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Why do fennecs eat their young?

For species less common than reds and arctics.

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Why do fennecs eat their young?

Postby TamanduaGirl » Sat Mar 26, 2016 3:51 pm

The simple answer is stress. It is common for small prey animals to eat their young if they feel threatened. This seems harsh but is a strong survival instinct in the wild. If a predator is coming to eat your young and you know you can't save them then if you eat them you gain back some of the energy you put into raising them to that point and increase your own odds of surviving to have more later instead of that energy being lost to the predator. Similarly many more species will eat their young if they are ill or die on their own, but assuming they are healthy babies the fennec moms do it because of stress.

So why do captive fennecs get stressed enough to eat their babies?

One theory is bad genes. We've done such a terrible job breeding them that we've created genetically bad mothers. I don't buy this theory, at least not completely, but I know where the idea came from.

Fact 1: It had been observed that fennecs sourced directly from the wild were much less likely to eat their young than ones who had been born in captivity.

Fact 2: In the earlier days of breeding, fennecs that turned out to be too aggressive to be pets were sold as breeders, thus passing on any genes that contributed to their failure as pets.

RE: Fact 1: The thought here is that the born in captivity fennecs come from bad lines caused by people continuing to breed moms who eat their young and just pulling them before she can eat them. This may be a small contributing factor but there is a much bigger contributor here. Bottle feeding It is a well known fact in some exotic circles, like monkeys, that bottle raised babies will make bad mothers. Raising kids is not all instinct, at least not for many mammals. A good portion of it is learned by emulation of ones own parents and since fennecs stick around to help their own parents they learn even more from helping with their younger siblings. So we take babies and raise them in a completely foreign way, with bottles and heating pads and boxes etc. Then we expect them to just know how to do it the fennec way when left on their own to raise their kits. It's no wonder they are prone to panic.

One other theory I have heard is that the domestication process has some how muted their mothering instincts but I think the bottle raised babies make bad parents fits much better.

My theory does have a bit more evidence as well. I've followed fennec foxes in captivity globally. Zoo fennecs are less likely to kill their babies but are also less likely to be bottle fed. Asian fennecs are much less likely to eat their young but it's nearly unheard of for them to be bottle fed, even though kept kinda commonly as pets in some areas. In fact most are raised in a home setting in ferret cages and they still don't eat their young. They leave kits with mom and she raises them, owner handles the young, then they are taken and weaned early and move on to their new homes. The only known drawback is the cute but neurotic behavior of many Asian fennecs that knead and suckle their tails, blankets or others as a self soothing mechanism, similar to orphaned kittens. But they don't tend to kill their babies.

USA fennecs are bottle raised then asked to raise their own kits with no help or guidance. They tend to eat their kits and are more likely to in a house hold setting even when raised there.

I think this all points strongly to mom raised fennecs likely make better breeders.

RE: Fact 2: I don't think the aggressive genes are the same that would make for a bad mother and this seems to have stopped long ago anyway. It's fear not aggression that makes for a cannibal mom. Aggression may actually make for a better mom as she'd be braver.



Fact 3: A breeder told me moms do better if you get the female first. This makes sense as if the female is suppose to be he matriarch she will be much more settled about it if she doesn't have to settle into someone else's territory. Over all not a major factory but a contributing one in some cases.

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The Asian fennecs do beg the question of if a mom raised baby from a tame parent handled in a home setting will make a good pet. I do also see them sharing more photos of fennec bite wounds than US owners but US owners may also be less inclined to share such things but it's possible mom raised are more likely to bite. In the few other cases of mom raised I know of only one I know the adult out come of. Shari tried it with a very tame mom and one of her kits. It seemed fine but the kit was sent to a zoo and returned because they said they couldn't work with it. Hard to say if the zoo handled it wrong, the drastic change of setting from home to zoo unsettled it, or the lack of bottle feeding indeed made it less tame. A Canadian breeder, who is no more, used to mother raise but she sent her babies off to another country so I have no idea how they did. And someone raised their fennecs on a lactating cat in their home but again no info from the owners they went to on how they did. So at this point not bottle raising a fennec meant to be a pet is a gamble but if you know you are going to breed it then letting mom raise it might make for better odds on litter survival.

But this is all my own hypothesis based on the facts I have available to me.
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Re: Why do fennecs eat their young?

Postby TamanduaGirl » Sun May 01, 2016 8:00 pm

And when you see this type of behavior is when you should take them right away.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6njtrO1lfFE
PS this is an exception to the Asian county info above as it's China and it's not legal and owners get them illegally shipped in from the wild. So these are most likely stressed wild parents, poor things.

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