The arctic fox – A threatened animal

Fri, Feb 13, 2009
The arctic fox is categorized as critically endangered to be extinct on IUCN's red list. But work is going on to prevent the rare specie.
Text: Solveig Strand-Olsen Photo: Tomas Meijer

fjellrevenEvery other year the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) publish their list of species that are facing a risk of extinction. The list is also known as the “red list”. Over 16.000 species does now stand on the list.

Many of these species are also located in the arctic region.

The endangered species

The threatened species are categorized into Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN) and Vulnerable (VU).

In the vulnerable category there is a 10% risk of being extinct in the next 100 years. In this category we find lynx, otter, polar bear, walrus and snow owl.

In the endangered category there is a 20% risk of being extinct the next 20 years.
Here we find brown-bear (in Norway) and wolverine and wolfs.

In the category critically endangered, species are in danger to be extinct in three generations. It is estimated to be a 50% chance. Here we find the arctic fox.

White in the winter, grey-brown in the summer

The arctic fox, also called the polar fox or the white fox, is a characteristic species of the Arctic. It’s fur is white in the winter and grey-brown in the summer. It lives of primarily on small mammals, like lemmings, voles and birds. It also feed on berries and fish. It is itself the victim of predation, mainly from red fox, wolfs, wolverines and golden eagles. To the people, it is a source of fur, meat and mythology.

Extinction is possible

Ulla-Maija Liukko works in the nature division at the Finnish Environment Institute

-The reasons why the arctic fox is so threatened in Finland is due to several reasons. The main factors are the poor lemming situation. Peek years are missing. And also the red fox is spreding in the area. They are most located in the northern areas of Lappland, where there is treeless tundra area. And there has been no breeding in several years.

- Do you see at as a real threat that the fox might be extinct?

- Yes, unfortunately it might be possible, says Ulla-Maija.

Has doubled the population

But things are done to prevent the arctic fox from being extinct. SEFALO, The Swedish-Finnish-Nowegian Arctic Fox Project started in 2003 and finished in 2008. They have worked to double the number of breeding arctic foxes in Fennoscandia (Norway, Sweden, Finland and Kola Peninsula).

According to their final rapport there were about 40 adult arctic foxes were present in Sweden and only five litters were born when the project started. During the summer of 2007, 24 arctic fox litters were born in Sweden and 15 in Norway. And today, there are about 200 individuals in Fennoscandia.

SEFALO has therefore reached the main goal to double the number of breeding arctic foxes during the project period, and has also provided tools for future management of the Fennoscandian arctic fox population.

Work must continue

However, the number of arctic foxes present today is too low for long-term persistence. To reach a further population increase, the SEFALO+ conservation actions need to be continued with the same intensity as during the project period. With efficient management of the Fennoscandian arctic fox population, the coming generations will be able to enjoy the view of wild arctic foxes on the mountain tundra.

For more information:
The Swedish-Finnish-Norwegian Arctic Fox Project