Tibetan sand fox

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Tibetan sand fox
Tibet Fox.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Vulpes
V. ferrilata[1]
Binomial name
Vulpes ferrilata[1]
Tibetan Fox area.png
Tibetan fox range

Vulpes ekloni (Przewalski, 1883)

The Tibetan sand fox (Vulpes ferrilata) is a species of true fox endemic to the high Tibetan Plateau, Ladakh plateau, Nepal, China, Sikkim, and Bhutan, up to altitudes of about 5,300 m (17,400 ft). It is listed as Least Concern in the IUCN Red List, on account of its widespread range in the Tibetan Plateau's steppes and semi-deserts.[2]

It is sometimes referred to as the Tibetan fox, or simply as the sand fox, but this terminology is confusing because the corsac fox (Vulpes corsac), which lives in arid environments north and west of the Tibetan Plateau, is often called the "sand fox" or "Tibetan fox" as well. The Rüppell's fox (Vulpes rueppellii) is also known as the "sand fox", but is native to arid desert regions of North Africa and Middle East.


The Tibetan fox is small and compact, with soft, dense coats and conspicuously narrow muzzles and bushy tails. Its muzzle, crown, neck, back and lower legs are tan to rufous coloured, while its cheeks, flanks, upper legs and rumps are grey. Its tail has white tips. The short ears are tan to greyish tan on the back, while the insides and undersides are white.[4] Adult Tibetan foxes are 60 to 70 centimetres (24 to 28 in), not including tail, and have tail lengths of 29 to 40 cm (11 to 16 in). Weights of adults are usually 4 to 5.5 kg (8.8 to 12.1 lb).[5]

Among the true foxes, its skull is the most specialised in the direction of carnivory (and looks nothing like the picture in the species box above);[6] it is longer in the condylobasal length and in mandible and cheek tooth length than those of hill foxes. Its cranial region is shorter than that of hill foxes, and the zygomatic arches narrower. Its jaws are also much narrower, and the forehead concave. Its canine teeth are also much longer than those of hill foxes.[7]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The Tibetan sand fox is restricted to the Tibetan Plateau in western China and the Ladakh plateau in Northern India. It occurs across Tibet, and in parts of the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Xinjiang, Yunnan and Sichuan. Outside China, it occurs in northern Bhutan, and in the northernmost border regions of Nepal and India, north of the Himalayas.[8]

The sand fox is found primarily in semi-arid to arid grasslands, well away from humans or from heavy vegetation cover. It inhabits upland plains and hills from 3,500 to 5,200 m (11,500 to 17,100 ft) elevation, although it is occasionally seen on lower ground, down to 2,500 m (8,200 ft).[8]

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

The Tibetan fox primarily preys on Plateau pikas, followed by rodents, marmots, woolly hares and lizards. It also scavenges on the carcasses of Tibetan antelopes, musk deer, blue sheep and livestock. Tibetan foxes are mostly solitary, daytime hunters as their main prey, pikas, are diurnal.[4] Tibetan foxes may form commensal relationships with brown bears during hunts for pikas. The bears dig out the pikas, and the foxes grab them when they escape the bears.[5]

Mated pairs remain together and may also hunt together.[9] After a gestation period of about 50 to 60 days, two to four young are born in a den, and stay with the parents until they are eight to ten months old.[8] Their burrows are made at the base of boulders, at old beach lines and low slopes. Dens may have four entrances, with entrances being 25–35 cm in diameter.[4]

Diseases and parasites[edit]

Tibetan foxes in the Sêrxü County of China's Sichuan province are heavily infected with Echinococcus, while foxes in western Sichuan are definitive hosts of alveolar hydatid disease.[4]

In culture[edit]

A photograph of a Himalayan marmot under attack by a Tibetan fox won the first prize in the 2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year award.[10]


  1. ^ Wozencraft, W.C. (2005). "Species Vulpes ferrilata". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M (eds.). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 532–628. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
  2. ^ a b Harris, R. (2014). "Vulpes ferrilata". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2014: e.T23061A46179412. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2014-3.RLTS.T23061A46179412.en.
  3. ^ Hodgson, B. H. (1842). "Notice of the Mammals of Tibet, with Descriptions and Plates of some new Species". Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. 11 (124): 278–279.
  4. ^ a b c d Sillero-Zubiri, C.; Hoffman, M.; MacDonald, D. W. (2004). "Tibetan Fox" (PDF). Canids: Foxes, Wolves, Jackals and Dogs - 2004 Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Canid Specialist Group. ISBN 2-8317-0786-2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 July 2006.
  5. ^ a b Harris, R. B.; Wang, Z. H.; Zhou, J. K. & Liu, Q. X. (2008). "Notes on biology of the Tibetan fox (Vulpes ferrilata)" (PDF). Canid News. 11: 1–7.
  6. ^ Heptner, V. G.; Naumov, N. P. (1998) [1967]. "Genus Vulpes Oken, 1816". Mammals of the Soviet Union. Volume II Part 1a, Sirenia and Carnivora (Sea cows; Wolves and Bears). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Libraries and The National Science Foundation. pp. 385–570.
  7. ^ Pocock, R. I. (1941). "Vulpes ferrilata Hodgson. The Tibetan Sand Fox". Fauna of British India: Mammals. Volume 2. London: Taylor and Francis. pp. 140–146.
  8. ^ a b c Clark, H. O.; Newman, D. P.; Murdoch, J. D.; Tseng, J.; Wang, Z. H.; Harris, R. B. (2008). "Vulpes ferrilata (Carnivora: Canidae)". Mammalian Species (821): 1–6. doi:10.1644/821.1.
  9. ^ Liu, Q.X.; R. B. Harris; X.M. Wang & Z.H. Wang (2007). "Home range size and overlap of Tibetan foxes (Vulpes ferrilata) in Dulan County, Qinghai Province". Acta Theriologica Sinica (in Chinese). 27: 370–75.
  10. ^ "Wildlife photographer of the year 2019 winners – in pictures". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 October 2019.