Small, cute and furry, these baby animals are the complete opposite of the harsh environments in which they were born. With their extreme temperatures and arid climates, deserts are not easy places to bring up babies – as you can probably imagine! But these are not just any babies: they all belong to species that have adapted to the challenging desert habitat.
Image: Tambako the Jaguar
10. Fennec Fox
Take a look at this adorable little one. This is a baby fennec fox (Vulpes zerda) of the Sahara Desert, a small example of the smallest canid in the world. No doubt you’ve noticed its enormous pair of ears. Fennec foxes have amazingly good hearing and can even detect prey underground, but this is just one of their adaptations to the desert environment. Others include kidneys that have adapted to cut down on water loss, and thick fur, which reflects the sun’s heat during the day and keeps them warm at night.
Fennecs mate for life, and the babies are either born alone or with up to three siblings. Fennec families live in dens under the sand, sometimes with interconnected tunnels to other fennec dens. Not much is known about their behavior in the wild, but in captivity they are very social animals that like to sleep snuggled up with each other. Considering how cute they are, it’s no wonder some people keep them as exotic pets. Sadly for them, they are also sometimes hunted for their coats.
Image: Jon Bailey
9. Ord’s Kangaroo Rat
This tiny newborn Ord’s kangaroo rat doesn’t even have its eyes open yet, and as this picture shows, kangaroo rats are obviously not kangaroos! In fact, they aren’t that closely related to rats either – although they are rodents. Ord’s kangaroo rats (Dipodomys ordii) are found in western North America, specifically in the Great Basin and Great Plains areas. They mostly live in semiarid, open habitats.
Image: Ian Sutton
A female kangaroo rat can produce as many as four litters a year, with each litter often containing three babies. They are not endangered in the United States, but they are in Canada. One of the biggest threats they face there is the loss of their natural habitat, as the sand dunes and flats they inhabit are disappearing due to climate change and human use.
8. African Wild Dog
This sweet little puppy is an African wild dog, or Lycaon pictus. Also known as the painted dog, thanks to their smudgy coats, these animals are the largest canids in Africa. And while the puppies might look cute, you definitely wouldn’t want one these dogs to snap at you – they have the strongest bite of any carnivoran mammal. Tragically, due to human overpopulation, African wild dogs are an endangered species. They are also killed by farmers and can catch diseases from domestic animals.
Wild dog puppies are usually born in the abandoned dens of other animals. Litters can include an amazing 19 pups – although 10 is a more common number. The dominant female of the pack is normally the only one to have pups, but the whole pack participates in rearing the babies. These dogs are extremely social and will share food, even looking after weaker members of the pack.
Peering curiously at the camera in this shot is a baby springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis). Just look at those adorably large eyes and ears! The ‘marsupialis’ of the springbok’s scientific name comes from the pouch on its back (marsupium means ‘pocket’ in Latin). It’s not just for show, either: the male springboks lift this up to give off a strong sweaty smell to chase off predators or attract a mate.
Baby springboks, or lambs, are born one at a time and are hidden by their mothers for the first two days of their lives. They then remain dependent on their mothers for about four months. Although they are hunted for their coats and meat, springboks are not a threatened species. In fact, they are one of the only antelopes thought to have a growing population. The springbok is also the national animal of South Africa, even lending its name the South African rugby team.
This sweet little kitty is actually a baby caracal (Caracal caracal), a type of cat found in Africa and Southwest Asia. Although, with its tufted ears, it resembles a lynx (and is often referred to as the Persian, Egyptian or African lynx), most scientists now agree that it is not an actual lynx. Instead, it is thought to be closely related to the serval and the African golden cat. Those tufts, by the way, are believed to keep flies out of the caracals’ ears, camouflage their heads in tall grass or, most likely, assist with communication.
Caracal kittens, like regular kittens, are born helpless and with their eyes closed. Although they’re usually weaned when they’re around two months old, they stay close to their mothers for at least a year. During this time they may perfect their remarkable ability to snatch birds out of the air and work out how to bring down much larger prey, like ostriches. Although caracals are not rare, sightings of them in the wild are, thanks to their excellent camouflage. This is pretty lucky for them, as most African farmers view them as pests.
Image: Arno Meintjes
Hyenas are not traditionally known as cute animals, but this little cub sure is. It’s most probably a spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), a species famous for its ‘laugh’. Recent research has uncovered some surprising discoveries about these hyenas. Not only are hyenas believed to be good at problem solving and even ‘counting’, but their intelligence levels are also thought to match some primates.
