Arctic Fox Captive Breeding Programme

Photo: Craig Jackson / NINA

Arctic Fox Captive Breeding Programme

The Arctic fox is listed as Endangered in Norway. In 2000, there were as few as 40 – 60 adults remaining in Scandinavia. Urgent conservation actions were required to save the species from local extinction, and in 2005 a captive breeding facility was established at Sæterfjellet, approximately 25 km south of Oppdal, Norway. NINA is commissioned by the Norwegian Environment Agency to manage and run the captive breeding programme. The programme additionally involves close collaboration with the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate (SNO) and several local conservation authorities, who are responsible for field-related activities and monitoring of the foxes in the wild.

The long-term project represents a central pillar in the species’ conservation in Norway. Each year, captive-reared offspring are strategically released in various mountain areas across Norway. Since the first release in 2006, a total of 460 arctic foxes have been reintroduced into the wild. In combination with active management interventions in the release sites, such as supplementary feeding and culling of red foxes, the Norwegian Arctic fox population was estimated to number 302 (278 – 338) adults in 2020. This represents a four-fold increase since 2008 [see monitoring programme]. The project has resulted in the reestablishment of three locally extinct Arctic fox populations and strengthened numbers in numerous others. Emigration of released individuals into Sweden and Finland have benefited the Scandinavian population as a whole, and in 2020 the Norwegian-Swedish Arctic fox population was estimated to number 452 adults. 

The captive breeding station 

The captive breeding facility consists of eight large enclosures, each approximately half the size of a football field. An additional, slightly smaller, enclosure serves as a temporary holding facility. Each enclosure has a minimum of two artificial dens. The facility is situated in the Arctic foxes’ natural habitat. Handling, intervention and disturbance are kept to a minimum, and animal welfare is prioritized at all times.

Since its inception, the project has carefully sourced breeding pairs from populations across Norway, ensuring that the remaining genetic variation in the Scandinavian Arctic fox population is preserved and represented in captive-bred individuals. 


An aerial view of the captive breeding facility at Sæterfjellet. Craig Jackson / NINA An aerial view of the captive breeding facility at Sæterfjellet. Craig Jackson / NINA

Captive-reared offspring

Arctic foxes breed once per year, with mating occurring during March. After a gestation period of approximately 52 days, puppies are born in the dens. For the first three weeks, they remain below ground, and thereafter gradually spend more and more time aboveground. Each summer, all the puppies are trapped in order give them a health check, parasite medication, ear-tags, and a microchip. Cage traps are baited and attract the attention of the inquisitive young. After removal from the trap, handling time is kept to a minimum, whereafter the pups are returned to their enclosures.

A litter of Arctic fox puppies, approximately 8 weeks old. Craig Jackson / NINA A litter of Arctic fox puppies, approximately 8 weeks old. Craig Jackson / NINA

Release into the wild

The captive-reared offspring are trapped and transported to release sites in January/February each year, at approximately eight months of age. By this point they are as large as the adults and in no way dependent on their parents. The foxes are transported from the breeding station to a temporary holding facility near Oppdal. After receiving a health check and parasite medication, the foxes are loaded up and transported to their designated release sites. To maximise their post-release survival, supplementary feeding stations and artificial dens are deployed at release sites. To date, captive-reared foxes have been reintroduced into nine different populations across Norway (see map).

  Captive-reared offspring en route from the breeding station to Oppdal, from where they are transported to their release sites. Craig Jackson / NINA Captive-reared offspring en route from the breeding station to Oppdal, from where they are transported to their release sites. Craig Jackson / NINA

Contact

Map indicating the nine Norwegian Arctic fox populations that have served as release sites for captive-reared foxes. 

Live from Sæterfjellet

We have installed video cameras that broadcast live from the enclosure at the breeding station. Here you can follow the Arctic fox's movements around the clock. The opportunity to see foxes is greatest morning and evening, and when the foxes are fed. NB! Video does not start automatically - select camera and play button.

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360 degree view of the breeding station: use your mouse to pan around or zoom in and out.