Dogs might be man’s best friend, but it seems they face fresh competion from a new pet – the fennec fox.
Known for its huge ears and fluffy tail, the animal is technically legal to own in the UK and owners do not need a special licence, but experts warn that it could be a bad idea.
Fennecs are not domesticated, require large sandy areas, smell terrible – and can even turn on their owners.
The world’s smallest fox might be cute but most homes simply aren’t fit to to keep this desert dweller – originally from the Sahara – happy and healthy.
Lindsay McKenna, founder of Wild Side Exotic Rescue, told MailOnline: ‘If you really love fennec foxes then please do not buy one.’
Even though fennec foxes are the world’s smallest fox, as wild animals they still require far more space than the average pet owner can provide (stock image)
At her farm in Hertfordshire, Ms McKenna looks after around 35 animals that have been rescued from the exotic pet trade.
She told MailOnline that she bought two fennec foxes from a UK exotic pet seller in 2018.
However, Ms McKenna is strongly opposed to keeping foxes as pets and says she bought the pair to keep them from being bred to supply the domestic market.
She explained: ‘I thought if someone gets hold of them they’re going to breed them because people think they can make a lot of money.
‘They should be in the wild and I don’t think we’ve got any right to have them as “pets” to play with.’
Fennec foxes are often marketed as friendly, trainable, and cute alternatives to dogs or cats.
However, Ms McKenna warns that it is very difficult to keep the animals happy and healthy in captivity.
Fennec foxes are native to the deserts of Northern Africa and require constant hot temperatures and plentiful sand and dirt to dig in (stock image)
‘Their needs can be so costly and specific, and with the space they need the average person is not equipped to handle that,’ Ms McKenna said.
‘They come from Africa so they are used to having good temperatures and they are adapted to being on sand and like to dig.’
Fennec foxes also require huge amounts of enrichment and social engagement.
In the wild, they live in groups of up to 10 individuals, but are often sold individually by the pet trade.
‘People are often sold foxes as if they are a solo animal when really they should be in a pack,’ Ms McKenna explains.
Even more worryingly, Ms McKenna explains that Fennec foxes can be dangerous and turn on their owners if not handled correctly.
She warned: ‘People buy them like they’re chihuahuas but they would become very scared if you treated them like one.
‘Just like a dog can turn on an owner, the chances of a wild animal turning are a lot higher.’
Ms McKenna says she and her team always use special equipment and thick gloves when handling their fennec foxes and only do so when absolutely necessary.
Fennecs are currently listed under Article Two of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of fauna and flora (CITES).
This means they are not threatened by extinction, but trade must be controlled in order to avoid harming the natural population.
Alison Littlewood, head of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, which advises the Government on conservation, says international trade has remained largely static over the last few years.
She said: ‘Sudan is the number one global exporter of this species, having exported 2,359 animals over this time period.
‘China and the US were the top two importers of fennec foxes from 2015-2023.’
Only a handful of permits have been issued to import fennecs in the last ten years according to CITES data. However, foxes brought from the EU did not require permits prior to Brexit.
The vast majority of pet fennec foxes are also bred in captivity rather than being caught wild.
Fennec foxes hit the headlines on Tuesday after a pair arrived at All Things Wild in Worcestershire, after travelling 1,500 miles from a zoo in Hungary.
Richard Potter, owner of the exotic pet store Jungle World, has sold fennecs in the UK after acquiring them from a supplier in Holland.
However, he told MailOnline: ‘We haven’t had them for about five years, they’re very hard to come by because of Brexit.’
Mr Potter also says that fewer foxes are being bred, driving up costs to £3,000 ($3,778) per animal.
Fennec foxes have a relatively small market in the UK due to the extremely high costs of keeping them warm and fed.
However, Mr Potter says that he receives messages on a regular basis inquiring if the animals are available.
Mr Potter faced 15 charges of animal cruelty under the Welfare of Animals Act in 2022, according to the Belfast Telegraph.
MailOnline has contacted Mr Potter for a response to these charges.