This is the second in my series of blog posts about the wildlife of Iceland.
We’re not likely to see Arctic Foxes in the wild on this journey, but today we’re visiting the Arctic Fox Centre in Súðavík to learn about this fascinating and photogenic species. The centre is devoted to research, education, and the promotion of sustainable wildlife tourism in Iceland.
If you saw my first blog post in this series (Wildlife in the Land of Ice and Fire), you know that the seas around Iceland are home to many marine mammals, including Humpback Whales, Orcas, and Gray and Harbor Seals. But only one land mammal is native to Iceland – the Arctic Fox. This species arrived in Iceland during the last ice age (more than 11,000 years ago), while humans didn’t settle on Iceland until about 1100 years ago. Since humans arrived, they’ve been hunting the Arctic Fox – both for fur, and because of a perceived threat to livestock – although the foxes have been protected from hunting in a few regions of Iceland since 1994. The Arctic Fox is an important apex predator in the ecosystems of Iceland. In other arctic and near-arctic regions, this species eats mainly lemmings, but in Iceland there are no lemmings, and the Arctic Fox primarily consumes birds.
On our arrival at the centre, we learn that there are currently two rescued foxes in residence. Each was orphaned when their parents were killed by hunters. It’s the first time I’ve seen an Arctic Fox in person. They’re smaller than I expected. I’ve seen photos of foxes in winter, when their thick fur coats make them look plump and short-legged. It’s summer now, and these animals look petite, slender, and long-legged.
One of the two foxes is a very recent arrival, and only about six weeks old!
She’s very fuzzy, and completely adorable.
She spends a lot of time exploring her environment.
The two foxes chase each other around, and clearly enjoy playing with each other.
The relationship between the two foxes seems quite tender and close. A staff member mentions that she sees the older fox share his food with the younger one. It’s tragic that these Arctic Foxes were orphaned, but it’s fortunate that they now have each other.
I’ve read that foxes (although not necessarily Arctic Foxes) were domesticated before wolves. Seeing how affectionate, curious, and playful these animals are, it’s easy to understand how that might happen.
Having been orphaned and rescued, it’s doubtful that these foxes could ever be released back into the wild. They’ve had lots of human contact, and they haven’t had an opportunity to learn the skills they would need to survive in the wild. It’s likely that they will live out their lives as Ambassador Animals here at the Arctic Fox Centre, where visitors can learn about, and be inspired to care about this charismatic species.
I’ll be back soon with my final blog post on the wildlife of Iceland.