The fennec fox, Vulpes zelda (syn. Fennecus zerda), is a small, desert-dwelling canid from Africa. With one of the largest ear-to-body size ratios of any animal as well as one of the longest tail-to-body size ratio of any animal, the fennec fox is a specialist at surviving in harsh, arid climates. It is the smallest species of canid on Earth.
The fennec fox’s range encompasses much of the Sahara desert, from the Atlas Mountains in northern Algeria and Morocco to the semi-desert regions of southern Mauritania, from the Atlantic Ocean to the western edge of the Nile River in Egypt and Sudan. There are currently no range-wide threats to the fennec fox, though there is increased human activity in the Sahara which has the potential to become a disturbance to the fennec fox.
As a specialist, the fennec fox has a very narrow range of ecological tolerance. It subsists in arid, desert regions and the vast sand seas of the Sahara, including the sparsely vegetated dunes near the Atlantic coast in eastern Mauritania. Typical annual rainfall in the fennec fox’s range is between 100 to 300 mm, about 4 to 12 inches per year.
Although widely and commonly observed throughout its range, relatively little is known about the social or behavioral characteristics of the fennec fox in the wild. A 2009 field study lead by the Saint Louis Zoo in the United States was the first of its kind focused on three species of the genus Vulpes and was joined by the IUCN Canid Specialist Group, University of Oxford WildCRU, and the Sahara Conservation Fund. Another study in 2015 in Morocco should contribute to data on population movement and habitat use, however there is still little knowledge about the species outside of captivity.
Fennec foxes are omnivores and prey on rodents, insects, birds, and eggs in addition to vegetation.
Our female fennec fox, Wendy, is a miniature princess in disguise who demands only the finest cuisine and insists on having the best seat in the house on tour days - the hammock at the picture window. She loves to flaunt her crown-like ears and bat her big, brown eyes at the nearest passerby, just hoping her pint-sized charm will win her a treat. Wendy is extremely food motivated and is especially fond of sweet treats like ripe bananas and peanut butter. Wendy was previously housed at another zoological facility, and in October 2015 she moved to the Center to spend her life with our male fennec fox, Tut. One of her favorite hobbies is forcing her roomie, Tut, to be her cuddle buddy in the lazy afternoons (which is the only time he gets to enjoy the luxurious hammock!). Wendy is also one of our animal ambassadors and occasionally makes off-site appearances at places like the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
Tut is a little bundle of energy whose impressively large ears make his tiny body look even smaller. A very rambunctious fennec, Tut loves chasing feathered objects, tussling with stuffed animals, and rearranging his toys into the perfect pile. Tut has even developed his own game that involves seizing a toy, throwing it as high as he can, racing around trying to catch it, and finishing with a spectacular barrel roll. He’s like a fox-shaped bolt of lightning, and we get tired just watching him! While he arrived in 2014, he didn’t meet his BFF and roommate, Wendy, until about a year later. Upon seeing each other for the first time, the two spent the entire night squeaking and chattering away...loudly. Very loudly. What on earth do fennecs talk about?