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Despite its tiny size and appearance, the fennec fox is a hardy and fierce predator, adapted for survival in some of the world’s most inhospitable desert regions. The fennec fox makes up for its tiny stature with huge ears; they act as heat regulators in a habitat where, above ground, shade is very scarce.

The fennec fox ranges over much of the 2.2 million sq. miles of North Africa’s Sahara Desert and east to the Arabian Desert. Although the fox is widespread across this range, it is common nowhere. The fox spends the day deep in its burrow to escape the sun’s fierce heat. By dusk, the day’s heat has begun to ease. The fennec wakens and emerges from its burrow. The senses of smell and sight are less important to this nocturnal fox than its superb sense of hearing. The fox’s hearing is so sharp it can easily pinpoint the rustling of a small rodent in an underground nest or an insect in the sand. Where prey is abundant, the fox may store surplus food nearby in a burrow, to be dug up and eaten in leaner times.

The fennec is social and often shares an interconnected burrow system with up to a dozen others. The burrow is vital as a safe hideaway and as a cool haven offering shelter from the scorching daytime heat. The fox digs its deep burrow in any place offering even the barest shade, such as at the base of a high sand dune. The fennec pants rapidly in short, sharp breaths for maximum heat loss and it keeps its tongue curled so that saliva does not spill out.

Mating takes place in January or early February. The female gives birth to up to five young in her burrow after a pregnancy of about 51 days. Newborn are tiny and blind, weighing barely 1 oz. but are covered in soft, pale fur like their parents. The young use their paws to knead their mother’s nipples for milk, just like domestic cats. Cubs are fully weaned at eight to ten weeks, but they may stay with their parents until they are nine months old.

The fennec is much less common than it once was, due mainly to hunting. This has led to the fox becoming locally rare or even extinct in parts of its range. It is protected under CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna.