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Fennec Fox (Vulpes zerda) Fact Sheet: Managed Care

History of Managed Care

Zoos, general

  • Early zoo populations founded by private collectors who kept fennec foxes as pets (Mękarska 2001, as cited by Mękarska 2006; Wallen 2006)
  • Common in managed care (Sowards 1981)
    • Present in many zoos, worldwide (Mękarska 2006; Wacher et al. 2015; ZIMS 2019)
    • Used for zoo education, research, and managed care breeding programs
  • History
    • 1851: Thought to be the first time a fennec fox was housed in Europe (Mękarska 2006)
      • Menagerie de Jardin de Plantes (Paris, France)
    • 1900: Zoological Society of London adds first fennec fox to its collection (Bauman 2002)
    • 1929: First complete record of a fennec fox being kept in Europe (Mękarska 2006)
      • London Zoo
    • 1950s to 1960s: Early behavioral studies of fennec foxes in managed care (Vogel 1962; Rosevear 1974)
    • 2001: European Association of Zoos and Aquariums established a European Studbook (Mękarska 2006)

San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

  • 1936: San Diego Zoo began keeping its first fennec foxes (Dolan 1993)
  • 1962: Birth of first fennec foxes at San Diego Zoo (Dolan 1993)


(Kym Janke, personal communication, 2019, except as noted)


  • Personality traits
    • Vigilant of surroundings
    • Skittish, esp. sudden or unusual noises
  • Enjoy digging
  • Able to recognize individual keepers
  • Assist with outreach as San Diego Zoo ambassador animals (Gossler 2002; Scott 2014; San Diego Zoo Global Public Relations 2017)

Shelters and enclosures

  • Use small enclosed spaces and crevices
    • May dig own den, even if provided with den box or den chamber
  • At San Diego Zoo, housed at warm temperatures
    • Approximately 77-79°F (24-26°C)
  • Require high fencing or may jump out of enclosure
  • Multiple heights of exhibit space for climbing and jumping
  • Rocks for sunbathing

Social interactions

  • Typically housed as a male-female pair (as in the wild)
  • Male and female groom each other and den together
  • Vocal
    • Calls sound similar (to human ear)
  • Will call and solicit attention (petting, grooming) from keeper
    • Run in circles and lay down in front of keeper

Diet in managed care

  • Mainly raw meat and dog kibble
  • Small amounts of fruits and vegetables


  • Can be fairly easy to breed but sensitive to disturbances (e.g., Petter 1957; Volf 1957)
  • At San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, bred as a pair (as in the wild)
  • Den box for shelter
    • May also burrow in ground
  • Able to breed year-round (Saint Girons 1962, as cited by Asa and Cuzin 2013; Bauman 2002; Asa et al. 2004)
    • Most young born March to July

Enrichment and training

  • Food enrichment
    • Insects
    • “Dig boxes” filled with worms
      • Buried layers of cardboard, with worms in between
  • Training takes time
    • Ease of training similar to domestic cat
    • Keeper must spend time with individuals to develop a strong relationship
      • Time/attention more effective than food
  • Certain behaviors part of health checks (e.g., open mouth, lift feet, stand on weigh scale)

Playing for a Lifetime


A 3-month-old fennec fox digs and pounces at the Children's Zoo Nursery at the San Diego Zoo.

This play behavior helps young foxes develop skills to find food.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

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