Tibetan Fox - © 1997 Milo BurchamProjects
English: Tibetan sand fox; French: renard sable du Thibet; Chinese: shahuli(li); Tibetan: wa, wamo.
The Tibetan Fox is widespread in the steppes and semi-deserts of the Tibetan Plateau, and is also present in Nepal north of the Himalaya. In general, population depends partly on prey availability and partly on human hunting pressure. The species is not considered threatened at present.
Habitat and Ecology:
The species is found in upland plains and hills from about 2,500–5,200 m (Clark et al. 2008). Most of its habitat consists of sparse grasslands devoid of trees and shrubs (Wang et al. 2007; although see also Gong and Hu 2003), particularly where black-lipped pikas are abundant. Although definitive studies have yet to be conducted, it appears that Tibetan Foxes are closely tied to the presence of pikas, and may in fact be an obligate predator. Tibetan Foxes appear particularly adept at capturing pikas (including, at times, following brown bears Ursus arctos excavating pika burrows in order to capture pikas that escape; Harris et al. 2008), and are rarely encountered where pikas are absent. They also feed on carrion, and other small mammals (Zheng 1985). Tibetan Foxes spend considerable time resting in small burrows or hollows (Wang et al. 2003). They are most active at dawn and dusk, although can be seen at any time of the day.
The species is not believed to be under serious threat. Hunting and snaring occurs, but is not common because the coarse pelts of Tibetan Foxes are of minor value. Domestic dogs can kill Tibetan Foxes, and may be a major source of mortality in some areas (Wang et al. 2007). More insidious threats are ongoing government-sponsored programmes of poisoning pikas in much of the Tibetan plateau. Secondary poisoning of Tibetan Foxes may occur, although does not appear to be common. However, reductions or complete elimination of their major prey would certainly be damaging to Tibetan Fox populations. If such pika reduction programmes continue or increase, the status of the Tibetan Fox would require reassessment.