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Bengal (Indian) Fox - Vulpes bengalensis
Bengal (Indian) Fox - Vulpes bengalensis

[Image: indian-fox-lying-in-den.jpg]

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Vulpes
Species: Vulpes bengalensis

The Bengal fox (Vulpes bengalensis), also known as the Indian fox, is a fox endemic to the Indian subcontinent and is found from the Himalayan foothills and Terai of Nepal through southern India and from southern and eastern Pakistan to eastern India and southeastern Bangladesh.

[Image: indian-fox-on-grass-plain.jpg]

Vulpes bengalensis is a relatively small fox with an elongated muzzle, long, pointed ears, and a bushy tail about 50 to 60% of the length of the head and body. Its dorsal pelage is very variable, but mostly grayish and paler ventrally; its legs tend to be brownish or rufous. It is more daintily built than Vulpes vulpes. The tail is bushy with a prominent black tip which distinguishes it from V. vulpes. Back of ears are dark brown with black margin. Its rhinarium is naked and the lips are black, with small black hair patches on upper part of nuzzle (shaft) in front of eyes. The ears have the same colour as the nape or maybe darker, but not having a dark patch as in V. vulpes. Extensive variation in coat colour exists across populations and seasonally within populations, but generally varies from grey to pale brown. The head and body length is 18 in (46 cm), with a 10 in (25 cm) long tail. Typical weight is 5 to 9 pounds (2.3 to 4.1 kg).

The genus Vulpes can be separated from Canis and Cuon in the Indian region by the flat forehead between the postorbital processes and not inflated by air cells. The processes themselves are slightly concave with a raised anterior edge (convexly round in other canids). The canine teeth are longer.

[Image: indian-fox-running.jpg]

The species is found throughout much of the Indian subcontinent with the exception of the wet forests and the extreme arid zone. The distribution is bounded by the Himalayan range and the Indus River valley. The preferred habitat is short open grassland, scrub or thorn forest. They appear to avoid steep terrain, tall grassland. Indian foxes were considered to be habitat generalists, but recent studies have shown a strong preference for semiarid, short grassland habitats at multiple scales.

[Image: 440px-Vulpes-bengalensis-map.png]

Behaviour and ecology
Bengal foxes are mainly crepuscular in their habits. During the heat of the day, they hide under vegetation or in subterranean dens that they dig. The dens are large and complex with multiple chambers and escape routes. They are sometimes seen basking at a vantage point around sunrise or sunset. In captivity, the lifespan is about 6 to 8 years.

The Bengal fox feeds on rodents, reptiles, crabs, termites, insects, small birds, and fruits. Scats of young pups appeared to show that they fed mainly on rodents but are opportunistic feeders.

[Image: indian-fox-adult.jpg]

Foxes make a wide range of vocalizations. A chattering cry is the most common call. They also growl, whine, whimper, and bark. The Bengal fox does not appear to have latrine behaviour, a feature seen in some social canids, in which all members defecate at specific spots.

The Bengal fox forms pair bonds that may last a lifetime, but extra-pair copulations are known to occur. Throughout most of its range, the mating season starts in autumn (usually October–November) and after a gestation period around 50–60 days, two to four pups are born in a den. Both parents participate in pup-rearing. The pups are fully weaned about 3–4 months after emerging from the den. Pup mortality is high during the first few months. Pups may sometimes be nursed by multiple females. During the day, they tend to rest under shrubs and bushes, except in summer when they rest in dens.

[Image: indian-fox.jpg]

Lack of habitat protection is perhaps the greatest threat to the Indian fox. For example, in southern India, less than 2% of potential Indian fox habitat is covered under the existing protected area network of the states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Hunting for its skin and flesh, as well as conversion of its grassland habitat to agriculture, industry, and increasingly bio-fuel plantations, have affected its population density. In addition, its body parts are used in traditional medicine, and in some areas it is eaten. They are hunted by the narikuruva tribes of southern India. In Karnataka, they are captured in rituals conducted during Sankranthi. Another major threat is disease such as canine distemper virus and rabies, which spills over from the large unvaccinated populations of free-ranging dogs found throughout their range.

