In the image, you can see an adult fennec, about a year old, caught in the wild as a pup by some desert nomads and then given to a kid, who kept it illegally as a pet in a sheep pen located in the outskirts of a village in the Tunisian Sahara. The fennec was tied with a short leash to a wheel rim and barely had any room to move around. It often tried to burrow into the sand floor, both to escape people and the animals sharing the pen with it. Although the young owner truly loved his pet, the animal was kept in miserable conditions and was very stressed and underfed.
I photographed this fennec on two separate occasions and only for very brief periods of time, so as to not to add more stress to its situation. Although I had been asked, I resolutely refused to pay a fee to take these pictures and thereby support this practice. I asked around if the animal could be released, but I was told it had spent too much time in captivity to survive back in the wild. I then spoke at length with the owner about the cruelty of keeping the fennec as a pet. I asked him to reflect upon this, to use a longer leash and take the animal out for walks. I heard later he released this fennec. Nobody has seen it since. I hope it made it back to its natural habitat, but I am aware this is a remote possibility.
The practice of catching fennec pups in the wild is widespread in North African countries. Because of their cuteness, local people aim to sell or use them as a tourist attraction. Everyone, both the villagers and the tourists who naively support this by paying money for pictures or even purchasing such animals—which is illegal—has to be considered somehow guilty. The destruction of the fragile desert habitat, the ongoing massacre of wildlife, and the lack of general conservation regulations are posing a serious threat to this and other unique desert species. The situation has gotten much worse since the “Arab spring” revolts and resulting difficult socio-economic conditions.
-Proof, National Geographic