Foxy the fennec: all ears

I got to do a hands-on animal demo last week, and that meant a trip into the Zoomobile room to pick up Sylvia the milksnake. Besides demo animals, that room also holds the Zoomobile critters that staffers take to visit schools and other public places. Each time I return my snake or lizard after the allotted 15 to 20 minutes, I pause to admire my favorite of those critters, Foxy the fennec. And last week, in a first for me, she came out to play.

Foxy, a tiny North African canid, lives in an enclosure the size of a walk-in closet, which contains a cozy den for her to hide in and toys to amuse her. Whenever volunteers approach, entranced by her giant ears, this shy foxlet makes a noise that falls somewhere between a bird’s tweet and a woman’s shriek. This time, Zoomobile staffer Chris indulged us greatly, unasked, by bringing Foxy out for a cuddle. Fennecs are one-person animals, and Chris said her colleagues handle Foxy with gloves on, or not at all. But the fennec burrowed her nose into Chris’s neck, and we volunteers were allowed to touch the furry little back.

Foxy is eight years old (12 is a typical lifespan) and used to be someone’s pet — but like all exotic pets, fennecs aren’t legal everywhere, and not all veterinarians will treat them. They’re also nocturnal, which should make any would-be owner hesitate. Chris said Foxy is shy about going out to public places, but she seemed to love being held by Chris. Returned to her enclosure, she reacted surprisingly, at least to me — racing around while tweet-shrieking. Was she happy to be back in a safe space? Sad to be separated from Chris? We who aren’t fennecs can only imagine.