Journal Reference:
Vanak, A.T. (2005). "Distribution and status of the Indian fox Vulpes bengalensis in southern India" (PDF). Canid News. 8 (1).

The Indian fox is reportedly the most widespread fox species known to occur in India. Despite this generalisation however, its distribution and status are virtually unknown. Although the Indian fox occurs in many pro- tected areas in India, it has not been the focus of much research to date. A preliminary survey of sightings, pugmarks and dens was undertaken in seven districts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka states in southern India, to determine the distribution of the Indian fox. Its presence was confirmed in ten of the 13 sites surveyed, with the most number of sightings and signs of Indian fox presence found in Rollapadu Wildlife Sanctuary in Andhra Pradesh. The Indian fox appears to be sparsely but widely distributed within the localities surveyed.

Journal Reference:
Vanak, A.T. & Gompper, M.E. (2010). "Multiscale resource selection and spatial ecology of the Indian fox in a human-dominated dry grassland ecosystem". Journal of Zoology. 281 (2): 140–148. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2010.00690.x

Resource selection by animals is a scale-dependent hierarchical process of behavioural responses to environmental factors. Lack of information on such habitat selection dynamics can hamper the conservation management of species and habitats. For example, little is known about the space-use patterns of species in the semi-arid grasslands of peninsular India. The Indian fox Vulpes bengalensis, a poorly studied, yet reportedly widespread carnivore of the Indian subcontinent, represents an example of such lack of information. We determined the factors influencing habitat selection by Indian foxes at two levels in a multiple-use human-dominated landscape. Indian foxes are found in the highest densities in dry-grassland habitats, but are also reported to be opportunistic omnivores. Thus, we hypothesized that foxes select mainly for native grassland over human-modified habitats at a landscape level, but may not avoid human-modified habitats at the home-range level to take advantage of increased rodent availability in agricultural areas. We analysed radio-telemetry data from 32 Indian foxes using (1) a utilization distribution-weighted compositional analysis to determine the main components of home-range selection at the landscape level; (2) a discrete-choice analysis to determine the factors influencing the selection of habitat within the home ranges. At the landscape level, Indian foxes selected for native grasslands, forestry plantations and fallow land over human-dominated habitats such as agricultural land and human settlements. The presence of native grasslands was also the dominant predictor of habitat selection at the home-range scale across all seasons. Our results show that natural grasslands are the most important predictor of space use at multiple scales. This has important conservation implications as the threatened semi-arid short grasslands are poorly represented in India's protected area network. Although Indian foxes are not currently considered endangered, failure to conserve remaining native grassland habitats may threaten this species along with other grassland obligates.;jsessionid=60CE66D834EDF18867619ED83E59CEC2.f04t04

Journal Reference:
H.N. Kumara & Mewa Singh (2012). Distribution, den characteristics and diet of the Indian Fox Vulpes bengalensis (Mammalia: Canidae) in Karnataka, India: preliminary observations. Journal of Threatened Taxa 4(14): 3349–3354.

Abstract: The Indian Fox Vulpes bengalensis inhabits relatively dry areas with scrub thorn forests, deciduous forests, short grasslands and marginal croplands. Since it is a widely distributed species, especially in the dry tracts, very little attention has been paid to it by researchers and wildlife managers. We conducted an extensive survey in the south Indian state of Karnataka to determine the conservation status of the Indian Fox. We also carried out a more detailed observation in a small region called “Jayamangali Blackbuck Block” (JBB) and surrounding private lands to study the den site characteristics of the species. Except for a few districts in the Western Ghats and the west coastal region, the fox was present throughout Karnataka. Relatively higher encounter rates were observed in regions with extensive grasslands. We located 52 dens during the study in JBB which provide a minimum of 12dens/km2 with 1.33/km2 active dens. Circumference of den sites were smaller in JBB than in the adjoining private lands indicating that foxes frequently shifted dens in this area. The number of openings and active openings increased as the circumference of the den site increased. Fecal analysis revealed remains of certain species of plants, vertebrates and invertebrates, with arthropods as the major food items of the fox. to this post:[Image: attach.png] Distribution_and_status_of_the_Indian_fox_Vulpes_bengalensis_in_southern_India.pdf (325.93 KB)
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