"Take us the foxes, the little foxes,
that spoil the vines: for our vines
have tender grapes."
Meet my neighbor. We were privileged to see someone almost never seen in the daytime here or in the neighboring regions.
This is a Blanford fox. Reports state that he is usually found in the driest and hottest regions of the Middle East. In Israel, researchers report that the densest population is found in the Judean Desert at elevations of 100-350 meters below sea level.
It must be getting crowded there, because Renaud has moved to our neighborhood.
Of course, the wadi just outside my window, if followed relentlessly eastward, ends at a row of hills and over those the undulating descents to the Dead Sea commence. Foot traffic from the Dead Sea is eminently possible.
I wouldn't have seen him at all but for The Husband's sharp eyes. "Come quick," he called. "See the fox?"
Silly question. I am blind as a bat without glasses, and even with glasses, picking out a grey something that is lying on grey rocks in the shadow of a rock wall is not particularly feasible. But I took his word for it, and kept my eyes glued to the spot. Nothing. No motion.
But there was motion down the slope. Our neighbor the Palestinian/Jordanian-settler-rancher/shepherd, was herding his sheep up from the lower pastures, now green from the rains, up to higher pastures.
Renaud didn't twitch.
Once the herd of sheep and goats meandered out of sight. Renaud jumped up onto the rock wall, and into the rocky olive orchard beyond. My last glimpse of him was that of a quick-trotting, confident fox making good time through the sparse orchard, tail streaming out behind him like a banner.
I did a little trotting through the internet myself, fascinated by our fox. My husband had seen a lot of them down in the Arava during his kibbutz sojourn, but I had only seen the Sierra-Nevada variety.
It appears that the Blanford fox is nocturnal, so we were lucky to see him (or her) at all during the day. However, mating season is from December through January (another source said January through February), so maybe he was looking for a mate. Dry creek beds are the most popular range for these foxes in Israel, according to researchers, because of an abundance of prey in that locale. It just so happens that at the foot of our terraced wadi is a creek bed which is mostly dry until it rains.
Renaud eats everything. Not merely omniverous, he also like fruit, insects and olives. Maybe wind-falls are why he's hanging around in the olive groves below. This also explains the verse from the Tanakh: as a child I always wondered why a fox would eat grapes, and dismissed it as mere poetic license.
Wrong. Renaud likes his fruit. "The species has been observed eating domestic crops and seems to prefer melons, grapes, and Russian olives in some areas."**
He also is known by other names: royal fox, hoary fox, king fox, Blandford's fox, corsac, dog fox, steppe fox and Afghan fox. His "official name" is Vulpes cana, a name seemingly shared with most foxes and which in Latin sounds suspiciously like "wolf-dog." Various maps on the internet show him living in Israel and Jordan, Egypt, the coasts of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, he is a trusting soul with no fear of man, so while he is not endangered (yet) he is easy to trap and often is trapped for his fur. Not in Israel, however, where he is a protected species. Although I can't answer for what might happen if he decides he wants one of my neighbor's lambs for dinner.....
Reports are that the fox is strictly monogamous, although one has to wonder why....it seems the female and male have barely overlapping territories, and after mating, the female is the one to care for and raise the kits. Mom has the kits out of the den and foraging with her after 6 weeks, and by four months they are hunting on their own. They reach sexual maturity at 10-12 months and live in the wild for only 4-5 years. Pity. Something this handsome should have a longer life.
I hope he/she finds his mate. I hope they have a den in our honeycombed hills along the wadi. I hope their kits make it, and dine on windfallen olives, and run like the wind through the groves and hills and desert.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Information courtesy of Geffen, E., Hefner, R. and Wright, P. (2004) Blandford’s fox. In: Sillero-Zubiri, C., Hoffmann, M. and Macdonald, D.W. (Eds) Canids: Foxes, Wolves, Jackals and Dogs: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan.IUCN, Gland.