Camera traps revealed that Arctic foxes attempted to breed in Finland this summer, the first recorded attempt since 1996. In the past two decades, the species has only sporadically been seen in the country. The traps were supported by WWF-Finland and maintained by Metsähallitus, the Finnish state forest enterprise.
Arctic foxes are found around the circumpolar north, and are still abundant in North America and Russia. In the nordic countries, however, the species is in danger of disappearing. The red fox is moving north – likely due to climate change in part – and outcompeting and sometimes killing its smaller cousin. Voles and lemmings have also been more scarce in Finland and Scandinavia in recent years.
The camera was set up this spring after a Metsähallitus employee spotted an Arctic fox entering a den. The camera recorded further proof that the den was home to another individual.
"The camera recorded hundreds of daily images of two Arctic foxes - one white and one dark-furred. The two were seen playing together, and because the breeding season was close, we could infer that they were attemping to breed", said Petteri Tolvanen, Programme Manager for WWF-Finland. Unfortunately, they didn't make history, as one of the individuals disappeared."
Although the attempt was unsuccessful, there's reason for hope.
"It was exciting to discover a den, despite the near-miss, considering that it's been such a long time", said Tuomo Ollila, Chief Inspector for Metsähallitus. "The findings give us hope for the future."
WWF is now helping Metsähallitus train volunteers to search for potential nesting places. A behavioural quirk of the fox makes this task easier: "Arctic foxes have a habit of building dens where their ancestors did, and they remain identifiable even after decades of disuse", says Tolvanen.
WWF-Russia's annual polar bear monitoring expedition uncovered 14 dens and the tracks of 23 cubs.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted new voluntary measures this week aimed at protecting the Bering Strait and Sea from potentially devastating oil spills due to shipping accidents.