The arctic fox, Alopex lagopus, otherwise known as the polar fox, is one of Sweden’s most threatened mammals and in danger of extinction everywhere in the European Union. Currently the mainland European population stands at just 150 individuals. In summer 2006, just three litters of foxes were born in Sweden, five in Norway and none at all in Finland. For this reason, Nature Travels has chosen SEFALO, a joint project between Sweden, Finland and Norway, as its conservation project to support for 2007.
Arctic foxes are currently more common on Svalbard, 500 miles off the coast of mainland Norway.
What problems does the arctic fox face?
– Such a small population makes the species extremely vulnerable to changes in demographic factors, or “accidents” such as an outbreak of disease.
-Large areas previously populated by arctic foxes are now empty, and remaining animals find it difficult to find a non-related partner with which to breed.
– Arctic foxes are highly dependent on the natural population fluctuations of small mammals, such as lemmings, on which they feed. These cycles of peaks and troughs tend to repeat every four years, and a “bad” year for rodents can be disastrous for arctic fox populations.
– The red fox, Vulpes vulpes, is a strong, successful competitor, and is currently expanding its range into territories inhabited by arctic foxes.
– Itself a top predator, the arctic fox is also a victim of predation, ironically from many species which are themselves endangered, including the wolf, wolverine and golden eagle. Traditionally, arctic foxes have been used by indigenous peoples as a source of meat and fur.
Photo: Asgeir Helgestad/Artic Light AS/visitnorway.com
What can be done to conserve and enhance current arctic fox populations?
SEFALO is engaged in a number of activities to attempt to reverse the decline of arctic foxes in Sweden, Norway and Finland:
-With the assistance of volunteers, population and behavioural data for arctic foxes is collected. Some animals have been tagged with radio collars to allow their movements to be monitored and to increase understanding of their behavioural patterns.
-A programme of supplementary feeding is being trialled in an attempt to increase the rates of productivity and decrease mortality among juveniles. Birth and survival rates are then compared with years when no feeding took place to assess the effectiveness of the strategy.
-In some cases control of the red fox population is necessary to safeguard the most valuable arctic fox territories.
-In areas around arctic fox dens in Sweden, it is hoped that a ban on ptarmigan hunting will reduce disturbance in some of the important arctic fox breeding grounds.
-Populations are monitored for disease and there is ongoing research into the cause of diseases likely to affect the fox populations.
-A programme of public education aims to highlight the plight of the arctic fox and raise the profile of the species as a priority for conservation.
With careful conservation measures, sufficient financial and public support, and a generous amount of good fortune, we hope that the future for the arctic fox both in Sweden and elsewhere will begin to turn a corner.
Nature Travels has a number of experiences in Sweden which take place in and around one of the country’s most important remaining arctic fox strongholds – Vindelfjällen Nature Reserve – and some of our partners in the area are actively involved in the SEFALO feeding project, delivering supplementary food to the local fox populations when it is most needed.
We offer two options for dog sledding in the Vindelfjällen area:
Arctic foxes are also comparatively common on Svalbard in Norway, the location of our Midnight Sun Dog Sledding in Svalbard experience.
The Nature Travels Team
– For further information on SEFALO’s work to conserve the arctic fox, see http://www.zoologi.su.se/research/alopex/
– Nature Travels will donate 2% of its corporate pre-tax profits for 2007 to SEFALO, the Swedish-Finnish-Norwegian Arctic Fox Project.
– Read our previous post about the beautiful Vindelfjällen Nature Reserve.