The Fennec fox (Vulpes zerda) is a small crepuscular fox native to the deserts of North Africa. It is the smallest species of fox. Its coat, ears, and kidney functions have adapted to the desert environment with high temperatures and little water. The indigenous peoples of North Africa prize the Fennec's fur, and in some parts of the world, it is considered an exotic pet.
The Fennec fox has sand-colored fur which reflects sunlight during the day and helps keep it warm at night. Its nose is black. Its tapering tail has a black tip. Its long ears have longitudinal reddish stripes on the back and are so densely haired inside that the external auditory meatus is not visible. The edges of the ears are whitish, but darker on the back. The ear-to-body ratio is the greatest in the canid family and likely helps in dissipating heat and locating vertebrates. It has dark streaks running from the inner eye to either side of the slender muzzle. Its large eyes are dark. The pads of its paws are covered with dense fur, which facilitates walking on hot, sandy soil.
Fennec foxes are found throughout the Sahara, from Morocco and Mauritania to northern Sudan, through Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Arava and Negev desert in southern Israel. It inhabits small sand dunes and vast treeless sand areas near costs with sparse vegetation such as grasses, sedges, and small shrubs.
Fennec foxes make dens beneath stable sand dunes. They dig a burrow to sleep in during the heat of the day. They prefer dunes with vegetation nearby. Fennec foxes are crepuscular animals, spending the day in their den, coming out in the cool of the night. In contrast to most foxes, which are solitary, these foxes form groups of about 10 members. Males are territorial, marking their boundaries with urine. They will become aggressive towards each other during the mating season.
These animals are omnivores, eating mostly leaves, roots, and fruits. They can also eat rodents, eggs, insects, and small reptiles. Fennec foxes can go for an indefinite period of time without water, as most of the water they need is provided by the plants and animals they eat.
Fennec foxes are monogamous and mate for life. The breeding season runs from January to February, with females giving birth just once a year. The gestation period is about 50 days, and a litter of 2 to 4 kits is produced between March and April. Kits are weaned after 60 to 70 days. They start to hunt alongside their mother when they are old enough to do so. Reproductive maturity is reached around 10 months.
Currently, there are no major global-wide threats to fennecs. Road construction and new human settlements increase the disturbance and risk to some populations. These foxes do not threaten any human interest, such as livestock, although inhabitants of the Sahara and Sinai hunt them for their fur or exhibition and sale to tourists.
Current population numbers are not known but assumed to be adequate, as traders in Northern Africa often trap Fennec foxes for exhibition or the tourist trade. The ICUN classifies the Fennec fox as "Least Concern" with a stable population trend.
Fennecs are predators, controlling numbers of birds, small mammals, reptiles, insects, and other invertebrates within their territories.