Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Cool critter of the month

Owing to the overwhelming popularity of the 10 awesome animals you may not know about post, (about 1/3 of my hits at the time of writing). I have decided (or been coerced by popular pressure) into producing a regular spot for cool, weird, special and exciting things from nature. These will be short posts with just a few details about an animal, plant or even bacteria that tickles my fancy in some way. Needless to say nature is awesome so the list is pretty long!

The true field marshal of the Sahara, the one and only fennec or desert fox

Let’s be honest these guys are adorable. The fennec fox is the world’s smallest canid (doglike critter) and has giant ears relative to its size. They live in the raging heat of the Sahara desert and use those giant ears to help them keep cool. In addition to cool ears, they also pant at outrageous speeds. When it wants to (after a spot of sunbathing) a fennec fox can raise its resting breath rate from 23 breaths per minute (bpm) to the epic 690 bpm, a handy trick when its 45 degrees in the shade (and there isn’t any shade).

Fennec foxes are social animals and live in intricate burrows that have multiple entrances and exit points often with at least one concealed to allow a sneaky emergency escape if predators manage to get into the burrow. They may live together but the fox hunts alone. They separate at night and hunt for lizards, birds, and insects but are not above taking fruit and roots. Fennecs are ambush predators and have truly impressive jumping skills; they can leap well over 1m into the air. For something so small that is pretty good going, the equivalent of me being able to manage a 9m vertical jump (some more Kung Fu training required I think).

It would seem the one major weakness of the fennec fox is the fact that is ludicrously cute. They are having a bit of a hard time in the wild, primarily because they are being taken for the exotic pet trade. Their populations do not have a formal assessment at this moment, but recent trends have shown remarkable declines. The Convention on international Trade in Endangered Species (CITES, an international agreement with 175 parties that attempts to control trade in endangered species) lists the fennec fox as threatened and prohibits trade in this animal. Yet sadly this continues, there are entire web communities dedicated to the trade and care of exotic pets. Fennec foxes are beautiful lively animals, yet cannot be fully domesticated, consistently try to escape, injure themselves attempting to dig when away from the soft desert sand and naturally travel large distances every night. They should not be kept as pets, no matter how cute they are.


  1. Bet I can pick one up in Hong Kong, got an afternoon off on Friday, it's fennec fox o'clock.

  2. But I really want one... (just kidding)

  3. Andy that is a brilliant tag line...should have come up with it for the post!