The Wild Canines of Egypt
by Mark Hunter
Cats and dogs have a special history in Egypt, and both were considered manifestations of gods. The principal cat goddess was Bastet, while the principal dog god was Anubis. Other canine deities included Input, who was the female counterpart of Anubis, Wepwawet, one of Egypt's oldest jackal gods, and of course, Seth, who could take on the appearance of a dog at times.
Dogs and Foxes, in the family Canidae, number thirty five species worldwide, with six of these in Egypt. They differ widely in Egypt, ranging from the Fennec Fox (Vulpes zerda) to the Wolf (Canis lupus). In general, wolves are relatively larger than foxes. Wolves are much more difficult to distinguish from Jackals, and according to one expert, the best distinction in the field is their gait. Wolves lope while jackals trot. At one time there was also a seventh species of dog in Egypt, the African Wild Dog, but it became extinct from the country during the early Dynastic Period.
Jackal (Asiatic Jackal, Golden Jackal, Common Jackal, Canis aureus Linnaeus)
The subspecies of the jackal occurring in Egypt is C. a. lupaster. It measures from about 101.2 to 127 cm, with a tail ranging from 29 to 34.7 cm, and weighs between 10 and 15 kg. The jackal has been likened to a small, rather shaggy wolf, with a head not unlike that of a domestic dog with a rather slender muzzle and relatively small, slightly pointed erect ears. It has long, slender legs, and the tail is relatively short and normally held below the line of the back. The shaggy coat has multicolored individual hairs giving it a grizzled or salt and pepper appearance, though from a distance the animal seems to be brown. The main has longer hair along the back, while the ears have much shorter hair. The legs are buffish colored with a black stripe along the back of the foreleg. The inside of the legs, throat and belly are light colored, almost white. The tail is rather bushy, and black along the top and at the tip.
There is a species in the Sinai that may relate to C. a. syriacus, which is smaller and more richly colored.
While the range of the jackal is extensive, in Egypt, the are found in the Western Desert, particularly around the Siwa, Dakhla and Kharga oases, near Cairo, including Gebel Asfar and Dahsur, the Fayoum and the Nile Valley south to Lake Nasser including Wadi Allaqi, north of Cairo in the Delta and around Wadi Natrun, and in the Northern Sinai. While they have a wide range, there numbers are probably declining due to their competition with feral dogs.
While they inhabit the Western and some parts of the Eastern Deserts, they are not really a desert animal, though they do inhabit the semi-arid northern coastal desert. They like agricultural areas, wasteland and desert margins, rocky areas and cliffs, as well as the lakeshore at Lake Nasser.
These animals are largely nocturnal, but are reported to be active at dusk. They make their dens in natural caves, tombs or dense scrub. They are omnivorous and opportunistic, and have been recorded feeding on insects, snails, fish, chickens, young goats and sheep, as well as melons, watermelons, corn, small mammals, birds and carrion, and are known to carry off putrid or otherwise seemingly inedible items.
These canine have excellent hearing and scent, as well as good eyesight. They are sociable, frequently living in packs, or more often pairs. Mating occurs in early spring, with a gestation period of two months. Wild jackals give birth usually in March, April or May to a litter of from four to five pups, though up to eight have been recorded.
The jackal's voice is usually a howl, often followed by a short yelp delivered just after sunset and before dawn. They bark when excited, growl when annoyed and he female is reported to issue a "chack chack" with closed mouth as a warning to pups.
Wolf (Arabian Wolf, Fennec Fox (Vulpes zerda))
The wolfs of Egypt, C. l, pallipes or C. l. arabs, are very elusive, and may now be extinct. The type of wolf found in Egypt usually measures about 114 to 140 cm, with a tail from 31 to 45 cm, and weigh about 25 kg, though in fact no Egyptian specimen has been measured. Most of what we know about the Egyptian variety of this wolf comes from a single specimen in emaciated condition found in the al-Arish Zoo on the northern Sinai, reported captured in the region.
