In North Africa there lives an un-endangered (but protected) species of fur-bearing mammal, the Fennec Fox. This creature is a nocturnal mammal noted for its unusually large and distinctive ears.
The Desert Fox of the Sahara
Their most noteworthy physical feature are those stunningly over-sized ears, disproportionately large for their diminutive body. Living in North Africa and the regions north of the Sahara Dessert, these large ears probably serve several adaptation purposes. Mainly, large ears can detect even the smallest of sounds such as approaching predators and of course, the presence of live food. These large sound-gathering ears hear movements of burrowingrodents under the sand, the rustling of insects and small birds, all of which are part of their diet. They are an opportunistic omnivore.
Image via Wikipedia
Image via Wikipedia
Large ears also serve to dissipate body heat via the many blood capillaries that run through them. Rabbits and donkeys which also have large, flat ears give off ecess heat and maintain their body temperature in the same way. The Fennec fox is adapted to the desert in other ways as well. The soles of their feet are protected against the hot sand and rocks by a layer of fur. They have a mysterious squeaking wailing song they sing to attract a mate, express moods or otherwise communicate. Their vocalizations might also serve to flush-out prey like mice or birds that have taken refuge in thick brush.
Fennec Fox as a House Pet
Of interest is that the Fennec Fox is an alternative pet. They are being captivity-bred and hand-raised for this purpose. Raising a feral animal from a very young age by hand involves much human interaction and makes for a calmer, not tractable pet. Someday, the Fennec Fox may become a mainstream commercially-available pet! There are Fennec Fox owners and societies in the United States, Canada, Japan and several other countries. Owners of Fennec Fox pets claim that they can sometimes be litter-box trained but often, it is more unlikely that they will cooperate. They are closer to their wild cousins than the domestic attributes of say, the house cat. Ferrets are very close in this regard to being litter-box trainable. As the former owner of ferret I can attest that a litter-trained ferret is possible, but expect‘accidents’ and of course, the occasional willful disregard.
Playful Fennec Fox
The playful nature of Fennec Foxes is also similar to ferrets; they are always willing to run and tumble, explore and play. They will play-out most other household pets.
Ever curious of their environment, they are fond of getting into everything and love to hide objects and shiny things they find in the household. Secreted caches of flatware, wristwatches or keys and coins would be a find in a Fennec Fox-occupied home.
It is probably best to house the Fennec Fox in a smaller cage during the night and allow them to roam the home only during the times that family members are present. Any ferret owner can tell you that this is the only way to preserve your possessions.
Fennec Foxes are naturally a burrowing creature so any outdoor enclosure must expect and accommodate this. They are stated to be quite difficult to recapture once they have escaped.
A Fennec Fox and House Cat Playing Together
The population of Fennec Foxes in their native habitat are not threatened nor does the Fennec post any significant threat to the interests of humans in regards to livestock or crops. They are however, considered a fur-bearing animal and sometimes hunted for that purpose by the indigenous peoples of Northern Africa. Still, the species is protected to prevent irresponsible marketability of their pelts or unrestricted trapping of live specimens for sale into the pet trade.
There is currently a scientific debate whether the Fennec Fox is truly a fox or a distinct genus of its own. Most true foxes have between 35 to 39 chromosome pairs depending upon specie while the Fennec only has 32 chromosome pairings. This is a significant difference, at least in the eyes of science. But in my eyes, this is a lovely adorable fox!