They are cute, adorable and unforgettable. When I saw them first time on some photos from the people, who enjoyed desert trip in Sahara, I thought they are almost like pets or semi-pets. Indeed they are, because some locals have them as pets and claim they are almost as loyal as small playful dogs. Nevertheless, they are wild animals and so should be addressed and they are officially categorised as the world smallest foxes. They could be found in some parts of Sahara Desert in North Africa, but also in some areas of Arabian peninsulas. The famous scientific name is Vulpes Zerda which means tiny fox. What makes them really unique are their large ears that are almost like air condition tools, since they radiate heat and help fox keeping cool. Beside it, their service is in detecting underground prey.

Those sweet mammals are known to have very thick and soft fur that also serves to regulate temperature, during day and night. The life in desert is challenging and that is why those animals are given the ability to survive in such settings, having adapted organism for lack of water and the high temperatures. They know how to protect themselves, not only from big predators like eagle or jackals but also from terrible heat. The dens they are digging under sand dunes are precious shelters and also the safe home for offspring. As the nocturnal animals, they are hidden in their cold dens during the hot day and get out in the night, lurking on food. The fox is usually defined as solitary animal but these are group oriented and their gang is about 10 foxes. The males are aggressive in the mating season and they mark the territory and fight each other for finding the soul mate and staying forever together. The relationships they build are based on monogamy and after love season in January and February, the kits are coming between March and April and they are starting independent age after 70 days, when they start hunting together with mother. These creatures are omnivorous and their diet is based on fruits, vegetables and sometime on the reptile, eggs and small birds. It is very interesting facts that they are adjusted to go, long time, without water and all liquid they sometimes find or have is usually the one that comes from the available vegetation they consume.

The risk of being in desert habitat made fennecs so adorable with their special shoes. Yes, they have fur on their feet and this is with the purpose to help them control the heat during the day activity and the coldness of the night, especially when it is hunt on the schedule. Their language is pretty much vocal and they are good communicators so they could be heard to bark, howl, growl or even whimper. It depends on what is the discussion about and how many critters participate. They do have organised night social life and during the day, they are oft sleepy and relaxed.

In North Africa there are families that do have those foxes as pets. I was really surprised but they are under protection and they are not vulnerable. Scientists advise that this shouldn’t be a practice because the fennecs cant change their nature, they will always be wild animals and that level of energy they have, it is not so easy to handle if you are human and not nocturnal. Even in the Usa, there are states that allow keeping of desert fox as a pet, with the right and licences permission, and those states are Delaware, Florida, Maine, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Wisconsin. In Florida you will need to get a Class III to be able to have a fennec fox as a pet. On the other side, there are American states that do not require any permit as Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee. In New York state you can keep this fox as a pet but not if you are located in NY City.

In Europe, in UK is allowed to have this kind of fox as a pet, as long as your neighbourhood agrees with it. Anyway, I do not recommend it because these precious animals should be free and not in captivity, no matter what kind of life they would get. It is true that they could be socialised and trained almost like dogs and there is no doubt about it but is there any purpose of it ? They belong to the wildness and the opposite shouldn’t be encouraged. Personally, only reason I could understand that those animals are captivated is their situation or lack of capability to survive alone outside ( sickness, vulnerability, injury). We shouldn’t forget that foxes are active, intelligent animals that analyse a lot the caregiver and learn to react on the input. I do not question the expertise of some dog trainer or wildlife expert to train them well and adjust on the expectations of the environment they will live in. However, I am not happy about it because the freedom of wild animal is the one of the most significant values I stand up for.

One friend of mine that lives in Tunis has this fox as a domesticated pet. Rashid found Reza when it was a tiny kit, lost and injured. He took it at home and with his wife Zahra, took care of the afraid fox and managed to save it from certain death. Reza cant walk really good but that is the reason why it stayed with family, being loved and cuddled. Reza is not an exotic pet but the saved animal that couldn’t go back to desert, without being lost forever. So, in this case, it is not about egoism of human being but about warm heart that heard the voice of voiceless and helped.

Those beautiful foxes are one of a kind, thrilling desert residents that know how to dwell between the sand, hot sun and the cold night under desert stars. They are born to walk free and proud around beige dunes and not to be stuck in some apartment, somewhere in the egoistic West. Leave animals alone.


  1. Sarah’s enchanting and invaluable article reminded me of the etymology of the word ‘fennec’…

    The noun ‘fennec’ derives from a dialectal Berber word meaning ‘fox’. Berber tribes have been inhabiting North Africa since circa 10,000 BCE. As the tribes spread across the region, dialects evolved from the root idiom. Their oldest written examples date to circa 4th century BCE, but it is not known when the dialectical noun ‘fennec’ first emerged, as there were other Berber words for fox, over the millennia.

    In the late-1700s, several Western European zoologists undertook research in North Africa, and the Berber word ‘fennec’ ended up in various European zoological journals, etc., of the 1790s; although, the Berbers themselves were applying the word ‘fennec’ to various mammals with fur.


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About Sarahowlgirl1982

I am a master of Political Sciences, with special focus on Security Studies, Islamic Counter Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction. I enjoy discovering and commenting things which are " in the air" but still not spoken.I also do like science writing and planing to move myself into the pure science journalism !