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Longleat keepers help breed fennec fox kits

image caption, The kits are the first to be successfully reared at Longleat

  • Author, Christopher Mace
  • Role, BBC News. Wiltshire

Fennec foxes have been successfully bred at Longleat for the first time.

The two kits, weighing just 110g, are now being hand-raised at the Wiltshire safari park after their mother lost a previous litter because she couldn’t produce enough milk.

A third kit was born in the same litter but died shortly after birth.

Fennec foxes are native to the deserts of North Africa and use their unusually large ears to hunt prey, including small mammals and insects underground.

image caption, The kits were born weighing just 46g each

Longleat keeper Samantha Peeke had to stay at Longleat overnight with colleagues Gemma Short and Catriona Moy as the babies initially needed feeding every two hours, day and night.

“Now we feed them every three hours, with a longer break overnight,” added Samantha.

“We share the care so they don’t get attached to one of us because the goal is to reintroduce them to their mom and dad.

“Eventually we hope they will also become part of the international breeding program.”

image caption, Keepers Samantha, Catriona and Gemma stay with the kits overnight to feed them

The decision to pick up the kits by hand was a last resort, Longleat said.

Mother Zuri and father Enzi had another litter before, but the first kits died within 24 hours of birth because Zuri wasn’t producing enough milk.

Catriona, Team Manager of Animal Adventure and Lakes at Longleat, said: “After losing the first three, we spent time preparing for the possibility of another litter.

“We wanted to make sure that, knowing she couldn’t produce enough milk, we had everything available in case we needed to help Zuri take care of the young.”

Unfortunately for the keepers, there were also problems with the second litter,

“When the cameras in the den showed Zuri giving birth to three kits, I kept a close eye on her so as not to disturb her,” said Catriona.

image source, Getty Images

image caption, Fennec foxes are native to the deserts of North Africa

“Zuri showed good maternal behavior; however, it became clear that he was struggling with all three.

“This combined with previous history led us to make the difficult decision to remove two to give the mother the best chance of successfully raising a kit.

“Unfortunately, despite Zuri’s best efforts, unfortunately the kit that was left with her has died.”

The plan is to reintroduce the two surviving fennec fox kits to their parents in the summer, as their birth is said to be important to the European breeding programme.