I breed and release Arctic foxes to boost their numbers in the wild

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“Here in Norway, red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) are all over the place. But Arctic foxes (Vulpes lagopus) — the fluffy white cousins of red foxes — survive only high up in the mountains, and meeting one is a really rare occurrence.

Researchers estimated that, in 2000, just 40 to 60 Arctic foxes remained in Norway and Sweden. A combination of factors probably explains why the population has collapsed since the start of the twentieth century. For example, fur hunting occurred until the 1930s, and reductions in the numbers of lemmings — a crucial prey animal for the foxes — have also had an impact. Moreover, Arctic foxes live in a fragmented mountain habitat, and the construction of roads has increased the risk of the animals being killed as they disperse from one area to another.

Steps taken by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research are starting to turn things around. These include supplementary feeding of the wild population and running a captive breeding station. Now there are an estimated 560 Arctic foxes across Norway, Sweden and Finland.

We have 15 foxes at our captive breeding station near Oppdal in Norway’s Trøndelag county. In this photo, I’m crouching down helping a colleague to transfer a pup from a trap into a handling bag for a health check. We try not to handle them more than we have to, and we prepare them as much as possible for life in the wild. As cute as they are, they are not tame. The 464 young foxes we’ve released since 2006 have done really well. They’ve survived and bred in the wild.

At this point, we’ve progressed from trying to save the Arctic fox from extinction in Scandinavia to working on getting its population to be sufficiently large and genetically diverse to sustain itself. We’ve still got a way to go, however, before we can say the species is saved.”

Source: Ecology -

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