Extreme environmental conditions in the desert make survival there tough. While some deserts such as the Sahara are hot and dry, others such as the Atacama are cold. Though animals that survive in the desert have adapted to harsh climactic conditions, several desert animals like the fennec fox, pronghorn and caracal are in approaching endangered status owing to a variety of factors, including lack of food sources, hunting and encroachment of their habitat by humans.
The fennec fox (Vulpes zerda) inhabits the North African Sahara desert, right up to the Sinai and Arabian Peninsula. Weighing around 3 to 3.5 pounds, the fennec fox is only 15 inches long and has large ears that keep it cool and also alert it to the sound of oncoming prey. Fennec foxes prefer to live on the sand dunes, digging an underground burrow and sleeping in it during the hottest part of the day. They survive on a mixed diet of fruits like berries along with bird eggs, lizards and rodents. As fennec foxes cannot be easily viewed in desert areas that are not sandy, this animal is trapped for commercial purposes, to be displayed and sold to tourists. Additionally, increasing human settlements in southern Morocco are causing a decline in the fennec fox population in this desert, states the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Redlist of Threatened Species.
The pronghorn (Antilocapra Americana) inhabits the deserts, grasslands and foothills of the western United States, southwestern Canada and Mexico. It weighs approximately 80 to 150 lbs and is 3.5 to 5 feet in length. According to the Desert Animals website, though pronghorns subsist on vegetation like sagebrush, shrubs, grasses and cacti, they are opportunistic and thrive on other available sources of vegetation too. In 1924 pronghorns were believed to be near extinction, with only around 20,000 animals in existence, compared to the over 35 million pronghorns that existed in the 1800s. From then on the pronghorn population gradually increased, though the numbers do decrease occasionally, and fluctuate based on manifold factors including illegal hunting, severe droughts and harsh winters, lack of vegetation and water, and loss of habitat due to agriculture and urbanization.
The caracal (Caracal aurata), also known as the African golden cat, is Africa's least known cat, as its observance in the wild is rare. The BBC website states that the caracal is found throughout the deserts of Africa and across Asia from Turkey to North West India and Arabia. This animal weighs between 20 to 40 pounds and is a little over 3 feet long with a height of 1.5 feet. The caracal feeds by stalking small mammals like rodents, hares, hyraxes and small deer, as well as reptiles and invertebrates. They are also experts at catching birds by leaping high up in the air and numbing the prey with their paw. Caracals are listed as “near threatened” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species; their population is on the decline, especially in West Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The causes for the endangered status of the caracal are various; this animal is a source of livelihood for a major commercial trade, and is hunted for its skin and meat. Loss of habitat and prey base is another reason for the declining caracal population.