Fennec Fox

Vulpes zerda

Fennec foxes are small (weigh up to 3 pounds) nocturnal mammals native to the dry desert regions of northern Africa. They have distinctive large ears that help them radiate heat and keep cool in hot climates. Like most foxes, fennec foxes, dig burrows in which they sleep, raise their young, and retreat from the heat of the day. They are social and live in family groups of up to ten individuals. Fennec foxes eat a varied diet that includes insects, birds, eggs, fruit, grasses, and plants. They are well adapted to desert climates and can survive for long periods without drinking water. Average life span in the wild is unknown, but Fennec foxes can live up to 16 years in captivity.

Did You Know?

Fennec Foxes have distinctive large ears that help them radiate heat and keep cool in hot climates.


Does the harvest for wildlife trade or captive breeding of this species harm wild populations?

Significant Cause for Concern

Although their current status isn’t clearly known, wild fennec fox populations are believed to be declining. They are considered at risk, and their trade is regulated by international treaties. Nonetheless, one of the biggest threats is capture for commercial use. Fennec foxes are highly sought after as pets because they are cute and sometimes docile in nature. Fennec foxes are also hunted locally for their soft fur. As a result, they seem to be disappearing from areas with human settlements.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

The fennec fox is not a recommended pet.

Invasion Threat

Does the release or escape of this species into the wild harm the environment and/or economy?

Little Cause for Concern

EcoHealthy Pets found no information to suggest that fennec foxes represent an invasion threat. However, these animals are accomplished diggers and can easily escape from fenced enclosures. If a fennec fox does escape, it is very difficult to recapture.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

The fennec fox is not a recommended pet. However, before obtaining any non-traditional pet, check that it is legal to own one in your state of residence and check for permitting requirements. Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable breeder or dealer to ensure that you are not buying an illegally imported or wild-caught animal. Always keep your pet inside a safe and secure enclosure. Never release a pet into the wild.

Ease of Care

Does harvest, captive breeding, transport, or being kept as a pet harm individual animals?

Significant Cause for Concern

Ease of care of many non-traditional pets depends on the individual owner’s years of experience and knowledge caring for a particular species. For the purposes of this website, we have geared information toward the benefit of the beginner.

Research has shown that fennec foxes are not easily domesticated and are highly stressed by captivity. Captive animals often exhibit stereotypy (excessive repetitive behaviors) or develop illness, such as dermal, eye, or heart disease. Providing the animals with space to retreat from noise can help alleviate stress-induced behaviors. Very young fennec foxes are often taken from their mothers and bottle-fed to socialize them to humans and increase their value in the pet trade. Nonetheless, fennec foxes, even hand-reared ones, always retain some of their wild behaviors. They cannot usually be housebroken although some can be partially trained to urinate in a litter box. Because they are members of the dog family, fennec foxes are highly susceptible to all dog diseases, especially canine distemper. However, there are no approved vaccines for use with the fennec fox.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

The fennec fox is not a recommended pet.

Health Threat

Does this animal pose a health risk to native wildlife, humans, livestock and agriculture?

Some Cause for Concern

Fennec Foxes are susceptible to several harmful diseases that can be transmitted to humans and native/domesticated mammals. Rabies, bovine tuberculosis, leishmaniasis, and Darling’s disease (caused by a fungal infection in the lungs) have all been found in the fennec fox. They are also susceptible to most canine diseases, such as canine distemper, but are not easily vaccinated due to reactions to the common vaccines. Fennec foxes are wild animals and even hand-raised individuals may bite when threatened.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

The fennec fox is not a recommended pet. However, before purchasing a non-traditional pet, ensure the animal was captive bred vs. wild caught. Be sure to ask if the animal has been checked by a veterinarian and obtain a list of any medical treatments the animal has received.

EcoHealth Alliance works at the intersection of ecosystem, animal and human health through local conservation programs and develops global health solutions to emerging diseases.
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