Arctic fox in Norway

Published by the Norwegian Environment Agency Lag rapport Les på norsk

The Arctic fox is one of the most seriously endangered mammals in Norway. A twenty-year decline in the mainland population appears to have been reversed with the success of  a captive breeding programme.

The Arctic fox is critically endangered

The Arctic fox is critically endangered in mainland Norway. Despite strict protection since 1930, the population has never recovered to a viable level.

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.

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Arctic foxes have been released in North Norway, in the Saltfjellet area of Nordland county from a captive breeding programme, that started in 2005. The first wild-born litters produced by released foxes were recorded in 2010.  

In 2011, the Arctic fox had a remarkably successful breeding season. Forty litters were  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 the captive breeding programme.  

In 2012, only one litter was documented, but at least 100 individuals of the Arctic fox were recorded, which is a doubling of the population in a few years. In 2013, 24 litters were recorded, and at least 118 adult individuals were identified by DNA.documented

Both 2014 and 2015 were good years for Arctic foxes in Norway. In 2014 50 litters were recorded and at least 321 cubs were born, and last year 40 litters and 204 puppies were documented. In 2016, however, there was a decrease in the Arctic fox population. 16 litters were documented, and at least 60 cubs were born. The decrease was related to low access of lemmings and other small rodents.  

Hunting and competition from the red fox

Arctic foxes in mainland Norway rely mainly on lemmings, and will not breed if food supplies are inadequate. But there are several reasons why the Arctic fox is struggling to survive. 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

Norway has undertaken to ensure that the species survives in several international agreements. Captive breeding and release of Arctic foxes is an important way of preventing their extinction on the mainland.

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 breeding programme has developed methods for the captive breeding of the Arctic fox and the release of pups into the wild. The first wild-born litters produced by released foxes were recorded in 2010.

Monitoring the Arctic fox

The Arctic fox is registered through annual monitoring. Known dens are investigated for evidence of breeding and to count pups. Faeces, hair or other biological mater is gathered for DNA analyses. Monitoring the Arctic fox allows us to follow the population’s development and changes over a long period of time. This provides knowledge that is valuable in introducing the right measures.