Even in the scorching, dry conditions of the desert, you can find unusual animals with some striking characteristics lurking around. You’ll find them dozing off in the dens they call home while sheltering from the blazing sun; or scavenging for food in the middle of the night. These mammals might not be conspicuous at all in their sandy habitat, but these examples are certainly enough to prove that with their (often) huge ears outsizing their furry faces and their captivating, innocent eyes, they are simply too adorable for you to ignore.
The fennec fox (Vulpes zerda) is the smallest species from the canid family, which also includes wolves, foxes, coyotes and domestic dogs. In fact, the adult fennec measures just 24-41cm in length, with its ears, the biggest part of its body, being 10-15cm long. The over-sized ears provide fennecs with extremely sharp hearing skills, and they can even detect prey underground. Although its thick fur might appear unsuitable for the harsh desert environment, it is in fact an interesting adaptation – the fur reflects the sun’s heat during the day, and keeps it warm during the night.
Source: Ryan Summers / Flickr
African Wild Dog
The African wild dog (Lycaon pictus), also known as the painted dog, may look cute with its large, round ears above its innocent-looking face, but you wouldn’t want a bite from such a strong, carnivorous mammal. African wild dogs are classified as endangered, largely because they are frequently killed by farmers, and have suffered at the hands of diseases caught from introduced species such as domestic dogs. Unlike the fennec fox, they are one of the largest canids in the world. Their pups, which come in plentiful litters of up to 19, are generally born in other animals’ abandoned dens.
Source: South African Tourism / Flickr
The Spingbok (Antidorcas marsupialis) is a medium-sized antelope-gazelle. It is generally brown and white, and both male and female adults have a pair of horns on their head which measure around 35cm in length. ‘Marsupialis’, which is similar to ‘pocket’ in Latin, refers to the pouch they have on their backs, which when lifted, gives off a strong, sweaty odor that scares off predators or attracts mates. With its adorable, huge eyes, big ears and agile body, it’s no surprise this desert creature is the national animal of South Africa. Even though it is hunted for its coat and meat, this species is not currently classed as threatened.
Source: Ana Raquel S. Hernandes / Flickr
The elegant caracal (Caracal caracal) comes from the cat family and is found in Africa and southeast Asia. Its pointed, tufted ears give this magnificent creature its unique identity, although it is often confused with the lynx despite being more closely related to the serval and the African golden. The distinctive tufts on its ears aid communication and protect the ears themselves from flies. These cats are brilliant at camouflage, which in turn makes them outstanding hunters of their prey (they have even been known to take down ostriches) and it also ensures they are less vulnerable to human hunting.
Source: Tambako The Jaguar / Flickr
The ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), also known as the dwarf leopard, is a wild cat that inhabits South America, Central America and Mexico, although their presence has also been observed in other locations. Its appearance is very similar to that of a domestic cat, but the color patterns on its fur resembles that of a clouded leopard or jaguar. In fact, they are often hunted for their fur, placing them on the endangered list. This is rather worrying since their reproduction cycle only allows them 1 offspring every two years, but luckily enough, since 2008, numbers have been showing signs of improvement.
Source: Tambako The Jaguar / Flickr
Sand cats are possibly the cutest cat (Felis margarita) species that roam the desert. This kitty looks similar to a domestic cat, but it has distinctive features, such as its huge ears and extra tufts of fur on its feet to protect it from burning hot sand. Its body is also adapted to retain water and ensure its survival in this harsh environment. Unfortunately, this beautiful creature has been listed as ‘near threatened’ since 2002, mainly because of the degradation of its natural habitat, and also because of hunting by humans and competition with domestic dogs and cats.
Source: Charles Barilleaux / Flickr