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annie-donkyDog Family – Canidae

Canine species can be found on every continent, except Antarctica. They have adapted to all types of environments from dry deserts, frigid arctic regions, rainforests, grasslands, and mountainous habitats. Their social behavior has also led to their living with humans. Domestication of dogs has been going on for thousands of years, creating a wide variety of sizes, colors, temperaments and abilities in these wonderful companions.



Canis latrans

Considered clever and intelligent, these beautiful creatures have been part of many of the legends of Native Americans–often depicted as a trickster but also as a benefactor to people. Known for their distinctive howling “songs”, coyotes can adapt rather well to many different habitats. It is not uncommon to find them living in close proximity to humans and they have even been known to breed with domestic dogs. In the wild coyotes can be found in all states, except Hawaii, and range as far south as Panama.

Coyotes have thick fur and bushy tails with black tipped guard hairs at the end. Their body colors vary depending on the region, with reddish blond in dry, arid climates and light grays in the colder regions. Even healthy, well-fed individuals have a lanky and lean appearance.

Normally coyotes, believed to mate for life, share the duty of raising their young. In spring they will have between 4 and 6 pups and by autumn the pups are able to care for themselves.

These monogamous pairs will hunt together or independently. Coyotes are usually nocturnal hunters, depending on small game such as birds, rabbits, rodents, carrion and even insects. In some areas coyotes have been found to hunt in groups (a group of coyotes is called a band) in order to take down larger prey. Coyotes are truly omnivorous in their eating habits though, with diets that include fruits, vegetables, and grasses—whatever food source is available.

Red Foxes

Vulpes vulpes

There are over 20 different species of foxes within the canid family. They can be found in many different habitats and come in sizes ranging from 3 to 20 pounds. Red foxes are the most common and come in a wide variety of colors, ranging from white to black and many brown, gold, and red combinations. What distinguishes them is the white-tipped tail indicative of this species. (These foxes are still raised for their coats in the fur industry. Zoo visitors can see an example of the typical cage in which they might live on a fur farm.)

Mating for life is typical of this species and it is now believed that many foxes live in small groups (a group of foxes is a “skulk”). Mating occurs in the spring with both parents taking responsibility for raising their family. Litters will have between 2 and 12 “pups” or “kits”. Males bring food to the nursing mothers and later both hunt to provide food for the growing pups. By fall the youngsters are ready to be on their own.

Small prey such as rabbits, mice, birds and lizards make up most of their diet. Foxes also eat fruit and nuts and will happily raid nests for eggs. While an occasional raid might label foxes as a pest, for the most part, foxes are actually helpful to farmers, keeping rodent populations under control. Their stiff-legged pounce quickly identifies them as they attack. They are great climbers too, though gray foxes are the only fox species that can actually climb trees.

The fox family at FCZS is truly that–a biological family of siblings. Two females (vixens) and two males (dogs) were an unwanted “accidental” breeding from a licensed animal dealer in Southern California. Careful observers will note subtle differences that help to tell which fox is which.

Livestock Guard Dogs

Canis familiaris

Anatolian Shepherds (Annabelle), are native to the Anatolian Plateau of Turkey. Shepherds, protecting their flocks in this difficult climate region, use these dogs. They have also been used for hunting, as guard dogs and even in warfare.

Great Pyrenees (Cheyenne), named after the mountain range in Europe, are a French breed of dog with a history hundreds of years old. Developed from other large breeds, including the Maremma Abruzzese, these hard working dogs have long been used to protect livestock in the mountains. Sentry chambers often had areas for the dogs as well, to help guards protect chateaus in the region. Their great size also allowed them to work as pack animals and as messengers in the mountainous terrain.

Maremma Abruzzese sheepdogs (Marcus) come from the Maremma and Abruzzese regions in Italy. These animals have been used for over 2000 years to protect livestock and property. They have a strong sense of territory and are highly intelligent.


Canis familiaris x Canis lupus

Though very dog-like in appearance, hybrids produced by breeding wolves and domestic dogs are very different creatures. Many people assume these beautiful animals make good pets, but, as often is the case, their wild behaviors make them very difficult. Through thousands of years of selection and breeding, domestic dogs have evolved into animals that are much different than their wolf ancestors. When domesticated dogs are bred with their wild cousins, some of the wild traits will show up in the offspring. These animals are often destructive, hard to housebreak, and unpredictable. Their aggressive behaviors and protective instincts can make for dangerous situations. Because of these problems, hybrids often end up in shelters. Many shelters will not put them up for adoption—simply passing the problem along to another family, and they are destroyed.

North American Wolves

Canis lupus

Wolves can be found in many habitats including the tundra, mountainous terrain, forests and open plains. They are the largest of the wild canids.

Wolf packs adhere to a strict hierarchy among their members with the “Alpha couple” as leaders. They are highly social, living in packs and communicating through body postures and howls. Much of this communication is demonstrated by making their body seem large or small. Tucking in the tail and flattening the ears for example, can display fear. Lowering the body adds to this submissive posture. The dominant posture would require stiff legs to make the body tall. The tail would also be erect and possibly a raised hackle on the neck. Scent signs are also an important form of communication.

Gray wolves (also known as timber wolves) are listed as endangered or threatened in every state except Alaska. With efforts to reintroduce populations into areas such as Yellowstone, the wolves’ status may change in some locations.

Colors range from gray, yellow-gray, red-yellow, brown, black and even pure white. Bushy tails and round pupils are other characteristics of this species.

In wild packs usually only the alpha couple will mate, with litters ranging from four to seven pups. A hollowed out tree, cave or den is dug to protect the young and the entire pack help in their rearing.