The Tibetan fox is one cool customer.
It has a cool expression, lives in a cool environment, has a cool relationship with others, and a cool way of hunting. Unless you’re a squeaky and delicious pika.
You’d stay chilled too if you lived up to 5,000m (1,640ft) above sea level, with temperatures of -20°C (-4°F) and about half the usual amount of oxygen. So it makes sense for the Tibetan fox to take things slowly and conserve energy wherever possible, especially when hunting. Fortunately, it’s found someone else to do the hard work.
On more than a few occasions, it’s been spotted trailing brown bears and catching any rabbit-like pikas they flush out of their burrows. Being a hulking huge brawn ball, a bear can easily dig into the semi-frozen ground, so all the fox has to do is sit by the emergency exit and grab the escapees. While the bear is aware of its presence, it doesn’t seem too bothered as long as it doesn’t get too close, and hasn’t shown any outright aggression when foxy scuttles off with a prize.
Said prize isn’t wolfed down, because the Tibetan fox has its own fridge too. Anything saved for later is buried and kept nice and chilled thanks to the permafrost, and despite the fickle climate of the Tibetan plateau, the fox manages to keep its den cool and fresh as well as toasty and warm. A Sichuan Province study found it prefers a half-sunny home on a west rather than south-facing slope, which can take the edge off blazing ground temperatures of 37°C (99°F) in summer as well as provide drainage. Good property-planning is especially important when starting a family, and the seemingly solitary fox is all about that.
Once it finds its mate, it’s set up for life, and both parents help raise the kits. While not threatened as such – yet – the fox still needs to tell its darlings about wolves, golden eagles, domestic dogs and snares to avoid becoming a meal, trophy or a “fetching” fur hat. What’s more, its pika prey are considered pests by the Chinese government, and there have been waves of poisoning to cut down their numbers, which can add a particularly lethal spice to their meals. At least they’re neighbourly, with many foxes sharing the same hunting grounds.
Dawn and dusk tend to be snack time, but they could be seen throughout the day should you visit the Tibetan plateau. For instance, the above photo was taken during one of Langmusi.net’s wildlife tours (many thanks to Liyi for the image!).
For now though, the calm, wide expression of the Tibetan fox is as justified as it is strange. Let’s hope its situation stays more stable than the weather on the roof of the world.
Latin: Vulpes ferrilata
What? Strange-looking fox with a boxy head
Where? Tibet, China, Nepal and parts of India
How big? Males are about 67 cm / 2.2 ft long, females 62 cm / 2 ft long.
Endangered? They’re Least Concern at the moment, but their prey is poisoned for pest control, so one to watch.
Probable motto: Why waste energy when you’re already on top of the world?
They sound interesting. Do they need my help at all?
It’s probably a good sign that there’s nothing specific to the Tibetan fox, but you can check out Wildlife Conservation Society China‘s environmental campaign for Chang Tang, part of the Tibetan plateau and the fox’s home.
Just to prove I’m not fibbing
Harris, Richard B. 2008. “Notes on the biology of the Tibetan fox“. IUCN/SSC Canid Specialist Group.
Harris, Richard B. et al. 2014. “Evidence that the Tibetan fox is an obligate predator of the plateau pika: conservation implications“. Journal of Mammology 95(6):1207-1221.
Qiu, Jane. 2017. “The surprisingly early settlement of the Tibetan plateau“. Scientific American.
“Tibetan fox“. 2014. BBC Nature.
“Tibetan fox hunt“. 2009. Planet Earth. BBC.
“Vulpes ferrilata“. No date. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Wang, Zhen-Huang et al. 2008. “Den habitat characteristics of Tibetan foxes (Vulpes ferrilata) in Shiqu County, Sichuan Province, China“. Zoological Studies 47(4):445-454.
Featured image credit: Liyi, at www.langmusi.net