Swift fox (Photo by Karol Dabbs)
Travelling through the prairies at up to 60 kilometres an hour, the swift fox is aptly named.
A swift recovery
The return of swift foxes is one of the most successful species reintroduction stories in Canada. Once abundant in the short- and mixed-grass prairies of Alberta, Saskatchewan and southwestern Manitoba, they were no longer found in Canada in the 1930s. Their decline was primarily the result of habitat loss.
In 1973, a privately run program began breeding swift foxes in captivity in the United States, so that they could eventually be reintroduced back into the wild in Canada. With the help of federal agencies, non-governmental organizations and academia, including the Cochrane Ecological Institute and the Calgary Zoo’s Centre for Conservation Research, the program has been one of Canada’s most successful species reintroductions. The first captive-raised swift foxes were reintroduced along the Alberta–Saskatchewan border and the Milk River Ridge areas in 1983. These foxes survived, and over the years more captive-bred animals were reintroduced into the wild. Between 1983 and 1997, more than 900 animals were released in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Today there are approximately 650 swift foxes living in Canada. This population appears to be stable, and is now connected to populations in Montana.
What does it look like?
Swift fox is North America’s smallest canine species. It is is about the size of a housecat and weighs up to three kilograms. Its fur is pale, yellowish-red and grey, with a thick grey stripe down its back that extends to its black-tipped tail. Its underside is lighter in colour, and it has black patches on either side of its muzzle.
Where does it live?
This species ranges from southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, south into Texas and New Mexico. Today, swift foxes only occur in about 40 per cent of their historic range. Many populations are now isolated.
In Canada, swift foxes are now found in only a small area of prairie grasslands in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. More than 70 per cent of Canada’s native prairie grasslands have been lost, and they are continuing to disappear. The protection of these grasslands is critical to the survival of the swift fox and other species that depend on this habitat.
Because swift foxes spend more time underground than any other canine species, their dens are very important to their survival. They use them year-round for protection against predators and as a place to raise their young.
What does it eat?
Swift foxes hunt mainly at night. They will, however, sun themselves near their dens during the day. They primarily feed on rodents, but will also eat birds and their eggs, insects, plants and carrion.
What is this species’ conservation status?
This species is classified as threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act and is still at risk due to habitat loss and fragmentation.
What is NCC doing to protect habitat for this species?
The Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) landscape-scale work in prairie areas, such as in southeastern Alberta, is helping protect swift fox habitat.
This past July, a swift fox den was discovered on an NCC conservation site in southeast Alberta. This discovery is proof that the work of conservation organizations like NCC to secure and steward privately owned land is helping species at risk — in this case, providing a home to help in the recovery of this threatened species.
By working together with local communities, other land trust organizations and private landowners, NCC will continue to conserve and steward these lands to ensure animals like swift fox still have wild places to live.
How you can help
Swift fox is one of 25 species or landscape options that can be symbolically adopted through NCC’s Gifts of Canadian Nature gift-giving program, that contributes to critical conservation work across the country.
Your gift will help care for habitat that swift fox and other species rely on for their survival.
You will receive a tax receipt for your donation, and you will help protect our country’s natural areas and the species they sustain—for today, tomorrow and for generations to come.