Tiny fennec fox kits hand-reared at Longleat Safari Park

Tiny fennec fox kits are being hand-reared at Longleat Safari Park.

A pair of tiny fox kits are being hand-reared by keepers at Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire.

Weighing just 46 grams, they haven't been named yet named as their gender is unknown.

Samantha Peeke, their keeper, is sharing the sleepless nights with colleagues Gemma Short and Catriona Moy as the babies initially need feeding every two hours, day and night.

They are planning to introduce them to rice as the first step to weaning.

Samantha said: “We are now feeding them every three hours with a longer break overnight.

“We are sharing the care so they don’t get attached to one of us as the aim is to reintroduce them to their mum and dad; eventually we hope they will also become part of the international breeding programme."

Samantha Peeke feeding one of the kits Credit: Ian Turner/Longleat Safari Park

The fennec fox is by far the smallest member of the fox family and significantly more petite than a family cat.

They reach a maximum length of under 40cm and weigh less than two kilograms.

Although they’re the tiniest canine species, what they lack in body size they more than make up for with their huge ears, which are up to 25 per cent of their entire body length.

Found in Northern Africa, throughout the Sahara Desert, east to the Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia they live in semi-arid desert environments with sparse vegetation, utilising the sand for burrowing and creating their dens.

Their large ears enable them both to hear their prey and to dissipate excess body heat.

Other adaptations to their hot and arid environment include furry paws, which act as an insulator against scorching sand and the fact they do not need to drink water, receiving all their liquid from their mixed diet of plants, fruit and insects.

The fennec fox is by far the smallest member of the fox family and significantly more petite than a family cat Credit: Tom Anders/Longleat Safari Park

It’s the second litter for their mum Zuri and dad Enzi.

Their first kits died within 24 hours as although Zuri produced the vital colostrum needed, there appeared not to be enough milk for the babies.

Catriona, team manager of Animal Adventure and Lakes at Longleat, said: “After she lost the first three, we spent time preparing for the possibility of a further litter.

“We wanted to ensure that knowing she may not produce enough milk that we had everything in place in case it was required to help Zuri care for the young.

"Hand rearing is always a last resort.

“When cameras in the den showed Zuri had given birth to three kits, we watched closely so not to disturb her.

"Zuri showed good mothering behaviours; however, it then became clear she was struggling with all three.

“This combined with previous history led us to make the difficult decision to remove two to give mum the best chance to successfully raise a kit.

"Unfortunately, despite Zuri’s best effort, sadly the kit that remained with her passed away,” she added.

In the summer the plan is to reintroduce them to their mum and dad as their birth is important for the European breeding programme as with the new pairing of Zuri and Enzi, the blood line is not represented elsewhere in the UK.