Swift foxes are small members of the Canid family weighing around 5 pounds when fully grown. They come by their name naturally – they have been recorded running at speeds of up to 40 mph, although their small size can make them seem even faster.
Native to the Great Plains of North America, swift fox numbers dropped drastically as the prairies were developed. Habitat fragmentation, persecution and poisoning of their main prey species – ground squirrels – reached a point where the little foxes were struggling to survive. The last wild swift fox recorded in Canada was seen in 1938.
Swift foxes in the USA fared a bit better. From 1983 to 1997, swift foxes were brought from areas of the United States and reintroduced in south-eastern Alberta as well as in Montana. Since that time, a unique population has also been established in south-western Saskatchewan.
As part of this reintroduction program, swift foxes were reared in captivity in both countries, and their offspring released into the wild. I had the privilege of volunteering for the swift fox project – pulling the pups out of a den, weighing, tagging and trying to hold them while the vet gave them their shots is an experience that will long be remembered.
Thanks to the actions of concerned conservationists, these little foxes are now roaming the Great Plains in ever larger numbers. Captive breeding, reintroduction and preserved habitat throughout Canada and the USA combined to allow them to once again fly across the prairies.
Results from the 2000/2001 and 2005/2006 censuses of the Canadian population of swift fox show that this is the most successful recovery of a nationally extirpated carnivore in the world.
In the past, the Calgary Zoo was one of the institutions propagating the swift fox for release to the wild, Now that this species has been successfully re-introduced, breeding at the zoo is restricted to certain individuals with valuable genetics.
Those genetics took a grand leap forward this spring, with the birth of four swift fox cubs. Meet the newest swift foxes on the block!