story of this beautiful, delicate swift fox is the story of an animal,
which almost didn't make it back from the edge of extinction. The
swift fox was considered so common on the Great Plains of Canada
and the United States, that its gradual disappearance was almost
overlooked by conservationists and governments. The last swift fox
was sighted in Saskatchewan in 1930, and in the space of a few decades,
it had disappeared from most of its range in Canada. In the United
States it had been wiped out of 90% of its range by the 1990s.
swift fox is a small, delicate fox, the smallest wild canid of the
North American Continent, and a cousin of the western desert kit
fox. It is about the size of a cat, standing 12 inches (30 cm) in
height, and 31 inches (79 cm) in length from head to tail. It weighs
approximately 5 lbs (2.3 kg). The male, or dog fox, is larger than
the female, known as a vixen.
are a dark buff gray in color with a yellow-tan color across their
sides and legs. Their throat, chest, and belly are pale yellow to
white. They have black patches on their muzzles and a black tip
to their tail. Their ears are noticeably large. The swift fox gets
its name because it can reach speeds of 25 miles (40 km) per hour.
foxes are considered nocturnal, doing most of their hunting in the
evening, through the night and into the early morning hours. Although
they are very sociable, they keep one mate throughout their lifetime.
They don't appear to be territorial, with many of their home ranges
overlapping. Their dens are used daily, all year long.
swift fox is omnivorous and has a varied diet of rabbits, mice,
birds, reptiles, insects, berries, and seeds. Its main source of
food consists of prairie dogs and ground squirrels. Predators of
the swift fox are coyotes, eagles, hawks, and man. Coyotes are the
primary predator of the swift fox.
fox pairs get together and breed from February to early May. The
pregnancy lasts about 52 days. Litter size is about 4 to 5 pups.
The pups stay inside the den and don't come out for about 3 to 4
weeks. At 6 to 7 weeks they are weaned and accompany their parents
on the hunt. They will stay with their parents until they are about
4 to 5 months old. In September they all go their separate ways.
Swift foxes can live up to 10 years in the wild. In captivity they
have been know to live for 14 years.
settlers first moved west onto the Great Plains, the swift fox could
be found ranging north to south from central Alberta, Canada, to
central Texas, and east to west from western Iowa and Minnesota
through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.
swift fox occupies a specialized niche in its environment, relying
on the open, rolling short and mixed-grass prairies on which buffalo
range, prairie dog burrows, and the prairie dogs and ground squirrels
on which they feed. After the near annihilation of the bison, the
grasses grew tall and the little swift fox was unable to scan for
predators. Mass poisoning of prairie dog towns to make way for agriculture
eliminated the swift fox's main prey of prairie dogs and ground
squirrels. Most devastating was the loss of prairie dog burrows
used by the swift fox for their whelping dens and escape from predators.
Without the safety of the burrows, the swift fox became easy prey
for coyotes and golden eagles. Slowly the swift fox was sighted
less and less.
they are considered to be "endangered" by the Committee
on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Private and government
efforts are making gradual progress in reintroducing the swift fox
to some of their natural range.
the United States the swift fox was not considered endangered under
the federal Endangered Species Act, although only 10% of its original
population survived in isolated areas. In 1995 the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service said that the swift fox should probably be listed,
but that the listing could put restrictions on the way the land
was used. Ranchers and farmers were afraid they could no longer
use the land designated to the swift fox. The Swift Fox Conservation
Team was established to look into ways to slow down the decline
of the existing swift fox populations.
Prairie Wildlife Research Center is helping in the reintroduction
of swift foxes on the Blackfeet Tribal lands in Montana, and giving
advice in the re-introducing the swift fox into Badlands National
Park and the Bad River Ranch in South Dakota.
1998 the Blackfeet Nation of Montana, together with the Cochrane
Ecological Institute and the Defenders of Wildlife began a restoration
project of the swift fox to Montana. The Institute had the only
swift fox captive-breeding facility in the world. While the Defenders
of Wildlife provided the funding for the project, the Blackfeet
Nation provided the land. By the year 2002, 10 dens had been documented,
and the population was growing. In addition to returning the swift
fox to the land, efforts were also made to re-establish the swift
fox's food source of prairie dog and black-footed ferret populations.
Their goal is to establish a self-sustaining population of swift
foxes in the region.
determining that re-establishing the swift fox would not have an
adverse effect on nearby ranchers, The Badlands National Park in
South Dakota released 30 swift foxes from Colorado into the park
in August of 2003. Their aim is to release 30 swift foxes a year
into the park and the surrounding Buffalo Gap National Grasslands
until 2005. There are already large prairie dog towns and other
rodent populations that will provide shelter and food for the swift
fox to get established.
efforts are also proving very successful. Ted Turner, the owner
of several large bison ranches in South Dakota and a member of the
Swift Fox Conservation Team, set up the Turner Endangered Species
Fund. In 2002 swift foxes were introduced to his 138,000-acre Bad
River Ranch, just east of the Badlands National Park. Studies showed
that the ranch could support a self-sustained population of 200
Livestock Advisory Board approved the return of the swift fox to
the Bad River Ranch. The South Dakota Stockgrowers however, have
voiced concern that approving the plans could set a precedent for
the later introduction of larger carnivores like wolves and grizzly
bears. Biologist Mike Phillips, who oversaw the reintroduction of
wolves to Yellowstone Park in the 1990s, says, "Badlands and
Bad River are the first beach heads, but for this to work, you've
got to have more than beach heads. You need human cooperation. You
can have all the habitat in the world, yet unless people are willing
to consciously make room for wildlife in their daily lives, we'll
continue to repeat the old patterns that caused problems."