The Arctic fox is critically endangered
Arctic foxes had a remarkably successful breeding season in 2011. Forty litters were documented and at least 270 cubs were born. Almost half the litters were born to foxes released in the mountains of south and central Norway (the Dovre, Sylane and Finse areas) as part of a captive breeding programme.
However, the Arctic fox is still critically endangered in mainland Norway. Despite strict protection ever since 1930, the population has never recovered to a viable level and extinction is still a real threat.
From 1998 to 2008, only 241 Arctic fox litters were registered in Norway and Sweden. Of these, 111 were in Norway and 130 in Sweden. 2009 was a particularly poor year, and no litters at all were registered in Norway after the collapse of populations of lemmings and other small rodents.
Arctic foxes from the captive breeding programme have also been released in North Norway, in the Saltfjellet area of Nordland county. Preliminary results show that they have produced several litters on the Swedish side of the border.
Why is the Arctic fox so severely threatened?
Arctic foxes in mainland Norway rely mainly on lemmings, and will not breed if food supplies are inadequate. But this does not explain why the population has remained on the brink of extinction. Hunting and trapping was responsible for the initial population decline in the early 1900s. Competition from the red fox and fragmentation of the population are believed to be important factors today.
Captive breeding and monitoring
Captive breeding and release of Arctic foxes is an important way of preventing their extinction on the mainland. Norway has undertaken to ensure that the species survives in several international agreements.
The Directorate for Nature Management drew up an action plan for the Arctic fox in 2003, and the captive breeding programme started in 2005. The first wild-born litters produced by released foxes were recorded in 2010. In 2011, 40 litters and at least 93 adult foxes were recorded in mainland Norway. Fourteen of the litters were in South Norway, and all were born to foxes released through the captive breeding programme.