Foxes in Hawaii: Types and Where They Live

A wild female fox nurses her young fox pups in the suburbs of Colorado.
© BlueBarronPhoto/Shutterstock.com

Written by Rebecca Mathews

Published: June 29, 2023

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The Hawaiian Islands are a beautiful place filled with unusual endemic animals. It’s known for being pretty safe when it comes to the land-based fauna because there are barely any predators there, but what about foxes? Let’s discover foxes in Hawaii, their types, where they live, and a bit more about Hawaii’s animal population.

Do Foxes Live in Hawaii?

No, foxes do not live in Hawaii.

Foxes aren’t native to the Hawaiian Islands, and no known population exists. However, locals have reported a few sightings, which makes people think there may be a little population of foxes hidden away somewhere, but it’s not certain.

It’s possible non-native foxes may have been smuggled in at some point, or brought over by settlers, but officially foxes don’t live in Hawaii.

Hawaii

Beautiful Hawaii does not have a native fox population.

©MNStudio/Shutterstock.com

Does Hawaii Have Any Foxes at All?

Foxes do not live in Hawaii. In fact, Hawaii only has two native mammals, the Hawaiian monk seal, and the hoary bat. Experts think hoary bats were blown to Hawaii from South or North America.

Other Hawaiian mammals include non-native pigs, goats, cats, rats, and dogs. Settlers imported these animals and either escaped their homes or were left to fend for themselves.

Overall, non-native rats have caused the most problems for Hawaii. They’ve decimated the endemic native bird and turtle population by eating their eggs and hatchlings. Hawaii’s native animals just aren’t equipped to deal with invasive predators.

However, Honolulu Zoo on Oahu Island has several captive fennec foxes. Fennec foxes are the smallest fox species but have the largest ears of all the fox types. Their massive ears prevent overheating in their native desert environment. They’re sandy-colored with thick, furry feet to stop hot sand from burning their toes.

The fennec foxes at Honolulu Zoo are Moana and Aukai plus their son, Vitea. They’re a popular attraction.

fennec fox

A family of fennec foxes live at Honolulu Zoo on Oahu Island.

©hagit berkovich/Shutterstock.com

Why Are There No Foxes in Hawaii?

Hawaii is a chain of remote Pacific Islands, so flora and fauna are highly specialized. Polynesian settlers arrived in canoes during the 400s from the Marquesas Islands, over 2,000 miles away, but until then, it was uninhabited by humans and their companions or farmed animals.

Foxes are not native to Hawaii, and importing one is illegal due to its potential catastrophic impact on native wildlife. Foxes were not imported to Hawaii, but plenty of other animals were. More on that below.

Fox: Species Overview

Hawaii might not be home to foxes, but every other U.S. state has a large fox population.

A fox is an omnivorous (meaning they eat most things, including meat, fruit, nuts, and human garbage) canine called Vulpes Vulpes in Latin. They’re dog-like creatures, but unlike most wild dogs, foxes tend to live solitary lives.

The cunning fox is a frequent portrayal, and it’s accurate because clever foxes always find a way in should humans leave the smallest fencing gap. Although they naturally hunt mammals like rabbits, hares, and birds, they take farmed birds such as chickens too, which means farmers and smallholders consider them a nuisance.

Foxes live on every continent except Antarctica. It’s thought red foxes have the second largest distribution on Earth behind humans — but Hawaii is one of the very few places they don’t live. If foxes were introduced to Hawaii, they would no doubt thrive in the abundant hiding places, fresh water, and birdlife.

Four types of fox live in America: the red fox, arctic fox, gray fox, and the kit fox. Of the four, red foxes are the most widespread.

Foxes in the United States

Red fox: Red foxes usually have orange-brown fur with black legs and white patches, but other colors, such as silver and black, appear. They have pointed ears, a huge bushy tail, amber eyes, and a secretive nature. That keeps them close to but hidden from humans. There are 44 subspecies of red fox. It’s the most common species.

Gray fox: Gray foxes also have a bushy tail and pointed ears but a more cat-like muzzle and gray-speckled fur. They climb trees with rotating wrists and semi-retractable claws.

