Bulletin 20 - July 1983: Obervations of the Red Fox in the Al Ain Area

Obervations of the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes arabica) in the Al Ain Area

by C.W. Furley*


Over 20 Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes arabica) were snared and shot during the months of January, February, March, June, July, October and December of the years 1979, 1980, 1982 and early 1983. Parasites and stomach contents were examined, and carcasses were weighed and measured. Two females were caught, both pregnant, and both in January.


There is much Red Fox activity in the Al Ain area of the U.A.E. They inhabit rocky mountainous regions or well-watered suburban and urban areas. They appear, however, to be absent from the open sand dunes. Since December 1979 over 20 Red Foxes have been caught in the grounds of Al Ain Zoo, where they are treated as vermin. Foxes have been responsible for a number of deaths in the Zoo (such as Blackbuck calves, Flamingoes, Ducks etc.). Fourteen of these foxes were post-mortemed. Of the fourteen, two were females, both caught in January. Eleven were measured, and ten of these were weighed. The results are tabulated below. Endoparasites (internal parasites) were found in twelve out of fourteen animals.


All foxes were caught using a wire snare, and then shot dead. Autopsies were performed within twelve hours of death. Endoparasites visible to the naked eye were removed from the digestive tract, washed in distilled water, and preserved in methanol for later identification. Contents of the stomachs were separated as far as possible. Measurements of the carcasses were taken with a 30 cm ruler, using the same parameters as Harrison (1968). The uteri of both vixens were opened for examination.


The stomach and intestinal contents of 13 foxes were examined. Massive infestation with cestodes (tapeworms) was found in eleven of the 13 foxes, in the small intestine. This cestode was later identified as Joyeuxiella echinorhyncoides Sonsino 1889. In addition, Echinococcus-like adult cestodes were found in the caecum of one fox.

Table of Weights and Measurements of Red Foxes caught in Al Ain Zoo.

Sex Weight Kgs. Nose-tail Shoulder Hindfoot Ear Length Ear Width
M 3.6 985 mm 370 mm 140 mm 110 mm 70 mm
M 3.86 980 360 130 100 75
M 3.18 940 375 132 105 80
F 3.18 955 348 126 105 85
M 3.72 930 350 135 105 82
F 4.3 935 370 135 105 85
M 3.54 925 350 140 105 75
M 3.425 955 350 132 100 85
M 3.6 970 340 125 110 85
M 2.35 -- -- -- -- --
M -- 830 325 124 103 65
M -- 920 350 135 98 80
M 3.0 900 -- 130 105 55
range 2.35 - 4.3 830 - 985 325 - 375 124 - 140 98 - 110 55 - 85
average 3.43 935 353 132 104 76

Nematodes (roundworms) were found in the caecum and colon of 7 of the 13 foxes. Trichuris spp. were present in all 7, and Subulura crassispiculumn Sonsino 1889 was present in 2 of these 7 foxes.

Only two animals out of those 13 contained no endoparasites. Foxes were not routinely examined for ectoparasites (external parasites), but one fox was noted to have a small number of ticks in the ears and on the neck. These were not identified.

Out of the 13 animals in which the stomachs were examined, 8 had empty stomachs. In those foxes with full stomachs, gastric contents included hair, feather shafts, the remains of a pigeon, maggot shells, several pieces of fat, a strip of skin with black hair attached (probably domestic goat), fish bones and a half digested date complete with stone.

Pathologically, out of 14 foxes one animal was missing the right upper canine tooth, one had a fatty liver, and 5 showed signs of glomerulonephritis.

Both vixens were pregnant. One, killed on 9.1.80 weighed 3.18 kg. and was carrying two embryos in the right cornu of the uterus and one in the left cornu. The second was killed on 26.1.80. and carried two foetuses in the left cornu and one in the right cornu. Pregnancy was more advanced in the second animal, which weighed 4.3 kg.


The endoparasites of Red Foxes in Britain have been studied by Scott (1943), Smith (1943) and Richards (1977). These authors recorded flukes, whipworms, hookworms and tapeworms. The present study indicates that the tapeworm Joyeuxiella echinorhyncoides is endemic in the Red Fox population in the Al Ain area. The occurrence of the Echinococcus-like tapeworms in one fox is cause for some concern, as the larval stage of this worm is extremely infectious and dangerous to the human population.

The body weights and measurements of these foxes do not differ from those given by Harrison (1968).

The variety of the stomach contents give an idea of the diversity of the diet of the Red Fox in this area. Richards (1977) made an extensive study of the diet of Red Foxes in Britain, and listed live birds, mammals, reptiles, fruit and insects (mainly beetles and dipterous fly larvae) as the chief constituents, in addition to carrion. Burrows (1968) quoted by Richards, states the Red Fox may kill' hedgehogs. Johnson and Craig (1980) have even recorded Red Fox catching fish, in Scotland. The findings here confirm that the Red Fox is as much a scavenger as a predator, and fruit is consumed when available. Prey in the Al Ain area includes birds, rats, desert rodents, reptiles and insects. Fruit may be available sometimes. It is not known whether reptiles form any part of the diet.

The autopsies on the vixens indicate that breeding occurs around December and possibly January, with parturition in March or April. It appears that a litter of three may be the average size for this species here.


I would like to thank the staff of the British Museum (Natural History section) for their help in identifying parasites. Mr. Peter Dickinson of Al Ain Zoo was instrumental in the catching and measuring of the foxes.


Buckle, A. and Harris, S. (1980) The flea epifauna of a suburban fox population. J.Zool. Lon 19:431.

Frank, L. (1979) Selective predation and seasonal variation in the diet of the fox (Vulpes vulpes) in N.E. Scotland. J. Zool. Lon. 189:526.

Harrison, D.L. (1968) The Mammals of Arabia; Vol 2. Carnivora, Hyracoidea, Artiodactyla. London: Benn.

Johnson & Craig, E. (1980) An unusual food source of the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes). J. Zool. Lon 192:561.

* Dr. Chris W. Furley, BVM and S, MRCVS
Veterinarian at Al Ain Zoo



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