This animal is much larger than the jackal, with long limbs and a rather narrow, elongated, angular head. Its coat is generally short, though longer on the back, neck and tail, but is no where shaggy. The fur is a grizzled gray, but more uniformly pale below. It has lanky forelimbs, tinged buff on the upper legs running up to the shoulders, with grey on the inside of the legs. The hindquarters are pale gray, tinged rust particularly at the front of the thigh. This wolf has a gray forehead, and ears that are large and fairly pointed, with the inside a pale buff and tinged orange toward the crown. The back of the ears are pale gray, shaded rust toward their base. The upper side of the muzzle is gray, while the sides are pale with black whiskers. The gray from the muzzle continues around the lower parts of the eyes and up the center of the head. There is a pale mark slightly above and inside of each eye. The eyes themselves are mostly round, amber-beige with dark brown pupils. The tail has longer fur than most of the body, and is grayish above, pale below with a black tip.
Though little is known of the Egyptian variety, elsewhere, the Arabian Wolf is known to inhabit desert margins. In the Sinai, local Bedouins claim Wolves are only found in the mountains of the Southern Sinai, where there has been at least one, recent sighting by reliable observers.
The habits of the wolf are not known in Egypt, but they are probably solitary and nocturnal. Elsewhere, these Wolves are known to socialize in packs of up to ten animals, though sometimes only in pair. They may also function as solitary animals. No permanent dens have been regarded., but the females of this subspecies are known to give birth between March and May.
A Note on Wolves and Jackals
There has been much discussion about the existence of the Wolf in the Sinai. It should be noted that the Egyptian Jackal, Canis aureus lupaster, is larger and longer limbed than other subspecies of the Jackal, though smaller than the Arabian Wolf. Some scholars who have examined the skull of the Egyptian Jackal consider it to be a small wolf. However the specimen observed at al-Arish and some others observed in Egypt are clearly different than the Egyptian Jackal. Future observations may, however, help to clear up the distinction.
Red Fox (Nile Fox, Vulpes vulpes)
The subspecies of he Red Fox occurring in Egypt is the V.v. aegyptia, known in Arabic as Tha'lab ahmar. It typically has a length between 76.7 and 105 cm, with a tail ranging from 30.2 to 40.1 cm. Weighing between 1.8 and 3.8 kg, it is the largest Egyptian fox. The female, while on the average slightly smaller than the male, is the more likely to be seen.
The common name of this animal is misleading as it occurs in Egypt, because it is not red. It has a ruddy to gray-brown coloration above, and is darker on the back of the neck. The flanks are grayer, tinged with a buff color, while the throat and belly are dark to the point of being almost black, and darker still in the winter. The chin is white. The forelegs are brownish, and are marked with white and have a black stripe down the rear side. The hind legs are similar but with black on the foot. These animals have a slender muzzle that is beige above, and reddish on the side with a dark streak running from the muzzle to the eye. They have black whiskers, and are reddish brown below the eyes, while grayer on the forehead. Like most foxes, they have large ears. The inner side of the ears are pale with long, whitish fringe hairs. The back of the ear is black. The animal's tail is full and bushy, and is paler below with a white tip. The juveniles of the subspecies are paler than the adults and more uniform in color. Desert specimens tend to be paler than those from the Delta and the Nile Valley. In early spring, these foxes tend to look very shabby as they shed their winter coats.
In Egypt, the Red Fox's range includes the north coast from Sallum to Alexandria, the Delta and east of the Delta around Wadi Natrun, near Cairo, including Saqqara, Abusir and Gebel Asfar, south along the Nile Valley to the Sudanese border, around the Fayoum, and west into the true oasis of Kharga, Dakhla. They are also found around the northern Red Sea coast and up to Suez, and have recently been observed in the South Sinai, including the Ras Mohamed National Park.
These animals are not truly foxes of the Desert, but are found in desert margins, as well as vegetated wadis, on farmland and in gardens.
