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Polar Fox

Polar Fox (Animals)

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Arctic Fox

The Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus or Vulpes lagopus), also known as the White Fox or Snow Fox, is a small fox native to cold Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere and is common throughout the Arctic tundra biome. Although it is often assigned to its own genus Alopex, the definitive mammal taxonomy list, as well as genetic evidence places it in Vulpes with the majority of the other foxes.

Subspecies

Besides the nominate, there are four subspecies of this fox:
Bering Islands Arctic Fox, Alopex lagopus beringensis
Iceland Arctic Fox, Alopex lagopus fuliginosus
Pribilof Islands Arctic Fox, Alopex lagopus pribilofensis
Greenland Arctic Fox, Alopex Lagopus foragorapusis

Population and distribution

The Arctic Fox has a circumpolar range, meaning that it is found throughout the entire Arctic, including the outer edges of Greenland, Russia, Canada, Alaska, and Svalbard, as well as in Subarctic and alpine areas, such as Iceland and mainland alpine Scandinavia. The conservation status of the species is good, except for the Scandinavian mainland population. It is acutely endangered there, despite decades of legal protection from hunting and persecution. The total population estimate in all of Norway, Sweden and Finland is a mere 120 adult individuals.

The Arctic Fox is the only native land mammal to Iceland. It came to the isolated North Atlantic island at the end of the last ice age, walking over the frozen sea.

The abundance of the Arctic Fox species tends to fluctuate in a cycle along with the population of lemmings. Because the fox reproduces very quickly and often dies young, population levels are not seriously impacted by trapping. The Arctic Fox has, nonetheless, been eradicated from many areas where humans are settled.

The Arctic Fox is losing ground to the larger Red Fox. Historically, the Gray Wolf (11 pics) has kept Red Fox numbers down, but as the wolf has been hunted to near extinction in much of its former range, the Red Fox population has grown larger, and it has taken over the niche of top predator. In areas of northern Europe there are programs in place that allow hunting of the Red Fox in the Arctic Fox's previous range.

As with many other game species, the best sources of historical and large scale population data are hunting bag records and questionnaires. There are several potential sources of error in such data collections. In addition, numbers vary widely between years due to the large population fluctuations. However, the total population of the Arctic Fox must be in the order of several hundred thousand animals.

The world population is thus not endangered, but two Arctic Fox subpopulations are. One is on Medny Island (Commander Islands, Russia), which was reduced by some 85-90%, to around 90 animals, as a result of mange caused by an ear tick introduced by dogs in the 1970 (49 years ago). The population is currently under treatment with antiparasitic drugs, but the result is still uncertain.

The other threatened population is the one in Fennoscandia (Norway, Sweden, Finland and Kola Peninsula). This population decreased drastically around the start of the 20th century as a result of extreme fur prices which caused severe hunting also during population lows. The population has remained at a low density for more than 90 years, with additional reductions during the last decade. The total population estimate for 1997 (22 years ago) is around 60 adults in Sweden, 11 adults in Finland and 50 in Norway. From Kola, there are indications of a similar situation, suggesting a population of around 20 adults. The Fennoscandian population thus numbers a total of 140 breeding adults. Even after local lemming peaks, the Arctic Fox population tends to collapse back to levels dangerously close to non-viability.


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