Unlike many species, spotted hyenas are born with their eyes open. They’re also born with a scrappy attitude, attacking each other pretty much as soon as they’re born. They may even kill weaker cubs. Spotted hyenas grow up to be formidable predators, attacking prey much bigger than themselves such as wildebeest and zebras. And although they are known mostly as scavengers, they are pretty efficient hunters as well, usually catching prey in groups of two or three.
These desert creatures are loveable even as adults – so it’s no surprise how cute the pups are! Meerkats (Suricata suricatta) are often seen standing on their hind legs, keeping a look out for predators while the rest of the group, or ‘mob’, forages for food. Sometimes, they just stand and gaze out over the African plains they call home. Remarkably, female meerkats can even nurse their young standing this way.
Don’t let their funny, innocent appearance fool you – meerkats are quite ruthless when it comes to reproduction. Usually, only the alpha pair in a mob gets to mate. Any offspring that isn’t theirs may even be killed by the alpha pair to ensure their babies’ survival. Also, any non-dominant female meerkat that gives birth may be expelled from the group. Sometimes they pair up with a stray male to form their own group – which sounds like a Disney movie waiting to happen!
Image: Simple Insomnia
Ocelots are native to South America, Central America and Mexico. But according to reports, they have been spotted as far north as Texas and southern Arizona, and as far east as Trinidad and Barbados in the Caribbean. Ocelots live in areas with thick vegetation, unless they’re out hunting, and they’re usually found in tropical forests, mangrove swamps and the savanna (which we think qualifies them as desert animals!)
Image: Nicki Miller
Ocelots were classified as endangered from 1972 to 1996. Since 2008, however, their status has been upgraded to “least concern”. One of the contributing factors to their low numbers may be their slow reproduction cycle, in which offspring are born only once every two years – unless a mother loses her litter. Also, mother ocelots normally only give birth to one kitten at a time. Other factors that contributed to their reduced numbers were the introduction of busy highways, their being shot at by ranchers and attacked by dogs, and, once again, the loss of their natural habitat.
2. Prairie Dog
How delightful are those oversized hands and feet? This prairie dog seems to be peacefully chewing away on a blade of grass, unaware that, to a lot of people, it is regarded as a pest. Prairie dogs have a habit of building burrows and clearing the land around them of vegetation, and this has made them pretty unpopular with farmers and landscapers – such that their numbers are a mere fraction of what they once were in the United States.
Like humans, prairie dogs have special ‘nursery’ chambers for their young. And mothers are known to nurse the pups of other prairie dogs – although some scientists believe that this may just be a case of mistaken identity. Like meerkats, prairie dogs can be pretty brutal when it comes to the offspring of others. Males may kill the offspring of their competitors, while females may similarly dispose of rival pups. Some researchers suggest that for females this is so as to gain a helper for raising their own pups.
Image: Mats Ellting
1. Sand Cat
This little kitty might look a lot like an ordinary domestic cat, but it was born to live in the desert. In fact, sand cats (Felis margarita) can survive in the kind of testing environments most house cats couldn’t endure for more than a couple of days. For one thing, they have extra tufts of fur on their feet to protect them from the scorching sand. They can also go for months without drinking water, getting all the moisture they need from their food.
Image: Charles Barilleaux
Sand cats’ territory ranges from the deserts of northern Africa to southwest and central Asia. Kittens are normally born in litters of three, and young sand cats take about a year to reach full maturity. Sadly, these amazing cats are listed as ‘near threatened’, mostly due to the degradation of their natural habitats. They are also sometimes killed by humans and often have to compete for prey with domestic dogs and cats. An attempt to re-introduce sand cats to the Arava Desert was sadly unsuccessful.
Image: Larry Lamsa
Bonus: Sonoran Pronghorn
This unusual little pronghorn fawn looks like it came straight out of a fairytale! In reality, these creatures live in western and central North America – primarily in grasslands. The Sonoran Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana sonoriensis) is a rare subspecies of pronghorn that lives exclusively in the Sonoron Desert of Arizona and Sonora. And like the Baja California Pronghorns, they are an endangered species; there are believed to be only between two and three hundred left in the wild.
Pronghorns are the fastest land mammals in the western hemisphere – second in the world only to cheetahs. As newborn fawns they hide in surrounding vegetation until they are fast enough to escape predators and look after themselves – but it doesn’t take the young pronghorns long to build up speed! Less than a week after birth, they can already outrun a person. Now there’s a challenge for Usain Bolt!
Image: Michelle Bender
There’s no denying the fact that the animals in these pictures are delightful. And hopefully, by now they’ve all grown into mature adults living free in the wild. Unfortunately, many of the species we’ve looked at today are endangered, mostly due to the gradual disappearance of their natural habitats. We hope that something can be done in the countries and territories where they roam to ensure their continued existence.