Spring is an exciting time at the zoo! It’s warming up outside, the tulips are in bloom, and we get to welcome babies from many different species into our zoo family. This spring has been no exception, especially for the zoo’s Animal Ambassador Team. On April 6, our female bat-eared fox, Frankie, delivered 2 strong and healthy male kits.
Years of planning, research, collaboration, and effort have gone into getting everything just right for successful breeding. Though there have been many attempts between Frankie and her mate, Otis, they were never ultimately successful. Until now.
Keepers observed Frankie and Otis breeding in mid-January 2023. Since a bat-eared fox’s gestation is only 60-80 days, the Animal Ambassador Team got to work quickly making all necessary preparations for the hopefully soon-to-be parents. We set up multiple den options, dumped many bags of hardwood mulch, mounted security cameras, reviewed protocols, and the list goes on.
Thanks to our amazing scientists at Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW), we were able to confirm pregnancy in early March. Frankie is trained to participate in voluntary ultrasounds, which we performed weekly. This allowed us to determine the number of kits (litter size is usually 2-6) and monitor kits’ sizes, heart rates, and development. Two fetuses were observed via ultrasound pretty early on. Vet staff conducted radiographs to confirm those findings. Due to the trust between Frankie and her care staff, they were performed completely voluntarily and with no prior training with the X-ray machine. This relationship between care staff and Frankie also allowed us to closely monitor physiological changes, such as mammary development, that helped us narrow down an estimated delivery date.
The cameras that were mounted in and around the bat-eared foxes’ three dens allowed constant monitoring during the last 2 weeks of gestation and afforded us the rare, but incredible opportunity of watching the births live. It was exciting, amazing, and brought a full spectrum of emotions as we watched for kit movement, first attempts at nursing, and the reaction from first time mom, Frankie, and proven dad, Otis. We were able to glean invaluable information from those observations that will aid future fox breeding efforts. Since the birth, we have continued round the clock fox family observations via cameras. Cameras have captured footage of first moments of eyes open, suckling sounds during nursing, kit grooming from both parents, etc.
Frankie and Otis’ relationships with care staff have proved to be critical in our ability to closely monitor kit health and make changes to their home, when necessary. Frankie resumed her normal demeanor towards her trainers within mere days of giving birth. At around a week, she was actively seeking out attention and looking to spend time with her people. As bat-eared fox dads are exceptionally helpful in kit-rearing, this was no problem. Frankie got to leave the den for a little “me time” and some leg stretches while Otis held down the den. The team is working to establish trust with both parents while around the kits so that we can play a role in their rearing. This approach is known as “co-rearing” and will help the kits learn to trust their care staff from a very young age.
At the time of this post, the kits are both over 240g, have their eyes open, and are wandering out to the entrance of the den. In less than a week, they will try their first solid food. They are growing up quickly and we are trying to soak up and capture every moment we can. Stay tuned for updates as they develop personalities, hit new milestones, and continue being the cutest!