Fennec foxes are becoming more and more popular as pets in the United States. They are known for their distinctive, batlike ears and pale, fluffy coats. Native to North Africa, fennec foxes occupy an unforgiving habitat. So how do they survive? Is the fennec fox endangered?
The fennec fox’s current conservation status is “Least Concern”, but they do have protected status in some areas. There are still numerous threats to fennec foxes, including human encroachment, disease, climate change, and poaching – for the pet and fur trades.
Fennec foxes are desirable for pet owners, because they are playful and adorable. So it is important to understand how they survive in the wild. They are endangered, yet listed as ‘Least Concern’. They must survive numerous threats to their existence, yet they seem to be doing great. What would happen if they went extinct? All these questions and more – read on!
When was the fennec fox discovered?
The fennec fox, or Vulpes zerda, was officially classified in 1780. But its taxonomical classification has been subject to debate. It is usually assigned to the genus Vulpes, indicating that it is a species of fox.
However, this is debated due to differences between the fennec fox and other species of fox. It was previously classified as Fennecus, implying that it belongs to its own genus.
Fennec foxes have a long history. The indigenous peoples of North Africa prize its fur, because it is so lustrous and soft.
How many fennec foxes are left in the world in 2020?
Little is known about wild fennec fox populations. Precious population figures are not known, and are instead based on educated guesswork.
Population scientists make estimates based on the frequency of sightings – which are uncommon. Fennec foxes are great at hiding, and rarely roam during the day. Basically, the population is assumed to be adequate based on observations of the traders that commonly trap fennec foxes for exhibition or sale.
Despite being listed as ‘least concern’ on the IUCN Red List, the fennec fox is listed as as a CITES Appendix II species. This means that although it is not necessarily threatened with extinction, fennec fox trade must be controlled to avoid utilization incompatible with its survival.
Since it is almost impossible to observe fennec foxes during the daytime, knowledge of their social interactions is also limited. Biologists can only gather information from captive animals. Of course, fennec foxes in zoos only account for a fraction of the world’s total fennec fox population!
Why is the fennec fox endangered?
Like other foxes, the indigenous peoples of the Sahara and Sinai regions prize fennec fox fur. It is also becoming increasingly normal for ‘intrepid’ pet owners to want exotic pets. For these reasons, fennec foxes are trapped and poached by hunters in North Africa, and sold to the local fur trade and international pet trade.
There are also animals that hunt fennec foxes. While its main predator is the eagle owl, various other terrestrial mammals are thought to hunt fennec foxes for food. These include caracals, striped hyenas, jackals and the Saluki, a domestic dog local to the area that is similar to a greyhound.
You might assume that fennec foxes are also hunted for their meat. However, the evidence does not suggest this. In southern Morocco in particular, fennec fox meat is considered to be foul smelling.
How do humans affect Fennec foxes?
It is hard to find an animal that is not affected by humans – whether it be encroachment of humam civilization, deforestation for agriculture or industry, or hunting for international trade. Fennec foxes are not immune to the devastating effects of human activity.
Encroachment into fennec territories results in smaller available ranges for fennec fox habitation. Furthermore, the desertification of huge swathes of northern Africa expands the arid regions while not actually expanding the habitable regions for fennec foxes.
Hunting and poaching for the international pet trade also has a detrimental impact on fennec fox populations. The same goes for the local fur trade.
What are some other causes of death of fennec foxes?
You might be surprised to know that dehydration is very rarely a killer of fennec foxes. Desert dwellers have to be extremely well adapted to living in such dry environments. Fennec foxes are no exception.
Fennec foxes can live without free water. They owe this to their hardy kidneys, which are adapted to restrict water loss. A fennec’s burrowing can also cause the formatiom of dew, or condensation from water vapour during the cooler hours of the night. Fennecs also forage for fruits, vegetables, leaves and roots, which provide hydration.
Besides the threats already mentioned, tourism and development impact negatively on fennec fox habitats. These elusive creatures do not like to dwell within range of human populations, so any human activity in an area is likely to pose a threat.
Much of what we know about fennec fox populations is conjecture, estimation or guesswork. There is a great data deficiency when it comes to fennec foxes, which makes it hard to know anything for sure.
What would happen if fennec foxes went extinct?
It is hard to know exactly what would happen if any single animal went completely extinct. Even extensive studies come to wildly different conclusions. One thing we can be sure of is that any sudden extinction event would have knock-on effects for all the animals that share the fennec’s food chain.
Its prey animals would be advantaged, while its predators would be disadvantaged. Everything would be thrown out of balance, at least until a new status quo emerged.
We do not know just how many fennecs there are in the wild. They are elusive, predominantly nocturnal, and very sensitive to noise, so we don’t know much about them at all!
What we do know, however, is that this is an animal well worth keeping. So spread the word – if there’s a conservation project you have access to, donate what you can!
Did we miss anything? Do you have anything to add to the mix? Let us know in the comments below!