THE CAPE FOX Young cubs are most playful early in the morning. It’s great fun to watch them chase one another in frantic bouts of hyperactivity. Some scientists speculate that play-fighting is a way to hone combat skills.
Stealthy and solitary, Cape foxes elude predators and curious visitors alike. But in the denning season, adults stay close to watch over playful cubs and both are easier to spot. This Kgalagadi family was photographed over a 10-day period. BY ANN & STEVE TOON
XX WILD SPRING 2010
ape fox sightings have always been a favourite, but all too brief, highlight of our visits to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. These delicate, fine featured predators, with their stunning silver coats and full, bushy tails, appear almost too beautiful to survive in such a harsh arid landscape. Perhaps that’s why they seem so secretive and elusive. Certainly our encounters with this shy, nocturnal creature have been rare. The momentary glimpse of a solitary animal slinking home at daybreak or an obscured individual curled up asleep in the thick shade of a thornbush. That was until we visited Kgalagadi in spring. By arranging our trips to coincide with the peak of the breeding season in November, we hoped to find an active Cape fox den within range of our lenses. When the adult foxes have cubs they’re tied to the den site and should, in theory, be easier to spot. Our homework paid off. Last year, we were amazed to find no fewer than 10 active dens along the 120 km stretch of the Auob valley between Twee Rivieren and Mata Mata. Better still, foxes denning in the river bed within a few metres of the tourist track had grown accustomed to passing vehicles. Each morning we drove out eagerly, full of excited anticipation, and rarely were we disappointed. Over three weeks we were privileged to observe and photograph relaxed adults and cubs resting, playing and interacting, totally unfazed by our presence. We do wonder what there’ll be to see this year. SPRING 2010 WILD XX
THE CAPE FOX
Cape fox litters can be anything from one to six in size, but most families we photographed had two or three cubs. Energetic cubs would often approach and interact with their mother, sometimes to suckle, sometimes to be groomed, sometimes to play and sometimes simply for reassurance. Adults we saw usually tolerated the cubs, but did occasionally appear a bit irritated with the constant attention.
At play with a new toy - for the cubs, eating the dead rat was pretty low on the agenda.
Its stunning silvery coat gives the Cape fox its other popular name, silver fox or silwervos in Afrikaans. We reckon one of the best ways to capture this beautiful coat is to photograph the animal against a low sun with the light shining through When we pitched up at this den at sunrise, two cubs were playing with a dead rat, presumably brought back to the den by an adult. The cubs took turns tossing it up into the air, catching it, shaking it violently, and pouncing on it. Eating it seemed pretty
a halo of fur. The Cape fox is the only true fox species in Southern Africa, and the smallest canid in the region, weighing in at only three kilos. This cub was barely half that size and won’t be able to fend for itself until about 16 weeks old.
low on the agenda. Parents often bring food back for young ones in the early morning, one reason cubs are so active then. Rodents are key food items, though Cape foxes will tackle prey up to the size of a springhare.
We observed this family of foxes for 10 days, then noticed the mother appeared increasingly bothered by fleas and was scratching a lot. The day after this photo was taken the den appeared to be deserted and we never saw the foxes again. They probably moved to escape flea-ridden conditions.
Cape foxes (Vulpes chama) will dig their own dens, or adopt an abandoned springhare or aardvark burrow. Adults are good diggers and spend time ‘housekeeping’ to maintain the burrows. A den will typically have several entrances so trying to predict where cubs will emerge is part of the challenge of photographing them. XX WILD SPRING 2010
HOW TO SPOT THEM The best time to spot denning cape foxes in spring is after sunrise, when adults often rest outside the den and playful cubs spend time above ground. Fox families regularly emerge again an hour or two before sunset, but are generally less active. November is the best time for fox-spotting in the Kgalagadi. If you spot a single adult by a den, stop and wait quietly. Cubs often bolt underground but re-emerge after a while. As the day heats up adult foxes often move away while the cubs stay underground. Outside the denning season sightings are less predictable. Look for foxes returning home around sunrise or resting under bushes in the heat of the day.
SPRING 2010 WILD XX