The Tibetan Fox is a small carnivore native to Tibet and parts of neighboring countries. They are found in alpine areas above 3,500 meters and feed mainly on rodents, insects, and birds. Their coat color varies depending on the subspecies; some are black, others white, while still others are brownish gray.
Scientific Classification: Carnivora, Caniformia, Mustelidae, Vulpinae
Binomial Name: Vulpes vulpes
Common Names: Red Fox, European Fox, North American Fox
The Tibetans call it “gongpo”, meaning “little fox”. They believe that it protects against evil spirits. In fact, the name originates from the word goon, which means “fox” in Mongolian. This animal is believed to have been domesticated around 2000 BC.
Distribution and habitat
The Tibetan fox is restricted to high altitude areas within the Tibetan Plateau in Western China and the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. It occurs north of the Hindu Kush mountains in the northernmost border region of Nepal, across Tibet, and across the western part of the Chinese province of Qinghai. In addition, it occurs in the southern portion of the Chinese province of Xinjiang, the northwestern portion of the Chinese province Yunnan, and the southeastern portion of the Chinese province Sichuan. It prefers open habitats such as deserts, steppes, mountain ranges, tundra, alpine meadows and slopes, and subalpine forests. It generally avoids dense vegetation cover.
Inhabiting semi-arid to xeric environments, it does not occur near human settlements or agricultural land. It mainly resides in uplands up to about 4,500 metres (14,800 feet), although records exist of individuals living at altitudes of up to 5,200 metres (17,100 feet).
Behaviour and ecology
The Tibetan fox is one of the most widely distributed carnivores in Asia. In fact, it is found across much of central and southern Tibet, along the Himalayan foothills, into Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania, Western Sahara, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Malta, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Its range extends northwards to the Altai Mountains, Amur River basin, Heilongjiang Province, Manchuria, Korea, Japan, Sakhalin Island, Primorsky Krai, Khabarovsk Krai, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Kamchatka Peninsula, Kurile Islands, Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, Okinawa, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Burma, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles, Madagascar, Réunion, Mauritius, Comoros, Mayotte, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Tasmania, and Antarctica. Its distribution reaches further south into Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Central America, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Antigua and Barbuda.
In addition to being widespread throughout Eurasia, the Tibetan fox occurs in parts of North Africa, including the Sinai peninsula, the Horn of Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula. It also ranges westward into Europe, where it is present in the Iberian Peninsula, Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, mainland Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Greenland, Canada, United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and Guam.
The Tibetan fox is listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, there is evidence of local population declines due to habitat loss and degradation caused by human activities such as agriculture and mining. There are no known major threats to the species today, although it does face some challenges in maintaining a viable population.
Diseases and parasites
Tibetan foxes in the Sérxú County of China’s Síchuan Province are heavily infected with tapeworms, while foxes in Western Síchuan are definite hosts of echinococcosis. Foxes in the region are considered a reservoir host for humans, and it is believed that people become infected when eating contaminated meat.
The disease, known as hydatidosis, is spread via eggs being passed into water sources where they hatch and grow into adult tapeworms. People typically contract the infection when consuming food containing cysts, such as pork liver.
Infected animals shed millions of eggs per day. Dogs play a major role in spreading the parasite, and they often eat raw offal. In addition, dogs roam freely around human settlements, making it easy for them to come into contact with humans.
The photo, taken by photographer Tim Laman, depicts a young marmot being attacked by a Tibetan fox. The fox uses its powerful jaws to grab hold of the animal and drag it into a burrow. The fox then proceeds to eat the marmot alive. The image has been shortlisted for the People’s Choice Award.