Because of their small size, swift foxes are often mistaken for coyote puppies. (Photo courtesy Nature Conservancy of Canada)
Between 1983 and 1997, conservationists re-introduced over 900 of the house cat-sized animals back into the grassland ecosystems of the southern Canadian Prairies. But conservation efforts alone have been unable to sustain that number, and today it’s estimated that there are just over 600 swift foxes spread across the region.
The swift fox, named for its ability to run at speeds of over 60 kilometres per hour, is nevertheless vulnerable. The foxes are preyed upon by coyotes and eagles, and because they tend to den close to roads and are attracted by roadkill, they are frequently hit by vehicles. Farmers doing battle with squirrels and other rodents still resort to poison to protect their crops, and swift foxes are often the unintended victims. However, local landowners are voluntarily adopting more sustainable practices to help foster the fox’s recovery.
Seeing swift foxes move into new spaces shows that conservation efforts are on track, Jensen says. “It’s a species that really requires good grassland habitat, so for us it’s important because that’s our main goal — we try to manage our properties to allow for biodiversity for these species to really thrive.
“I think as long as we keep protecting and keep conserving this habitat, it shows that we can make a difference.”