home   about   search

biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Vulpes chama (Cape fox)

silver jackal [English]; silwervos, silwerjakkals [Afrikaans]; Kapfuchs [German]; renard du Cap [French]; mophèmè [Sesotho]; lesiê, losiê [Setswana]; !Khamab [Nama, Damara]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Synapsida (mammal-like reptiles) > Therapsida > Theriodontia >  Cynodontia > Mammalia (mammals) > Placentalia (placental mammals) > Laurasiatheria > Ferungulata > Ferae > Carnivora > Family: Canidae (foxes, dogs and jackals)

Vulpes chama (Cape fox)

Cape fox in the Kalahari, South Africa. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

Vulpes chama (Cape fox) Vulpes chama (Cape fox)

Cape fox female with cub. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

Cape fox cub. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

The only true fox found in southern Africa. They are active mainly at night although can be seen in the early morning and evening. Pairs mate for life and rear their litters in burrows. Prey consists mainly of invertebrates and rodents but they also hunt birds and reptiles and also eat fruit. They also do sometimes kill new born lambs (up to three months old) on sheep farms but it has been shown that this is rare and the effect of this on sheep stocks is negligible.


The only ”true” fox in the subregion. It has a typical fox-like appearance. The back and sides are a grizzled silver-grey, with the neck, legs, and chest lighter, from a pale reddish-brown to almost white. The hind limbs have a dark brown patch on the back of the thighs. The throat is normally white. The canines are long and slender and curved at the tips. The cheek teeth are adapted primarily to deal with insect prey but have some cutting ability sufficient to deal with prey such as lizards and mice. The pointed muzzle is also light in colour and the large ears are long and pointed. The ears are reddish - brown on the back and have an inner white fringe. The bushy tail is long and usually darker than the rest of the body.


Total Body Length: 86-97 cm; height at shoulder 30cm; weight range 2.5 - 4 kg.

Dental formula

 I C P M = 42

Distribution and habitat

Only found in the southern African subregion and extends into south-western Angola. They prefer areas of open country, grassland with or without scattered scrub, and coastal or semi-desert with scrub. Also found in the wheatlands and fynbos vegetation of the Western Cape.

General behaviour

Cape foxes are mainly active at night (nocturnal) but are seen during the morning or evening. They normally occur alone or in pairs. During the day they shelter in holes, hollows or dense thickets. It is an active digger and will excavate its own burrows, but often modifies those dug by another species to their requirements.

The Cape fox is normally silent, but communicates with soft contact calls, whines and chirps. It uses a loud bark when alarmed.


Diet primarily consists of insects, other invertebrates and rodents. Other prey includes reptiles, birds, carrion and wild fruit.


Pairs mate for life (monogamous), and family groups consist of parents and their offspring. Different family groups may mix together when feeding. Gestation period is about 50 days. Litters of two to five cubs are born in underground dens from October to January, dispersing in June or July. Females maintain contact with their young until they disperse. Life span: 6 years.

Predators, parasites and commensals

Predators occasionally include large raptors and Caracal and they succumb to diseases such as rabies and distemper.


Their resemblance to jackal leads to conflict with stock farmers who falsely accused of them of killing live stock. In the past they were widely persecuted and hunted as vermin. Although this still occurs today, many modern farmers are better informed. It has been shown that they rarely kill new-born lambs and are only capable of killing lambs up to the age of 3 months old. Studies over recent years have shown that the effect on sheep stocks was so minimal that any control measures were not economically viable. They also become victims of traps set for problem animals and large numbers are killed on the roads. Currently the species is not regarded as threatened but there is the future threat of loss of suitable habitat due to human activities, building, farming, etc.

Text by Denise Hamerton