Updated 19th September: Happy news: More Arctic fox cubs were found in northern Lappland, altogether at least 25 cubs have been born this summer.
This past summer, two successful Arctic fox dens have been observed in Finland, where a total of at least 16 cubs were born. Three other inhabited Arctic fox dens were also found during den checks, but no cubs were found. The Arctic fox is a critically endangered species in Finland, and the continuation of conservation work is vital to the recovery of the population.
During their den checks, Metsähallitus inspectors found that Arctic foxes had successfully denned in two different places this summer in the fell areas of Utsjoki and Enontekiö. A total of 16 litters were also recorded by game cameras located in the vicinity of fox feeding stations.
"From the point of view of the development of the Arctic fox population, it is promising that Arctic fox broods have been observed in other den sites," says Specialist Tuomo Ollila from National Parks Finland. Metsähallitus is responsible for protecting the Arctic fox in Finland.
In Enontekiö, the nesting of the Arctic fox was successful in the same nest as last year, when the critically endangered Arctic fox denned in Finland for the first time in more than 25 years.
"Thankfully and surprisingly quickly, we are moving in a better direction. This year was a good vole year in many areas of Northern Lapland, so the natural food source of Arctic foxes was in plentiful supply," says Petteri Tolvanen, WWF Programme Director. WWF Finland re-established an Arctic fox working group to support the monitoring and conservation of the Arctic fox in 2020.
The Arctic fox is currently unable to survive in Finland without additional feeding, fox hunting and assistance from other Nordic countries
The nutritional status of the Arctic fox is not stable in the fell areas, but the prevalence of its main prey animals, voles and lemmings, also naturally varies a great deal. As an important conservation measure for the Arctic fox, Metsähallitus and WWF maintain feeding stations in the most important areas for the species. Above all, these feeding stations support the survival of juveniles during their first winter and help adult Arctic foxes stay in prime territories, even during years with a low vole population. Another important means of protecting the Arctic fox is fox hunting in fell areas.
"Securing the continuity of conservation measures and cooperation with neighbouring countries is a prerequisite for the recovery of the Arctic fox population in Finland," Ollila says.
Arctic fox conservation work is carried out in close cooperation with Sweden and Norway. Over the past ten years, protection work has become more effective, especially with the help of EU Interreg Nord funding.
In Norway, the Arctic fox conservation project has freed cubs of natural Arctic foxes, born in shelter conditions, into the wild, also close to the Finnish border in the past few years. Some of these released Arctic foxes now live in dens on the Finnish side of the border.
Climate change and human food residues also pose a threat to the Arctic fox
In the long term, the Arctic fox is threatened by global warming and its consequences.
"Increased human presence in fell wilderness areas has also threatened the future of the Arctic fox. For example, there are more food residues and fish left in the terrain, which helps the red fox, which is the arch enemy of the Arctic fox, to thrive in traditional Arctic fox habitats," Tolvanen says.
The Nordic Arctic fox population was at its lowest level in the early 2000s, when the population estimate was only 40-60 adult individuals. The combined Arctic fox population in Norway, Sweden and Finland is currently estimated to be approximately 550 adults. Finland sees an estimated 10 to 20 Arctic foxes annually, and the number of observations has been increasing in recent years.