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Swift Foxes Steal Hearts at the Calgary Zoo

Meet the Calgary Zoo's four newest little swift fox cubs born to father Beren and mother Foxy Cleopatra (yeah, you read that right) on April 22nd. Swift foxes were hunted to extinction within Canada in the 1930s but have slowly recovered from isolated populations in the United States with the help of reintroduction efforts. Today swift foxes are threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation from natural resource exploitation in their remote prairie homelands.






Calgary, AB – Beren and Foxy Cleopatra, the pair of adult swift foxes at the
Calgary Zoo, are the proud parents of four healthy and active pups born the
week of April 22, 2009. The Calgary Zoo is one of only 20 institutions accredited
with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) which are involved in the
Swift Fox Species Survival Plan (SSP) and currently exhibiting the species.

Keepers first noticed unusual activity when the father, Beren, began to bring
food into the den for the mother, Foxy Cleopatra. A careful peek inside the den
confirmed the presence of four pups or kits, but in the ensuing weeks it has been
important to allow Foxy and Beren to raise the pups themselves. The pups have
recently ventured out of the den and, with a little patience and lucky timing,
visitors can now see them playing outside in their enclosure near Cequel Lodge
in the Canadian Wilds.

“In the past the Calgary Zoo has propagated swift fox for release to the wild,”
said Bob Peel, curator of the Canadian Wilds.

“However, now that this species has been successfully re-introduced to the wild,
breeding is restricted to certain individuals with valuable genetics including the
pair on exhibit at the Calgary Zoo.”

The last time there were swift fox pups born at the Calgary Zoo was in June of
1993. The zoo has had swift fox on exhibit since 1972.

Beren was born on April 22, 2001 at the Sunset Zoo in Manhattan, Kansas and
has been in Calgary since October 14, 2004. Foxy Cleopatra was born on April
28, 2005 at the Dakota Zoo in Bismark, North Dakota and came to the Calgary
Zoo on Nov 14, 2007.

Peel said the pups are doing very well and that the best viewing opportunities
are in the early morning or late afternoon.

Swift Fox Reintroduction:

In 1938, the swift fox was extirpated or became extinct in Canada. A number of
factors contributed to their disappearance from Canadian territory including
agricultural use of poison for pest and predator control, weather conditions, and
agricultural development. Although hunters were more likely targeting larger
and more financially valuable animals such as the red fox, the swift fox also
became victim to hunting and trapping.

The primary threat to swift fox populations has been the loss of native prairie
habitat. In Canada, further habitat fragmentation due to development activities,
such as the extraction of oil and gas in previously isolated areas, may have
negative impacts on the reintroduced population.

Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager, Head of the Centre for Conservation Research at the
Calgary Zoo and Co-Chair of the National Swift Fox Recovery Team, has been
involved with the research and reintroduction of the swift fox since 1991 - 18

As part of an initiative to re-establish crucial components of a prairie ecosystem
at risk, from 1983 to 1997, swift foxes were brought from areas of the United
States and reintroduced in south-eastern Alberta as well as in Montana. Since
that time, a unique population has also been established in south-western
Saskatchewan. In a scientific paper published by Montana government and
Calgary Zoo scientists this year, researchers presented results that show swift
foxes can move further than previously thought.

“Although we previously believed that swift foxes move less than 20 kilometres
from their place of birth, we found several foxes that moved over 50 kilometres
and one female that moved 192 kilometres. The amazing thing about this
vixen’s movement is that she left a reintroduced population in north-western
Montana, and then re-appeared in the Canadian reintroduced population 3 years
later.”, said Moehrenschlager.

This finding is significant because it shows that the protection of remote prairie
areas may help to recover swift foxes in Canada and the United States.

The long-term goal for the swift fox recovery in Canada is to have a selfsustaining
population of at least 1,000 reproducing individuals. To this end,
researchers at the Calgary Zoo are currently, as in the past, involved with
studying the reintroduced populations and determining how changes to their
natural habitat affect their ability to survive. Dr. Sandie Black, Head of
Veterinary Services at the Calgary Zoo, also has a key role in the recovery
project and has been involved in the pathology, or determining the cause of
death, of swift foxes for about 20 years.

Results from the 2000/2001 and 2005/2006 censuses of the Canadian
population of swift fox show that this is the most successful recovery of a
nationally extinct carnivore in the world.

“It is exciting that through the research and active conservation the Calgary Zoo
participates in, along with our national and international partners on the
Recovery Team, we are actually also helping to guide government policy that will
affect future land use and animal protection at both provincial and federal
levels,” said Moehrenschlager.

Background Information:

When born, the pups weigh only about a quarter of a pound, and when mature
less than 6 pounds, roughly comparable in size to a Pomeranian or Yorkshire
terrier dog.

Swift fox become sexually mature at one year of age though they typically have
pups or kits when they are two or older. Interestingly, swift fox mate for life,
although if one of the pair dies they may take another mate. Kits are born in the
spring and the family will stay together until approximately September – about
four months. However, the kits will frequently stay in the home range of their
parents until at least February of the following year.

Males are very involved in raising the kits and will continue to raise weaned
young even if the female of the pair is killed. They mature quickly, can breed in
the first year and have multiple births in a litter help; this helps offset the high
mortality rates among swift foxes which have roughly a 50 per cent chance of
surviving any given year.

Swift foxes live for approximately eight to 10 years in the wild and 13 years or
more in captivity.

Swift fox come by their name for a reason – they have been recorded running at
speeds of up to 60km/hr although their small size can make them seem even
faster. They use this ability primarily to escape from predators.