The Egyptian Red Fox is, in general, nocturnal, but is nevertheless often seen during the day. It frequently digs a burrow in the desert and comes down to the farmland to feed at dusk. They spend their days inside their borrows, or at time beneath other shade, but they are also known to sunbath. They also make use of tombs, ruined buildings and abandoned houses.
They feed on a variety of different food, including insects, small rodents, fish, fruit and vegetables. At Ras Mohamed, these foxes even dig for crabs. They must also have a daily access to water.
These animals have acute hearing, smell and sight.
While the Egyptian Red Fox is generally a solitary animal, they can be found in larger groups during the winter mating season, when groups of males may harass a female. However, they will live in pairs during the rearing of cubs. The litter size is generally between three and five pups, born between February and March, after a 50 day gestation.
The voice of the Red Fox is variable and they are most vocal during mating when the males use a triple bark. They may also growl, chatter and whine.
These animals coexist along side feral dogs, which are much larger. Though the wild dogs chase the them, the foxes are much faster.
Ruppell's Sand Fox (Vulpes rueppelli)
The subspecies of the Ruppell's Sand Fox in Egypt is V. r. Ruepelli, known in Arabic as Tha'lab rubil. It usually measures between 68.4 and 90.6 cm, with a tale between 27.3 and 38.7 cm. Weighing between 1.1 and 2.13 kg, this is a small, slim animal with shorter legs and slimmer than the Red Fox, though with proportionately much larger ears.
The Ruppell's Sand Fox has pads almost completely concealed by hair, making its track obscure. Its fur is very fine, as well as dense, colored Reddish along the back, though scattered with white tipped hairs. It has buff colored flanks and is white beneath. The outside of the limbs are more rufous (strong yellowish pink to moderate orange, reddish) than the flanks. The muzzle is very slender, buff colored above but turning yellow buff on the forehead. It has white cheeks, with a black patch in front of each eye, while the eyes are surrounded by a rufous ring. The large ears are near white on the inside, and buff on the back. The tail is full, bushy and rufous-buff above, heavily flecked with black, while paler on the sides and below, and is tipped in white.
Range of Wild Canine in Egypt
In Egypt, these animals are found throughout the Western and Eastern Deserts, in the Sinai, and also around Lake Nasser, including Wadi Allaqi. Though mostly absent from the Nile Valley, they have also been recorded at Wadi Natrun and in the Fayoum. This is the most widespread fox in Egypt and the most likely to be seen in a true desert environment.
The Ruppell's Sand Fox is much more of a true desert animal than the Red Fox and has been recorded in all types of desert environments. At oasis, it is normally found in more vegetated areas, such as palm groves and around wells.
The Ruppell's Sand Fox is largely nocturnal but is also active during the day and at dusk. Sometimes it may dig a shallow borrow, but just as often may take refuge in a rock crevice or in dense vegetation. It is Omnivorous, feeding on small rodents, small birds, lizards, insects, such as beetles and grasshoppers, dates and grass. It has been reported by tribesmen in Gebel Elba to kill young lambs. The animal will drink when water is available, but it can also survive in areas where there is little moisture.
The Ruppell's Sand Fox has excellent sight and hearing, and good smell.
Adult animals are generally found in pairs, and may pair for life. We believe it normally has litters of from three to five pups.
The voice of this Fox is variable, usually including a bark, angry yelps and also chattering. When bothered, it is said to arch its back and raise the tail spraying the attacker with a foul-smelling excretion from the anal gland.
Blanford's Fox (Vulpes cana)
The subspecies of this fox which occurs in Egypt is probably the V. c. cana, which usually measures between 73 to 76.2 cm. It has a tail between 32.4 and 36 cm, and weighs between 710 and 956 g. Hence, it is a fairly small fox that is also strikingly beautiful, with a particularly full and bushy tail. They have a very thick, fine coat that is pale gray on the flanks to pale russet below. The base of the neck, along the back and down along the top of the tail is near black. They have dark dark lets, except for the front of the forelimbs, which are pale. There is a dark patch on each thigh. The face of the animal is narrow with a very pointed muzzle. It, like the Ruppell's Sand Fox, has a dark patch between each eye and the upper lip. The forehead and crown are reddish brown.
