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Species at Risk: The Swift Fox

Being able to run 60km/h means that the swift fox doesn’t get its name from just anywhere; it’s one of the fastest animals on the planet! Listed as threatened under the Species at Risk Act, these foxes are as small as house cats, and play a big role in the natural disturbance regime of the native prairie ecosystems they call home. While the species is now on its way to recovery, this small canid was once close to disappearing from Canada forever. Who knew these little foxes would make such a comeback?

Swift foxes occupy some of the most modified landscapes in Canada. They prefer native prairie ecosystems that have relatively dry areas with short, sparse vegetation, and tend to avoid fragmented habitats and cropland. Although this habitat is critical to the survival of the species, it’s also highly valued for agricultural purposes. As their homes were converted to cropland to support agricultural expansion in the 1900s, the numbers of swift foxes in Canada began to decline. In April of 1978, they were officially declared an extirpated species.

With the help of reintroduction programs that began in the early eighties, the swift fox has been making an encouraging recovery. The current population is concentrated in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan, and is estimated at 647 individuals. They’ve come a long way since 1978!

Even with this progress, the swift fox still needs the protection of the Species at Risk Act to ensure that they’ll never come close to disappearing again. While conversion of land to agricultural uses is what led to their initial decline, they now face an even bigger threat from some energy development projects in the prairies. Infrastructure being built for oil and gas projects are fragmenting their habitat, and increasing the risk of mortality due to collisions with vehicles. Other threats they face include predation and competitive exclusion by coyotes and red fox, poisoning or trapping, and climate change.

A federal recovery strategy for the swift fox was released in 2008. To help achieve a self-sustaining population, the strategy outlines several recovery efforts, like research on the effects of disturbance on the species, and monitoring of their abundance and distribution. These efforts will be integrated into conservation programs that will also benefit co-existing prairie species.

Without the federal Species at Risk Act, the Swift Fox would almost certainly still be an extirpated species. Want to help ensure that swift foxes continue to benefit from our federal Species at Risk Act? Sign the pledge and show your support for a strong SARA!

Photo - Swift Fox - Gerard Beyersbergen