Vulpes chamaCape fox

Geographic Range

Cape foxes (Vulpes chama) are found in sub-Saharan African desert. The species ranges from the southern tip of South Africa and Cape Province, north through Namibia, Botswana, Transvaal, Natal and into the Albany district. This is the only species of Vulpes in Africa that is known to range below the equator (IUCN, 1998).


V. chama prefers open habitat such as arid savannas as well as semi-desert scrub, and avoids forests (IUCN, 1998).

Physical Description

V. chama is a small fox. Head and body length is 55 cm and height at shoulder is 36 cm. Males weigh about 2.6 kg and females are approximately 5% smaller than this. The pelage is gray-silver, with reddish head and forelimbs. There are white cheek patches, and black patches on the hind limbs. The ventral parts are whitish. V. chama has a bushy tail measuring about 34.4 cm, almost half the length of the head and body. (IUCN, 1998).

  • Average mass
    2.6 kg
    5.73 lb
  • Average mass
    4000 g
    140.97 oz
  • Average length
    55 cm
    21.65 in


These animals breed monogamously. The male and female form pairs in the spring. Pups are born in early summer months.

V. chama forms pairs in southern hemisphere winter months of July and August. The gestation period is 51-52 days with three to five pups a litter. Canids have one litter per year, but in some dens of the cape fox multiple litters have been observed. Pups are usually born in late spring to early summer (September–November) but cape foxes are known to have litters as late as December.

The male provides for the female for the first and second week after birth and both parents care for the young at the beginning. It is not known how long the male stays with the family group (Nel, 1984). Pups start foraging at four months, and become independent at 5 months. Sexual maturity is reached by 9 months (IUCN,1998).

  • Breeding season
    Pups are usually born in early summer.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 4
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    51 to 52 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    9 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    274 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    9 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    274 days

Both male and female care for the pups in the beginning, although the male may leave the family. Canids typically produce altricial young. Cape fox young stay near the den until they are able to follow the mother at about 4 months of age. They typically disperse around 5 months of age, and become sexually mature at 9 months of age.


Lifespan has not been reported for this species


V. chama is mainly nocturnal, although pups do play outside of the dens during the day. Individuals forage separately, even monogamous pairs. Cape foxes are not territorial. Their ranges overlap and range size varies from 1.0 to 4.6 square km. They sometimes den communally. Their social organization is not well known (Nel, 1984).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

V. chama is known to cache food. The diet of this species consists mainly of small rodents, rabbits, insects and beetle larvae, and small reptiles. V. chama also scavenges, and has been known to take livestock, which tends to get them into trouble with humans (Nel, 1984). The different distances between canine teeth, measured from bite marks, between the cape fox (15mm) and the black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) are used in determining which species is responsible for killing livestock (IUCN, 1998).

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • mammals
  • reptiles
  • carrion
  • insects


Predation upon this species has not been documented. It is likely that large birds of prey and larger carnivores may take these foxes, especially the young. No anti-predator adaptations or behaviors have been noted in the literature.

Ecosystem Roles

Cape foxes are sympatric with the aardwolf (Proteles cristata), the black-backed jackal (Canis meomelas), and the bat-eared fox (Octocyon megalotis) and therefore may limit their populations through competition. However, there is enough separation in activity times, space, and diet to allow for their coexistence (Bothma, 1984).

V. chama probably helps to regulate populations of small mammals through its predatory behavior, which in turn probably has an effect on the plant communities upon which such small mammals feed. (Bothma, et al., 1984)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Pelts are used in fur blankets (IUCN 1998).

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

These foxes are presumed to prey on livestock, in particular lambs. Farmers have permission to remove animals causing damage to livestock. Numbers have been abundant in the past but appear to be in decline since 1985 because of this (IUCN, 1998).

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

More than 2,500 individuals are killed annually, which is approximately 16% of the population. This is taking a toll on the population. Protected cape fox populations are in the Soetdoring Nature Reserve (1.3/km2) and the Willem Pretorius Game Reserve (0.65/km2, south) and north (0.12/km2) (IUCN, 1998).


Kristen Rohde (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Chris Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


flesh of dead animals.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


Bothma, J., J. Nel, A. MacDonald. 1984. Food Niche Separation Between Four Sympatric Namib Desert Carnivores. Journal of Zoology, 202: 327-340.

International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, 1998. "The IUCN/SSC Canid Specialist Group's Canid Species Accounts: Vulpes chama" (On-line). Accessed October 17, 2001 at

Nel, J. 1984. Behavioral Ecology of Canids in the South-Western Kalahari. Supplement to Koedoe Pretoria, 27: 229-235.