The Cape fox (Vulpes chama) is one of the smallest member of the dog, or Canidae, family. Full-grown adults weigh less than 2.6 kilograms (6 pounds) and are typically about 55 centimeters (22 inches) long, not including the tail.

The only “true fox” in southern Africa, the Cape fox is part of a group of related species that share specific characteristics: a pointed muzzle, distinctive triangular ears, a flatter skull than other canids, and a tail that’s a different fur color at the tip.

The Cape fox’s large ears and excellent hearing help it detect prey and predators. When it forages for food, such as small rodents living underground, it first listens carefully. When it hears prey moving, the Cape fox rapidly digs to reach it. In addition to live prey, it eats a wide variety of things, including wild fruits and vegetables. It may also scavenge for food.

The Cape fox is widespread and fairly common in the central and western regions of southern Africa. In recent decades, it has even expanded its range to the southwest, where it now reaches the Atlantic and Indian Ocean coastlines.

Cape foxes prefer to live in open country, such as grassland, grassland with scattered thickets, and lightly wooded areas. Changes to their habitat due to the growth of arable lands might explain the expansion of the Cape fox’s range. Suited to agricultural settings, they are known to forage in cultivated fields at night.

Farmers trying to protect their livestock purposely—or sometimes accidentally—target Cape foxes. The foxes can be victims of a variety of farmers’ animal control methods, such as leg-hold traps. Their main threat, however, is the illegal but widespread use of agricultural poisons on commercial farms.

These practices are not damaging the overall population, though, and the Cape fox is listed as a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

  1. What key feature of the Cape fox helps it detect predators and prey?

    • Answer

      The large ears, and excellent hearing, help the Cape fox find live prey and often avoid nearby predators.

  2. What is a Cape fox pup’s early life like?

    • Answer

      Cape fox pups, born into litters of three to six pups, are fed and protected by both their male and female parents, although the female provides most of the care. After 16 weeks, pups can start to hunt alone, and at five months they live independently.

  3. What accounts for the Cape fox’s healthy survival rate?

    • Answer

      The Cape fox eats a wide variety of foods and can live in different environments. It is well adapted for a variety of ecosystems, including arid and semi-arid regions, but is also found in areas with high rainfall and dense vegetation. The nocturnal Cape fox can hide easily in brush during the day, hunting and foraging at night.

arable
Adjective

land used for, or capable of, producing crops or raising livestock.

Canidae
Noun

family of mammals that includes dogs, wolves, and foxes.

cultivate
Verb

to encourage the growth of something through work and attention.

grassland
Noun

ecosystem with large, flat areas of grasses.

International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Noun

environmental organization concerned with preserving natural ecosystems and habitats.

livestock
noun, plural noun

animals raised for sale and profit.

muzzle
Noun

extended jaws or nose of an animal.

population
Noun

total number of people or organisms in a particular area.

prey
Noun

animal that is hunted and eaten by other animals.

species
Noun

group of similar organisms that can reproduce with each other.