Icelandic Arctic Fox – A Population in Decline
The arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) in Iceland is the only native mammal in the country, arriving over 10,000 years ago. They are a remarkable species, adapt to the climate of Iceland, and are found in two different colour morphs; ‘white’ and ‘blue’. White arctic foxes are almost entirely white during the winter, and brown/white in the summer. They are found throughout the country, although the West Fjords have the highest population – likely due to the diverse and stable food supply on the coastline.
It is legal to hunt arctic foxes in Iceland, and many do, to protect live stock and eider farms and hunters provide most of the data that is known about the population. The foxes are protected from these practices in Hornstrandir; one of the few areas of nature reserve in Iceland. As a result the foxes have become quite curious of humans, and photography tours are often carried out by the Arctic Fox Centre.
Their estimated number was 11,000 in 2013 but after uninterrupted growth for the last several decades the Icelandic arctic fox has seen a sharp decline in population, as reported by Náttúrufræðistofnunar Íslands in October 2014. During the previous summer , many foxes were found dead and few breeding pairs were able to successfully raise offspring.A cause has not been established but it has been speculated that climate, pollutants, disease, and the condition of food could be attributed to the one third decrease.
Reports have found that cubs are of varying sizes in the West of the island, suggesting that food supplies may be unstable. In South Iceland sterile vixens have been reported, and in the North and South there are less burrows than found in previous years.
Although their population size remains comparatively large to populations in other areas of the world ( it is estimated that Norway, Sweden and Finland combined is host to fewer than 200 individuals) it remains a concern why their population numbers here have dropped so rapidly, as they are a vital part of the ecosystem.
More information can be found on the report at Náttúrufræðistofnunar Íslands (www.ni.is/frettir/nr/14170) and information and exhibitions can be found at The Arctic Fox Centre (www.melrakki.is).