In Russia the Corsac is rare in most regions, but common in western Siberia and Transbaikalia. It sometimes occurs in northern parts of western Siberia's forested steppes, but in low numbers. The species is common everywhere between the Volga and Ural rivers. In Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and northern China, the Corsac is common or abundant, although in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan the species is usually rare. Population status in Afghanistan and Iran is unknown.
The corsac fox occurs from the lower Volga river east across a wide area of central Asia, including Turkestan, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Tibet, Transbaikalia, and northern Manchuria.
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native )
The corsac fox is typical of the genus Vulpes, but slightly smaller than the red fox with larger legs and ears. The coloration is predominantly grey or reddish grey on the upper parts with silver undertones, while the under parts are white with yellow undertones. The chin is white and the fur is thick and soft all over. Its large, pointy ears are broad at the base.
The head and body length is 500-600 mm and the tail length is 250-350 mm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Average mass: 2700 g.
The corsac fox is an inhabitant of steppes and semi-desert. It avoids areas used for agricultural purposes, forests, and thickets. It lives in adjoining burrows that were dug by other animals, then taken over by the fox.
Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland
Habitat and Ecology
Corsacs occupy home ranges that vary depending on landscape conditions. In Mongolia, home ranges averaged 6.5 km2 and ranged from 2.2 to 9.7 km2 seasonally among a radio-collared population. Home ranges elsewhere have been reported to vary from as small as 1 km2 to as large as 35-40 km2 (based on anecdotal reports and observations). Home ranges typically include a mix of steppe, semi-desert, and desert habitats.
Corsacs are mainly nocturnal, but have been observed to be active during twilight and daytime hours. They typically spend daytime hours in a subterranean burrow or den, which presumably provides shelter from weather conditions (e.g, heat, aridity). Home ranges may have several actively used burrows, which may also provide temporary refuges from predators or competitors. About 64% of burrows used in Mongolia were those of Siberian marmots (Marmota sibirica). Marmots live in colonies that may include >90 burrows spread over several hectares. Marmots have declined substantially due to overharvesting. The decline of marmots may be linked to population declines of Corsacs in some areas.
The corsac fox is a carnivore and seems to favor rodents as a main item in the diet. They also consume large quantitities of insects, some pikas, birds and plant material. The teeth are small. They catch rodents using a characteristic style of leaping into the air, then dropping down on prey so they have less of a chance to escape. Their broad ears help them locate rustles that indicate presence of a rodent.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; insects
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical
Status: captivity: 13 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Vulpes corsac is monogamous.
Mating System: monogamous
The time of mating for the corsac fox is between January and March with a gestation time of 50-60 days. Litter sizes are typically between 2 and 6 young at a time, but there are some reported cases of a litter of up to 11 young. It is thought that males of the species probably help rear young but this is not known for certain. Males will fight with one another during the breeding season but then remain with the family pack.
Range number of offspring: 2 to 11.
Average number of offspring: 5.
Range gestation period: 49 to 60 days.
Range weaning age: 28 (low) days.
Key Reproductive Features: gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual
Average birth mass: 62.5 g.
Average number of offspring: 4.7.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 504 days.
Parental Investment: altricial ; post-independence association with parents
Although human persecution has eliminated large groups and made them more nocturnal, there is no conservation program for the corsac fox. Little is known about their precise numbers but hunting and the plowing of land for agriculture have significantly reduced populations in some areas. The fox has disappeared over much of its range.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2008Least Concern
- 2004Least Concern
- 1996Data Deficient
- 1994Insufficiently Known(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Insufficiently Known(IUCN 1990)
The primary threat to Corsac Foxes is over-harvesting. Throughout most of their range, Corsacs are hunted intensively for their pelts. Hunting has been a traditional (and commercial) activity in most range countries and harvest numbers have historically been large. For example, up to 50,000 foxes were harvested in Russia in some years during the 20th century (one record even indicated 135,700 skins were tanned in 1923/24) (Heptner and Naumov 1998). Similarly, in Mongolia, an estimated 1.1 million furs were sold to the Soviet Union from 1932 to 1972 with a peak trade of 62,926 in 1947 (Wingard and Zahler 2006). Over-harvesting resulted in hunting bans in both countries at times to allow populations to recover following periods of intensive hunting. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, societal change has resulted in few regulations on hunting in several range countries, which has been exacerbated by growing commercial markets for fur. As a result, over-harvesting and illegal trade in international markets has been a growing concern for the species.Other threats include overgrazing by livestock and landscape development (e.g., roads, houses, mining), which may reduce habitat quality for the species. The decline of marmots may also impact the species in some areas, as Corsacs often use marmot burrows as daytime resting locations. Further studies on the impacts of land use/development and interactions with other species are needed.
Corsac Foxes are protected in strict nature reserves (the highest protection status for the territory) and in national parks in China, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Mongolia.
No special conservation programmes have been carried out.
Corsac Foxes breed well in captivity, although few individuals exist in zoos. In the Moscow Zoo, during the 1960s, one pair of Corsacs produced six litters during the time that they remained together.
Gaps in knowledge
There are several aspects of this species' biology that require investigation, including social organization and behaviour, distribution and population status in different regions, interactions with other species (e.g., marmots), and the impacts of hunting/trapping and landscape development.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
In the late nineteenth century, Corsac foxes were commercially trapped on a large scale for their warm and beautiful fur. Up to 10,000 pelts were sold annually in western Siberian cities. They were popular pets in the seventeenth century.
Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material
The corsac fox (Vulpes corsac), also known simply as a corsac, is a medium-sized fox found in steppes, semi-deserts and deserts in Central Asia, ranging into Mongolia and northeastern China. Since 2004, it has been classified as Least Concern by IUCN, as populations fluctuate significantly, and numbers can drop tenfold[clarification needed] within a single year.
It is also known as the steppe fox, and sometimes referred to as the "sand fox", but this terminology is confusing because two other species, the Tibetan sand fox and Rüppell's fox are also sometimes known by this name. The word "corsac" is derived from the Russian name for the animal, "korsák" (корса́к). The corsac fox is threatened by hunting for the fur trade.
The corsac fox is a medium-sized fox, with a head and body length of 45 to 65 cm (18 to 26 in), and a tail 19 to 35 cm (7.5 to 13.8 in) long. Adults weigh from 1.6 to 3.2 kilograms (3.5 to 7.1 lb). It has grey to yellowish fur over much of the body, with paler underparts and pale markings on the mouth, chin, and throat. During the winter, the coat becomes much thicker and silkier in texture, and is straw-grey in colour, with a darker line running down the back.
For a fox, it has small teeth and a wide skull. It has hooked claws and can climb trees. It is reported to have keen eyesight and hearing and an acute sense of smell. It has a number of scent glands, some of which produce pungent odours, although not as extreme as those found in some other Vulpes species. The glands are found in the anal region, above the base of the tail, and on the paws and cheeks.
Corsac foxes are reported to bark during hunting or when threatening rivals, and to use higher pitch yelps or chirps as alarm calls or social greetings.
Distribution and habitat
Corsac foxes live in the steppes and semidesert of central and northeast Asia. They are found throughout Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, and through all except the northernmost regions of Mongolia. In the south, their range extends into the more northern parts of Iran, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and China, and they can also be found in neighbouring regions of Russia.
Three subspecies are currently recognised:
- Vulpes corsac corsac - northern Kazakhstan, southern Siberia
- V. c. kalmykorum - northern Uzbekistan, Caucasus
- V. c. turkmenicus - southern Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, China, Mongolia, and neighbouring regions
These foxes inhabit open grassy steppes and semideserts, and avoid dense vegetation and mountainous regions. True deserts with drifting sands are also avoided, as are snowfields more than about 15 cm (6 in) deep. Corsac foxes generally stay far away from human disturbances.
Ecology and behavior
As an adaption to the arid climate in which they live, corsac foxes need little water to survive, obtaining most of the moisture they need from their food. Their diets consist mainly of insects and small rodents, such as voles, gerbils, jerboas, hamsters, and ground squirrels. They may also eat larger prey from time to time, including hares and pikas, and will scavenge for carrion and human refuse. Although predominantly carnivorous, they do occasionally eat fruit and other vegetation, especially when animal prey are scarce. Natural predators of corsac foxes include wolves, eagles, buzzards, and eagle-owls.
Corsac foxes are nocturnal and nomadic hunters of the steppes. They do not have a defended territory, and unlike some foxes, will sometimes form packs. Because they cannot hunt in deep snow, they will either shelter in their dens during harsh weather, or, in the northern parts of their range, they may migrate up to 600 km (370 mi) south in the winter. They have been reported to follow herds of local antelope, relying on them to compress the snow as they pass.
Their prey is often buried in caches.
Corsac foxes shelter in burrows from harsh weather and larger predators. Although they can dig their own dens, these are generally shallow, and they often take over the burrows of other animals, such as marmots, ground squirrels, or badgers. Dens may have several entrances, but are usually less than 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) deep. The burrow is shared between the social packs, with several dens and connecting holes.
Corsac foxes are excellent climbers, but are rather slow runners and could be caught easily by a dog. While they are reported to be nocturnal in the wild, in captivity they are very active during the day. This can be explained by increasing human disturbances, causing them to become active at night to avoid humans.
The mating season starts in January and ends in March. Males will initially fight for access to females, but eventually establish a monogamous bond, and assist in the raising of their young. The mother initially creates a birthing den, which is sometimes shared with other pregnant females, but moves her young to new burrows several times after they are born.
Typically, two to six young are born after a gestation period of 52 to 60 days, although cases of ten pups being born in a single litter have been reported. Newborn kits weigh around 60 g (2.1 oz), and have fluffy, light brown fur that turns yellowish as they age. They are born blind, and open their eyes at around two weeks of age; they begin to eat meat at four weeks, and emerge from the den shortly after. Corsac foxes reach sexual maturity within 9 to 10 months and reproduce in the second year of life. They live up to 9 years in the wild.
The corsac fox is one species within a holarctic clade of foxes that also includes the red fox, the swift fox and the arctic fox, all of which it resembles. However, the closest related species to the corsac fox is probably the Tibetan sand fox. The immediate ancestor of the corsac fox is believed to be the extinct species Vulpes praecorsac, which lived in central Europe during the early Pleistocene. Fossils of corsac foxes date back to the mid-Pleistocene, and show the species once reached as far west as Switzerland, and as far south as Crimea.
The major threat posed to the corsac fox is poaching. They are slow runners and are easily caught by hunters, and their population has been reduced in areas where they have been heavily hunted for their fur. In the late 19th century, up to 10,000 foxes were killed annually for pelt trade. The general population remains healthy, however, as the corsac fox has proven to be able to withstand great hunting pressures, and their habitats remain intact due to the low population density in its range. Their other main threat is natural disasters, which can cause the numbers of foxes to drop 90% in some areas, but the population often recovers quickly. As of 2008, the corsac fox is listed as Least Concern in the IUCN Red List.
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