serve this latter purpose. 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. The eyes, rhinal pad, and vibrissae of fennecs are all black. Dentition is weak, similar to that in bat-eared foxes.
Range mass: 0.8 to 1.5 kg.
Average mass: 1.5 kg.
Range length: 30 to 40 cm.
Average length: 30 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Average basal metabolic rate: 2.693 W.
Fennecs are highly specialized to desert life and found almost exclusively in arid, sandy regions. The presence of desert grasses and/or light scrub vegetation is important, as fennecs use these plants to bolster, shelter, and line their dens. Fennecs are so well adapted to their Saharan climate that they need not drink. In times of need, however, nearby vegetation is a handy source of water and may be eaten.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune
Habitat and Ecology
Fennecs have small carnassial teeth. They obtain much of their food through digging, and, as omnivores in a desert environment, will consume almost anything that makes itself available. Small rodents, lizards, birds, eggs, and insects are all common prey. Fruit, leaves and roots are an important part of the diet of V. zerda, as they provide almost 100 percent of the animal’s hydration. Fennecs can go indefinitely without free water, and are known to cache extra food.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; reptiles; eggs; carrion ; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods
Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; fruit
Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food
Primary Diet: omnivore
Fennecs are predators, reducing the number of small mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and other terrestrial invertebrates found within their home territories. They may strip the leaves off scrub vegetation, but there is no evidence that this behavior causes permanent damage to the plants.
Little is known about what animals prey on fennecs, though it seems safe to assume that some do. Fennec dens are designed for quick escape, and the sand-colored fur which aids stalking of prey may also help them evade detection by larger, fiercer animals. Excellent hearing surely allows V. zerda to locate and avoid predators.
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Life History and Behavior
Vulpes zerda perceives its environment primarily through highly developed senses of hearing and smell. The enormous ears are able to filter sound through many centimeters of sand, and can detect subtle differences between whines and whimpers in the calls of other fennecs. Night vision is enhanced by a reflective retina called a tapetum. This adaptation creates the illusion of glowing eyes and is characteristic of nocturnal animals.
Social rank among fennecs is communicated mainly through play. As social animals, they use visual and tactile communication.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Fennecs can live for up to 10 years in the wild, a common lifespan among African foxes. Captive fennecs may survive for up to 12 years.
Status: wild: 10 (high) years.
Status: captivity: 12 (high) years.
Status: wild: 10 (high) years.
Status: captivity: 12 (high) years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Little is known about how fennecs attract or defend their mates, though reproductive opportunity may be affected by social position. It is possible that only dominant males pair with females. The breeding season runs from January to February, but vixens remain in estrus for only a few days. Fennecs mate for life. This monogamous pairing leads to a social structure in which each breeding couple (or family- fennec parents often enlist the aid of older siblings in caring for offspring) have their own territory. This territory is bounded by urine and piles of fecal matter. Fennecs are vigorous defenders of both territory and pups.
Mating System: monogamous ; cooperative breeder
The breeding season of V. zerda 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 (although 5 and even 6 are not entirely uncommon). At birth, the blind and helpless offspring weigh 50 g. Their mother attends 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. The pups of V. zerda suckle longer than those of most foxes, and weaning may not occur until nearly 3 months of age. Young may be licked, carried, and closely watched for up to 70 days. Sexual maturity comes with the attainment of adult size at 6 to 9 months of age.
Breeding interval: Fennecs breed once yearly
Breeding season: Breeding occurs in January and February.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 6.
Average number of offspring: 3.
Range gestation period: 50 to 53 days.
Average gestation period: 50 days.
Range weaning age: 30 to 90 days.
Range time to independence: 6 to 9 months.
Average time to independence: 6 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 6 to 9 months.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 6 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 6 to 9 months.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 6 months.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; viviparous
Average birth mass: 26.28 g.
Average number of offspring: 2.2.
The low birth rate and slow reproductive recovery of declining fennec populations means that fennec parents have a high reproductive investment in their altricial pups. Vixens give continuous care for the two weeks following birth. Father and mother work together during the prolonged rearing of the young. Males bring food to the family and watch for dangers to playing pups. Fennecs are very aggressive in the defense of their young, and added protection for the pups may be a reason to maintain community structure. Though weaned at as early as one month, fennec offspring require care and supervison for a much longer period. Full independence is not attained until roughly 6 months of age.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); post-independence association with parents; extended period of juvenile learning
Evolution and Systematics
Hairy pads or bristles on the feet of desert creatures help them move on loose sand by providing a braking mechanism as the feet push backwards.
"Soles equipped with bristles or hairy pads are also suitable for locomotion over loose sand. Many desert and steppe dwellers walk on such soft and comfortable soles; notable examples are the tarsiers, Tenebrionidae and Asilidae, the Eligmodontia mouse, the sand cat, and the fennec fox." (Tributsch 1984:73)
Learn more about this functional adaptation.