Arctic fox: It is also known as white fox, polar fox, or snow fox, and it stands just under 12 inches tall. They have fluffy white fur that changes to gray in the summer season. They live in the Northern Hemisphere’s Arctic Circle in elaborate burrows.

Kit fox: The smallest fox in North America looks cute, but it’s a predator. Kit foxes live in the desert and have large ears to help dissipate heat. They also have hairy soles to help grip the desert’s sand.

What Predators Live in Hawaii?

Hawaii’s predators live in the warm Pacific Ocean.

Sharks: Waterborne predators surround the chain of islands, but human attacks are rare. Great whites, bull sharks, and tiger sharks all live and hunt in coastal waters near the Hawaiian Islands. Since 1828 only 11 recorded shark fatalities have occurred all around Maui.

Hawaiian monk seal: It is indeed a predator, but not one that attacks humans unless provoked. It’s an endangered apex predator that weighs up to 1,500 lbs and grows over seven feet long. They’re capable of diving to 600 feet to seek out fish and crustaceans. Hawaiian monk seals are one of Hawaii’s two native mammals, and it’s thought only 1400 remain.

Hawaiian monk seal mom with her pup

Endangered Hawaiian monk seals are endemic to Hawaii. Only 1,400 individuals remain.

©iStock.com/JudyLaNier

Box jellyfish: This creature is beautiful but deadly. When spotted, officials close beaches for the day. They can reach a whopping ten feet long and carry 5,000 stinging barbs. Their venom-filled barbs capture fish and squid, but they’re deadly to humans too.

Cone snail: This little snail carries enough toxin to kill 700 people but feeds on small fish and marine creatures.  They have beautiful, intricately patterned shells, which are collector’s items due to their rarity and danger. Humans that step on this snail face death, so visitors to Hawaii should avoid shallow water close to coral reefs or mangroves and intertidal or subtidal zones where cone snails live and hunt.

Other predators include the 35-inch long yellow-bellied sea snake and moray eels.

Hawaii’s Land Predators (or Lack of Them)

On land, few animals can kill a human, but several predator species leave a sting or bite that requires medical attention, such as the huntsman, brown recluse, black widow spiders, and giant centipedes.

No wolves, big cats, venomous land snakes, or bears (or foxes) live there, and smuggling one in is against the law.

What Non-native Animals Live in Hawaii?

The Hawaiian Islands house 8,759 endemic animals and over 21,300 animal species.

Non-native animals thriving in Hawaii were introduced by settlers. The most troublesome are rats, accidentally brought on ships. Rats decimated Hawaiian bird and turtle life, so mongooses were imported in the 1800s to deal with them. It was an ill-fated experiment because rats hunt at night, whereas mongooses hunt in the day. They rarely crossed paths, and now Hawaiian native wildlife is preyed on by both species.

Hawaii has a large population of free-roaming cats, which are the descendants of previous inhabitants’ pets. Island-wide neutering programs attempt to control the population by spaying and neutering caught cats, then cutting an ear tag to indicate their status.

Other non-native animals in Hawaii include chickens, pigs, goats, cattle, dogs that free-roam, cane toads, and little fire ants.

Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)

Although Hawaii is not home to foxes, locals have reported several sightings.

©Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com

Recap: Does Hawaii Have Foxes?

Foxes don’t live in Hawaii. The only place you can see a fox there is Honolulu Zoo that houses three fennec foxes.

Although some islanders have reported fox sightings, no official records indicate a population. If a population does exist, it will be due to importation, potentially during the settler phase, or a recent illegal smuggling.

Hawaii’s government has strict laws surrounding imported animals to prevent further destruction of its native flora and fauna. Hawaii’s wildlife already struggles with non-native imported animals such as rats, mongooses, cats, fire ants, and cane toads. A predator fox population would only lead to more endemic extinctions.


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About the Author

Rebecca is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on plants and geography. Rebecca has been writing and researching the environment for over 10 years and holds a Master’s Degree from Reading University in Archaeology, which she earned in 2005. A resident of England’s south coast, Rebecca enjoys rehabilitating injured wildlife and visiting Greek islands to support the stray cat population.

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