The ears are proportionately large, like those of the Ruppell's Sand Fox, with backs a similar shade of light brown. The animal has small feet, with blackish pads not hidden by hair. The strikingly full and bushy tail is near black above, while buffish russet on the side, flecked with black. The tail has a black tip.
These animals have only been known in Egypt since the 1977, when a specimen from the Sinai was collected and initially identified as a Ruppell's Sand Fox. They range mostly in the southeastern Sinai.
Not many have been observed, and it is unknown whether they are rare, or just extremely elusive. The Banford's fox appears to be a mountain dweller, and in Egypt they are only known from the mountains of the Southern Sinai. We know actually very little about the animal's habits, though they are probably nocturnal, even though some animals have been observed during the day. It most likely makes its den in small clefts in the rock, rather than a burrow, and it uses rock shelves for resting.
We believe these animals feed on insects and other invertebrate, small mammals, as well as vegetable matter, including grapes and melons. Litters of between one and three pups have been recorded in April.
Note that this fox has an impressive jumping ability and will climb to escape, rather than run.
Fennec Fox (Vulpes zerda)
The subspecies of the Fennec Fox that occurs in Egypt is probably the V. z. zerda, known in Arabic as Fanak. It measures between 52.3 and 61.7 cm, with a tail between 18.6 and 23 cm. Weighing between 1 and 1.5 kg, it is a very small, uniformly pale fox with extraordinarily large ears.
Fennec Foxes are, well, cute. This fox has very fine, soft, long fur which is generally fairly uniform pale buff becoming paler still on the cheeks, chin, throat and inside the ears. The color of the fox varies somewhat, but it is unknown whether this is due to seasonal, changes, the ex of the animal or simply individual traits. The face is darker buff, but becoming almost white around the eyes, which are large and dark. The flanks pale and merge into white below. It has a pointed muzzle which is very vulpine. The huge ears can be up to 10 cm long, and are broad at the base, triangular, though rounded at the tip. The back of the ears are also pale. The soles of the feet are covered with long hair that obscures the pads. It has a full and bushy tail that is rufous above, with a very few black hairs. However, the tip of the tail is black, and more pointed than other Egyptian foxes. Above the base of the tail is a black patch of hair marking a secretion gland.
In Egypt, the Fennec Fox has been recorded mainly in the Western Desert, including but not limited by any means at Farafra, Dakhla, and Kharga. They are also found at Wadi al-Rayan, Saqqara, in the Fayoum and Wadi Natrun. There is an Isolated record from the Sinai near Suez, and while probably not common, several individuals have been seen for sale in Cairo pet shops. A report of a pair breeding at Dendera Temple, however, were probably Ruppell's Sand Foxes.
Of the Egyptian foxes, the Fennec is by far the most suited to the desert. It even avoids the more fertile coastal desert, and shows a preference for sandy desert with just a little vegetation. This animal is nocturnal, emerging at dusk and returning to its den at sunrise, where it spends the day. In Egypt, the den is usually a shallow, simple, single burrow, though deeper, more complex burrows have been recorded elsewhere.
This is an omnivorous animal reported to feed on large insects, grubs, small mammals, birds and lizards, but at the same time, with vegetation such as berries and roots making up a larger proportion of its diet than most foxes. While it does not much need to drink, it will if water is available.
As one might expect, its hearing is extremely good, but so is its sight and smell.
The Fennec Fox mates for life. After mating in the early spring, the gestation period is around 50 days, and the female gives birth to up to five pups between April and June.
Like other foxes, it has a wide range of vocalization ranging from a high-pitched bark to a howling contact call.
Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt, A
American University in Cairo Press, The
ISBN 977 424 809 0
Natural Selections (A Year of Egypt's Wildlife)
American University in Cairo Press, The
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