When the tiny creature was revealed to me, I had no idea what to do but to release him in alien territory. I later learnt that I was taking part of a pet trade that will eventually lead the fennec fox to extinction.
The little creature stared up at me, the tiny snout and huge ears are undeniably cute. Taken from the Algerian Sahara and brought to the coast of Oran – North of Algeria.
The pup was captured by a nomad, who we found roaming Algeria’s coasts during the tourists season, draped in desert robes, selling mint tea and foreign artefacts, including the fox pup. Seeing a fox being dragged by a tight string tied around his neck with hoards of people gathering for a peak of the terrified pup, my Uncle took pity and brought it with the intentions of releasing it into the wild.
With ears big enough to detect and insects underground and radiate heat during the day, these nocturnal creatures are highly adapted to living in the deserts harsh landscape and for their size, are incredibly agile and fast runners. This is what makes the Fennec Algeria’s national animal. But despite representing the football team, Les Fennecs, for there speed and agility, this rare and misunderstood species is under great threat and danger due to the carnage of its desert habitat, global warming, fur trade, and the pet trade.
My uncle was trying to be sweet, gifting me the fox one evening by surprise. I didn’t understand the wildness of this deceptively sweet creature. Unfortunately, by funding this man, he was only encouraging the further plight of the Fennec.
The fennec screamed away all night and slept soundly though out the day, I was loosing sleep and didn’t know what to do with it and how to look after it. Late at night, the fox squealing away in his box as I scoured the internet to find out exactly what we were dealing with. I eventually found an article by the National Geographic by Wildlife photographer, Alexa Keefe, which sent shivers down my spine. He discovered the trade in Tunisia in 2014, since this practice is widespread across North-Africa, and wrote in his article:
“The destruction of the fragile desert habitat, the ongoing massacre of wildlife, and the lack of general conservation regulations are posing a serious threat to this and other unique desert species.”(Source: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/proof/2014/02/25/world-press-2014-the-plight-of-the-fennec-fox/)
This experience was just a glimpse of the horrific mistreatment of this endangered species, and the lack of movement to protect these creatures on Algeria’s behalf, despite the animal being a national symbol. The image above captures the same creature that was brought to me, even with the same black and white string tied around his neck.
Since the Arab Spring, socio-political pressures will push for the further destruction of these unique creatures. It’s hard to imagine how global warming has an effect on the desert, but drought can dry up the little water that animals use, whilst human activity, such as grazing and collecting wood only contribute to the drying of what little water and resources remain in the desert.
We looked after the cub for three days. Each day the reality of this decision to take responsibility to save him became bleaker. We had nowhere to keep him, just a small box, which he howled and screamed from late at night until the early hours of the morning, captivity was torture. This fox belonged to the wild.
After the third day, as the sun was setting, we released the cub onto my uncle’s beekeeping land. There is plenty of thick, dense, forest – which is not is natural habitat but hopefully, the trees would provide some protection from any lurking aerial predators. The area is large, with limitless space, and the nearest village is far away. We released him at dusk when the harshness of the sun had evaporated and the landscape was washed golden.
We placed him in the back of a trailer with some water and dog food, where he could have shelter until he awakens with the entirety of the land to explore. Whether he’s still alive, I’m doubtful, he’s alone, thousands of miles away from his home and his colony- and this was only one example of what happens to thousands of these tiny creatures a year.
I apologise for taking part in this, and maybe releasing him knowing his chances of survival are slim was wrong, but a lifetime in captivity is no compromise for his freedom.