Thursday, March 12, 2009

A few facts about Fennecs

I forgot to mention an interesting story from one of the earlier southern excursion days. The night that we went to Onk Jemal, we found a dune to watch the sunset from. We were in the middle of the desert and out of nowhere this old woman walked out from behind a dune and came up to us. She had a very frightened baby Fennec in tow. A Fennec is a species of desert fox that live in the Sahara. They are adorable animals with really big ears. Labib, a cartoon fennec, has become the mascot for environmentalism throughout the country and Labib statues dot the Tunis metro area. Here's a picture of Labib and a picture of a real fennec:

But anyway, the old woman walked up to our group pulling the baby fennec by a chain and started talking to us. She wanted to know where we were from, how we liked Tunisia, and if we wanted to take a picture of the fox for one dinar. That probably explains why none of us have a picture of it. The scene elicited a strong negative reaction from me. These animals aren't meant to be domestic, and she was dragging it around by a metal chain leash to make money from tourists. Mounir talked to her in Arabic, telling her that she was mistreating the animal and she told him that the fennec belonged to her daughter, it was 6 months old and her daughter had raised it since birth. Apparently the fox cuddled with her daughter but wouldn't listen to her and bit her. Mounir replied with something along the lines of "I can imagine why," judging by the way she dragged the poor thing around. 

This might've been the first time I was actually angry in Tunisia. I've gotten frustrated by things before but this actually made me mad. I asked Mounir in English if we could figure out how much we could give her to sell us the fennec so we could let it go when she went away. He ran the idea past one of the SUV drivers and he immediately cautioned against it. I guess this is the reaction the woman wanted from tourists. The driver explained that this is a common practice among desert dwelling Tunisians, that they will capture a fennec when it is a baby, raise it in captivity and drag it around in front of tourists. When people ask if they can buy the fox to let it free later, they will barter with them for a price and sell the animal to them. Apparently people have driven these animals 50 kilometers away and let them free and by the next week Tunisians like this old woman have found the fennec and recaptured it. Because they raise them from birth, the animals are used to being raised in a domestic environment and don't know how to survive in the wild so they are easy to find again. 

After I got over my initial anger, it occurred to me that this story was relevant for the topic I want to study for my independent study project. My topic is on the impact of tourism on Tunisia's desert regions. Whether this example fell within my western view of animal rights or not, this was this woman's livelihood, and it was a way she had found to make money off of tourists. Who knows what she may have done to make a living before tourists started coming to the desert, whether it would have been better, more ethical or not. She has taken advantage of the number of tourists now exploring the Tunisian Sahara. The fact is, this country thrives economically off of tourism; it directly benefits the government itself and individual Tunisians alike. 

On another note, some of my friends have posted pictures they took on the excursion, so here are some pictures of me riding camels and dune jumping! The one by the SUV is around sunset the night we met the woman with the fennec. My jeans are rolled up because we had to cross a muddy chott to get to the dune we wanted to jump off of


  1. Definitely one of those situations where the ethics might be altered by your perspective. The income the woman makes from treating the animal this way may seem small to a western observer, and not significant enough to justify her actions, yet it might be vital to her and her family. Your independent study should be an interesting one.

  2. BTW, what planet IS that cartoon fennec holding? I don't think it's ours.

  3. Haha, your dad is right about the planet. It is really goofy looking, there is North America and then there is Africa but flipped right below it. Then below Europe, it appears to be Australia. That is by far the most messed up geography I have ever seen. :P

    I can't wait for your list of things you dislike, or disagree with in Tunisia. It should be an interesting one. As for your independent study, it should be really interesting and rather easy to talk about ethics in the Tunisia desert. You could break down various arguments, and even think about the reasoning on their end. It should be a really good read from you. I can't wait to read it in a few months.

    Keep up with the pictures, it would have been cool to see a larger (clearer) image of the one with you sliding down the sand. I have a feeling your face would be priceless to see in that one. :)

  4. Fennecs are adorable and I can see how they would elicit the response this one did from you and others in your group. You probed further, though, and saw another side to the issue. Wouldn't it be great if we all would stop to ponder things more, to engage in critical inquiry, to try to walk in another's shoes? Good for you! Love you.

  5. I have been an avid reader of your exploits Mo, I even commented one other time but it did not seem to take. Just wanted you to know that there are more people enjoying your trip than you may realize! I'm very jeallous!!! :)


  6. Hi Maureen, I would like to use this experience as an inspiration for a scene in a comic I am illustrating. It is a "first person" story of fennec foxes who are poached for the pet trade, and I simply want to instill the emotion that it is not right to domesticate these animals just because they are cute and that it affects them negatively. This woman trying to make a living off what is an unethical activity to us would be part of the fennec fox's journey. Please email me at if you have any comments or ect. My blog is at Thanks!