Fennecs once ranged broadly over northern Africa, but sport hunting and intrusion by humans are shrinking their habitat and increasing their scarcity. The IUCN Red List cites fennecs as Data deficient. CITES places fennecs in Appendix II in Austria, and Appendix III in Denmark and Tunisia.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: appendix ii; appendix iii
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2004Data Deficient
- 1996Data Deficient(Baillie and Groombridge 1996)
- 1996Data Deficient
- 1996Data Deficient
- 1994Insufficiently Known(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Insufficiently Known(IUCN 1990)
Status in Egypt
Current statistics are not available, but the population is assumed to be adequate based on the observations that the fennec is still commonly trapped and sold commercially in northern Africa. In southern Morocco, fennecs were commonly seen in all sandy areas away from permanent human settlements (F. Cuzin, pers. obs.).
Legally protected in Morocco (including Western Sahara), Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt.
Historically, the North American Regional Studbook (Bauman 2002) lists some 839 individuals that have been held in the North American region between 1900 and 2001. At the end of 2001, there were 131 individuals in 51 institutions. The Australian Regional Studbook lists 81 historically, with only 12 in the captive population at present. Although fennecs occur in European zoos, there is no studbook or management plan. Fennecs are also kept as pets and bred privately, but these records are not available.
Gaps in knowledge
While studies of captive animals have gone some way towards improving our knowledge of this little-known species (particularly as regards reproduction), much remains unknown of their basic ecology and behaviour in the wild. Work on captive populations is encouraged, but an in-depth study of the species, with particular emphasis on habitat use and population dynamics in the wild is overdue. Field studies underway in Tunisia are starting to redress this situation but undoubtedly more work is needed.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Fennecs do not have any known negative impact on humans, and why native peoples of the Sahara are hunting them into decline remains unclear.
Fennecs are distributed to zoos and as personal pets.
Positive Impacts: pet trade
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 in the world. 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 fennec fox weighs about 1.5–3.5 lb (0.68–1.59 kg), with a body length of between 24–41 cm (9–16 in); it is around 20.3 cm (8 in) tall. It is the smallest species of canid in the world. The tail has a black tip and is 18–31 cm (7–12 in) long, while the ears can be between 10–15 cm (3.9–5.9 in) long.
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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.
The species was previously classified in the genus Fennecus, but has since been reclassified to the genus Vulpes which includes a variety of other types of foxes. Scientists have noted that while there are similarities, there are many differences that set the fennec fox apart from other fox species, including both physical and social traits. This has led to two conflicting classifications: Vulpes zerda, implying that the fennec fox is a true fox, and Fennecus zerda, implying that the fennec fox belongs to its own genus.
Physically, the fennec lacks the musk glands of other fox species, and has only 32 chromosome pairs, while other fox species have between 35 and 39. The species also displays behaviors uncharacteristic of foxes, such as living in packs while most other fox species are solitary.
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. Sexual maturity is reached at around nine months old. In the wild, mating usually occurs between January and February for litters to be born between March and April. However, in captivity most litters are born later, between March and July, although births can occur year round. The species usually breeds only once each year. The copulation tie has been recorded as lasting up to two hours and 45 minutes. Following mating, the male becomes very aggressive and protective of the female, providing her with food during her pregnancy and lactation periods.
Gestation is usually between 50 to 52 days, although there have been 62 and 63 day gestation periods reported from foxes in captivity. The typical litter is between one and four kits, with weaning taking place at around 61 to 70 days. When born, the kit's ears are folded over and its eyes are closed, with the eyes opening at around ten days and the ears lifting soon afterward. The life span of a fennec fox has been recorded as up to 14 years in captivity.
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 classified as "Least Concern" on the IUCN Red List, and as a CITES Appendix II species: species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but whose trade must be controlled to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival. It is often hunted by humans, though it does not cause any direct harm to human interests, such as livestock. Like other foxes, it is prized for its fur by the indigenous people of the Sahara and Sinai.
Current statistics on population are not known, but the population is assumed to be adequate based on observations of traders commonly trapping fennec foxes in Northern Africa for exhibition or sale to tourists. In southern Morocco, the fennec fox is commonly seen in sandy areas away from permanent human settlements.
The fennec fox's main predators are the various African varieties of eagle owl. Other possible predators include caracals, jackals, striped hyenas, and the saluki, a greyhound-like domestic dog local to the area. However, fennec foxes are considered very difficult to capture, and reports of predators other than the eagle owl are considered to be anecdotal and questionable.
Fennec foxes are commonly trapped for sale to the pet trade and for fur by the human population of Northern Africa. In southern Morocco in particular, their meat is not eaten because it is considered to be foul smelling.
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 domesticated silver 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 USA to avoid any problems associated with inbreeding. The legality of owning a fennec fox varies by jurisdiction, as with many exotic pets.
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