Friday, January 16, 2009

Other Foxes in Egypt - The Fennec Fox

Fennec foxes (Vulpes zerda) are the smallest foxes found in Egypt. The label "Desert Fox" applies to no other fox species as accurately as it does to this creature.

Fennecs are found in stictly sandy desert habitats in Egypt especially the Western Desert. It has been seen in Fayyum and Wadi El Rayyan but sightings there are relatively rare. Closer to Cairo, this fox is common in Wadi Degla - the natural protectorate on the edge of Maadi - but, as is the case with most Wadi Degla wildlife, the fox is nocturnal and you might never see it except at dusk or at night, particularly around the visitors' center where it scavenges rubbish. Desert campers sometimes delightedly report their camps being approached by individual fennecs attracted by the smell of barbecued meet. These foxes are harmless, but you will be deprived of their presence near your camp if you try to go too close.

Fennecs are very small, uniformly pale in colour and have very large triangular ears for which they are famous. Their faces are somewhat darker than the main body but they are palest at the cheeks, chin and inside of the ears. They have quite a bushy tail (but not as full as the Blanford's Fox's discussed later) with a pointy, black tip (the pointiest of Egypt's foxes).

The size of this fox, its large ears and its small, pointed muzzle gave it the "cute" factor which has sadly landed it in the pet trade around the world...
The Fennec - another precious Egyptian wild fox!

Hoath, Richard (2003). A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt. The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Common Misconceptions About Foxes

Foxes Are Cunning, Deceitful and Evil Animals and Most People Hate Them

This is actually nothing more than a myth. The image of the fox as a cunning animal is present in many cultures and is based mostly on short fables told to children at a very young age of foxes deceiving other animals and leading them to their death so that they can eat them. At any rate, while in most cultures, this image is coupled with admiration and respect, in Egypt it seems to be associated with fear. But the fear is really quite unnecessary. In fact, surveys done in Britain show that most people like urban foxes (65%), others are neutral (25.8%) and only 8.5% dislike urban foxes. In many countries where foxes are found, people welcome these creatures as part of the natural environment by having fox's earths in their gardens.

Foxes Kill Unnecessarily

Foxes do not kill unnecessarily or for fun, as that would be quite wasteful for the animal's energy. These animals are successful becasue they follow a clever survival strategy. If the opportunity arises and a fox gains access to a chicken coup for instance, it will kill more than its immediate needs as it will attempt to bury or cache the extra killings to eat later on a night when hunting is not fruitful. An owner of a farm can simply prevent fox raids on his animals by ensuring that his animals' houses are fox-proof. This eliminates the need to poison foxes.

Foxes and Dogs May Breed to Produce Vicious Hybrids

Practically impossible. Foxes and dogs are different species with different numbers of chromosomes in their cells, which means that even if a fox and a dog mate, their can be no offspring.

Foxes Will Attack Humans If They Are Starving

Humans are not at all on a fox's menu. We are simply too big to be hunted by a fox. Foxes fear and avoid humans.

A Wild Fox Is an Approachable Animal I Can Touch and Play With

In most cases, foxes will not like to be touched by humans and will run away if approached. Just like any cat or dog, it may turn aggressive if forced to defend itself. But if you are camping in the desert and you barbecue, you might be lucky to be approached by a fennec fox or any other fox that will stand some distance away and wait for you to throw it scraps of food.

A Fox May Well Be Carrying Rabies, Which Would Make it a Very Dangerous Animal
Just like most other mammals, foxes are capable of being infected by the rabies virus. However, rabies is a disease that spreads in large, over-crowded populations of animals. And since fox population density in Egypt is quite small, the chances of encountering a rabied fox in Egypt is quite close to nil. You are much more likely to come in contact with a rabied cat than to come in contact with a rabied fox. Think of how many cats you see everyday and used to see around old campus. Ever met a rabied cat?? Now compare that with the likelihood of seeing a fox at all and then the likelihood of that fox carrying rabies...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Sal'awa - Fact Or Fiction?

