The Fennec Fox: Algeria’s National Animal
With its disproportionately large ears, slanted eyes and pointy nose, the attractive little fennec fox (Vulpes zerda) is the national animal of Algeria, and the nickname of the country’s national football team – Les Fennecs. Also referred to as the ‘desert fox’, being a reference to its preferred habitat, the fennec is likely to be spotted in the arid regions of Algeria, as well as in other North African countries. The fennec is the world’s smallest canid species and well adapted to thrive in the often harsh environment that is its home. It is considered to be of ‘least concern’ from a conservation standpoint, and raptors are the fennec’s main threat to survival.
In addition to helping the fennec dissipate heat, its large ears help it to detect prey, even when its prey is underground. The fennec fox feeds primarily on insects, birds and small mammals, but will eat plants and eggs as well. A fennec can go for long periods of time without drinking water as it obtains fluids from its food and its kidneys are adapted to restrict the loss of water. It will, however, drink water if it is available.
Featuring creamy colored, fluffy fur and weighing between 0.68 and 1.59 kg, the fennec is around 20 cm tall at the shoulder with a body length of between 24 and 41 cm. Its black-tipped tail can be up to 31 cm long and its ears measure between 10 and 15 cm. The soles of the fennec’s feet are covered in thick fur as a protection against the heat of the desert sand. As nocturnal animals, they usually spend the daylight hours in their dens, or hidden in rock crevices or under bushes.
Based on observing animals in captivity it appears that fennec foxes mate for life and live as a family unit, with older siblings still living with the family when a new litter is born. Breeding season is generally between January and March, with between two and five pups being born after a fifty-two day gestation period. In addition to barking and snarling if threatened, fennecs make a purring sound similar to a cat. They are social animals, and spend time playing and resting together. But, when females are in season, males tend to become aggressive and mark their territory.
It has been noted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that a study of the fennec fox in its natural habitat needs to be carried out to truly understand its habitat use and population dynamics. Be sure to look out for this interesting little animal when exploring the great outdoors of Algeria.