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The Irrepressible Swift Fox


By Julia Gaume

The swift fox (Vulpes velox) is a house-cat sized canid who wanders the open prairies in Alberta and Saskatchewan (and possibly Manitoba), hiding in dens and sun-bathing in the winter. Prior to the 1930s, when vast land was available for animal residence, the swift fox roamed in excess across North America1. Although this species is currently established in Canada, it was once declared extinct in Canada due to various pressures they faced.2 The swift fox is a unique and cunning species, who has proven their resiliency when faced with adversity.


Currently in Canada, the swift fox resides in Alberta and Saskatchewan. They can most commonly be found near the border between these two provinces. Compared to their historic Canadian range, only an estimated 19% of land is still available for fox usage.3 Out of this, the swift fox is only present in ~3%.3,4 They prefer to be in dry, homogenous, prairie grasslands, with clear unobstructed views.5,6 Interestingly, the swift fox spends more time underground than any other canid species, using their self-made dens and dens made by other species (American badger, ground squirrel) to avoid predation and raise their pups.3,4,5
Alberta shortgrass prairie. (Photo by Brett Snyder, CC BY-NC 4.0)


Like other canid species, the swift fox’s diet is primarily made up of small mammals (rodents, rabbits), birds, insects and plants.4 They also eat bird eggs and carrion.3,4 These animals are characteristically nocturnal, so they do most of their hunting during the night.3

Interesting Behaviour

The swift fox has many attributes that differentiate them from other species and makes them unique. They are the smallest canid species in North America, about half the size of a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and smaller than the average house cat.6 These foxes are also extremely quick; they can run up to 60 km/hour, which probably landed them the name of ‘swift fox’. 2,3,5 Their small size and fast-paced running are advantageous to them as they can sprint away from predators and easily squeeze into dens that other small animals created.  Another interesting thing about the swift fox is their family dynamics. These foxes only bond with one mate throughout their lifetime, and both parents actively raise their young.5


As mentioned, there are a variety of things that threaten the swift fox’s daily life and survival.  Most notably, the conversion of free land to agricultural land was the main driving force behind the previous extinction of swift foxes in Canada.2,7 This continues to be an issue with Canada’s increasing population and resulting need for increased agricultural land.  Day-to-day threats that this species faces are predation from coyotes, inter-species competition, poisoning from the misuse of toxins (rodenticides, pesticides) and collisions with vehicles.4
Swift fox mother and kit (USFWS, Public Domain).

Conservation Status

Although they were once declared extinct in Canada, this species worked its way up and established a self-sustaining population in Alberta.2 The road to their reintroduction was not the typical pathway. To kickstart the reintroduction, a game farmer in Alberta released four swift foxes outside of his farm illegally. Thankfully, this effort was followed up with a formal reintroduction program, in which various organizations (federal and provincial governments, the University of Calgary, Calgary and Edmonton Valley Zoo, Cochrane Wildlife Reserve, etc.) came together and planned how to revive this species in Canada.2,7 A captive breeding program for release was created at the Calgary Zoo in the 1960s and in 1983, the Wildlife Reserve of Western Canada (now the Cochrane Ecological Institute) took over as the main source of captive bred and raised foxes.7

The species population of swift foxes has drastically changed over the decades. They were declared Extinct in Canada in the 1930s, downlisted to Endangered in April 1998 and then further downlisted to Threatened in 2009.4,6,7 In the most recent evaluation in Canada in 2021, the swift fox is still categorized as Threatened according to the Species at Risk Act.4,6,7 The most recent survey for Swift foxes in Canada was in the 2014/2015 years, which estimated 523 foxes across Alberta and Saskatchewan.4

Specifically in Alberta, the swift fox is listed as Endangered under the Alberta Wildlife Act.4 It is crucial to continue protecting and conserving the habitat in which the swift fox resides, to actively support and maintain their species population.


  1. Marsha Sovada, Robert Woodward and Lawrence Igl. “Historical Range, Current Distribution and Conservation Status of the Swift Fox, Vulpes velox, in North America.” The Canadian Field- Naturalist 123, no. 4 (October- December 2009): 346- 367. 
  2. Lu Carbyn et al. “The Swift Fox: A Canadian Conservation Success Story.” Nature Alberta. (April 2021) 
  3. “Swift Fox.” Nature Conservancy Canada. 
  4. “COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Swift Fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada.” Government of Canada. (April 2021) 
  5. “Swift Fox Vulpes velox).” Wildlife Preservation Canada. 
  6. Johane Janelle. “Swift Fox: Grasslands National Park.” Government of Canada: Parks Canada. (November 2022)
  7. Ludwig Carbyn. “COSEWIC Assessment and Update Status Report on the Swift Fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada.” (May 2000)

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