Four rare fennec fox kits have been born at the Ramat Gan Safari Park and are now racing madly around the fennec enclosure.
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In fact the playful babies were born nearly two months ago, a second litter to proud parents Penny and Louie. They had remained concealed in a clay plant pot in the Safari's fennec enclosure. But as they gained control of their little legs, they began to explore and were noticed.
Now Penny, Louie, the two surviving kits from their first litter and the newborns all live together, not because of lack of space in the enormous Safari park, but for the sake of creating conditions as natural as possible, explains Safari spokeswoman Sagit Horowitz.
"Like wolves, the fennecs live as a family," Horowitz told Haaretz, but there is little fear of inbreeding – that the parents would procreate with their first litter. Simply, they wouldn't stoop to that.
"The female and male are codominant like in wolves. There is an alpha male and female, and they only mate with each other. In nature, fennecs live in groups of typically up to 10 individuals, which is why we are in no hurry to send the offspring of the first litter to other zoos," she explains.
Certainly, they don't take up room. In contrast with the broad dog family, fennecs (Vulpes zerda) are tiny, about half the size of housecat, with a maximal weight – in males - of about 1.5 to two kilos.
Fennecs are desert-dwellers native to the Sahara and Middle East, and are famed for their enormous ears. They can presumably hear a beetle a long way away but the real reason for the batlike ears is to radiate body heat and keep them cool in the burning desert heat.
Another mechanism is the adoption of a nocturnal lifestyle, unusually among the canidae: During the day the fennecs curl up in burrows that they dig in the sand with their furred feet. Their omnivorous appetite is more typical for the dog family, which does not cavil at scavenging.
The diminutive fox has long gone extinct in Israel. Penny and Louie had been flown in from Britain and France respectively, as part of an international breeding program to help the foxes, which are believed to be endangered – not least because of hunting for their reddish-sandy fur, and capturing for the wild-pet trade.
Apropos of which, do not be misled by their adorable mien. Fennecs are wild by nature and make terrible pets unless you want somebody treating you like an inconvenience and junking the house.