San Joaquin Kit Foxes, Rick Derevan
© Rick Derevan

San Joaquin Kit Fox

Basic Facts About San Joaquin Kit Foxes

The tiny and secretive San Joaquin kit fox is one of the most endangered animals in California. The kit fox is the size of a housecat, with big ears, a long bushy tail and furry toes that help to keep it cool in its hot and dry Central Valley environment. They are difficult to spot with their buff, tan or yellowish-grey fur.


Kit foxes primarily eat rodents and other small animals, including black-tailed hares, desert cottontails, mice, kangaroo rats, squirrels, birds and lizards. Kit foxes do not need to drink water since their prey provides enough liquid for them to survive.


No one knows historic population numbers for the San Joaquin kit fox. However, kit foxes were relatively common until the 1930s when people began to convert grasslands to farms, orchards and cities. Currently, the population is estimated to be as low as 3,000 individuals.


Did You Know?

Kit foxes are the smallest canid species in North America, though San Joaquin kit fox is the largest subspecies.

The San Joaquin kit fox was originally found throughout most of the San Joaquin Valley in Central California. However, the kit fox is now found only on the edges of the San Joaquin Valley from southern Kern County up to Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Joaquin Counties on the west and up to Stanislaus County on the east, and a few populations exist within the Valley floor.


The San Joaquin kit fox is active mostly at night. Kit foxes live in underground dens, which they need to keep them cool in the summer and warm in the winter. These dens also keep them safe from coyotes and shelter their pups. Kit foxes use dens built by other animals or structures such as large drainage pipes. One fox may use between three and 24 different dens each year.


Mating season: December - March.
Gestation: 48-52 days.
Litter Size: 3-5 pups.

Kit fox parents will care for their pups until they are able to find food for themselves, at about 4-5 months old.

Threats to San Joaquin Kit Foxes

San Joaquin kit fox populations rise and fall with the amount of annual rainfall: more rain means more kit foxes. Changes in precipitation patterns, including reduced rainfall and increase changes of drought, all caused by climate change, would have an impact on San Joaquin kit fox populations.

The change in the Central Valley from open grasslands to farms, orchards, houses and roads has had the greatest impact on San Joaquin kit foxes, causing death, illness, injury, difficulty in finding a mate and difficulty in finding food. Kit fox also are killed by coyotes and red foxes. Another threat is poison used to kill rats and mice. A recent decision by the federal government to limit to use of these poisons outdoors may keep kit foxes safe.

What Defenders Is Doing to Help San Joaquin Kit Foxes

Through our California office, Defenders of Wildlife has been working to save important San Joaquin kit fox habitat by helping to protect native grasslands in one of the fastest growing areas in the country.

Defenders has formed an unusual alliance with the California Cattlemen’s Association, and this group, called the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, now has more than 50 members working to save 13 million acres of rangelands in the Central Valley through easements and restoration projects. More than one million of those acres fall within essential kit fox habitat.

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