I remember how, as a child in the early 1990s, I was told by friends at school some highly imaginative stories, which then seemed terrifying but now seem ridiculous, about a certain creature which attacks, bites and even kills people for no apparent reason. I was told that this “ugly,” dog-like creature hides under cars and sneaks up on unsuspecting children and adults passing by. Everybody called this “mysterious” creature the Sal’awa or السلعوة in Arabic. But what is the sal’awa? Does it really exist?

Most probably not.

In fact, there is no scientific evidence of any kind either online or in books that this creature really exists as a separate species. The only available sources which give information about this creature are newspaper articles based entirely on hearsay which tell stories of the attacks and mention that the sal’awa is not a scientifically classified organism, but just a name invented by the public for what seems to them to be an unfamiliar creature. It first appeared on the eastern edges of Cairo in the 60s and 70s then reappeared in 1996 in the village of Armant in upper Egypt and in Cairo. It’s also claimed to be responsible for another short bout of attacks in 2005 and in October 2008. Some of these attacks resulted in the death and hospitalization of some adults and a few children.

The Sal’awa is described by highly emotional eyewitnesses to be the size of a dog, have hind legs that are somewhat longer than its front legs, a large muzzle that “resembles that of a hyena” and big canine teeth. However, neither veterinarians nor zoologists in Egypt have provided any official identification that separates the Sal’awa from the average street dog.

Some speculate that the Sal’awa must be a hybrid of a dog and a wolf or a dog and a jackal, but that’s all it is - speculation. At first glance, this guess may seem plausible as the resulting hybrids might have the appearance of dogs and the predatory behavior of wolves or jackals (both of which are found in Egypt, the jackal Canis aureus being the more common one). However, again, there is absolutely no evidence. Not to mention that both wolf-dog hybrids and jackal-dog hybrids look fairly similar and are beautiful creatures known to make excellent pets and working dogs after passing around 3 generations from the original hybrid. Moreover, according to the Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt, the only wolf species recorded in Egypt (Canis lupus) is found in the Sinai – a long way away from Cairo and upper Egypt. Surely, the scientific community would not remain quiet if there was any real suspicion that we have a new, unclassified canine species on Egyptian soil.

So, let’s separate fact from fiction. People were attacked by an animal, and some of them died – truth. The creature is an unfamiliar species – highly questionable. The creature is a hybrid between different dog-like species – no evidence of any kind. The creature is simply a rabid street dog – most probably so.

A VERY IMPORTANT NOTE to keep in mind is that the fox seen on campus in October is NOT the “Sal’awa” as some people claimed!! It was the harmless Red Fox.


Al Masry Al-Youm (2008). .
Briggs, Helen (2002). “Jackal blood makes 'perfect' sniffer dogs”. BBC News. Available from.
. .
Hoath, Richard (2003). A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt. The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo.

What? Fox?

Yes, the small creature that was seen and photographed on campus was a Red Fox...not a giant rat, not a wolf and certainly not a "Sal'awa"!!

What Is the Red Fox?

One of the most widespread and successful mammals of the Canidae family in the world (which includes also dogs, jackals, wolves and other fox species). It is a small animal, smaller than a dog yet somewhat larger than a cat, that feeds on insects, rodents, small farm animals and some vegetables and fruits. The subspecies we have in Egypt, Vulpes vulpes aegyptiaca, is actually not so red, but mostly greyish-brown with large ears as seen in the picture on the right (photo by Adel Taher, 1995) and bushy, white-tipped tails. Foxes are mostly nocturnal but, as we have seen at AUC, they can sometimes be seen in broad daylight. In Egypt, they are found extensively in the Delta, along the northern Red Sea coast, in Kharga, Dakhla, Al-Fayoum, along the north coast from Salloum to Alexandria, south in the Nile Valley, in and around Cairo, and in other places as well.

Do I Have Anything to Fear From Foxes?

Well, unless you have a poorly-fenced poultry farm, and as long as you don't try to corner a frightened fox, not at all... Foxes are wary of humans and avoid them, but will raid poultry farms at dusk if they find a way in. The reputation of foxes in Egypt as cunning, deceitful, evil creatures is an undeserved myth - simply stories told to children to scare them into behaving that stay embedded in their minds as they grow up. In fact, rather than worrying about it or calling security, just watch the creature and be happy to have the privilege of wildlife so close to you in the city.


Hoath, Richard (2003). A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt. The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo.