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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Field Note: Arctic Fox Hunting

Published: October 18, 2019


By Mark Seth Lender


In the stark whiteout of an Arctic winter, animals like the Arctic Fox must use all their senses to survive. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender reflects on his experience of watching an Arctic fox on the hunt.

Tundra Buggies are huge and white and unforgivably intrusive machines (or so I always thought). For years I wouldn’t have anything to do with them. I was wrong. No Arctic predator lives past the age of twenty, Tundra Buggies have been prowling Churchill Point twice that long. No animal alive has known a time when they did not exist as a permanent and predictable part of the landscape. They never stray off road and above all no one aboard shoots the wildlife other than with a camera. In a Tundra Buggy you are well and duly ignored and free to observe at close proximity.

Arctic Fox looked straight at me, more than once, and in some way as in any interaction this must have altered his behavior, if only as a pause in routine. That his hunt was not successful is another matter. I did not see him catch a single thing. He should have.

There were silver foxes in the area, and I also saw them hunting, with evident and repeated success. A clear intrusion on the range of Arctic foxes especially in November. The larger problem lay in what at least one silver fox was hunting besides voles: Arctic foxes. A few days before I arrived a silver fox had been observed killing and eating an Arctic fox kit. The day after I left an adult Arctic fox was killed and eaten. This individual was not the one described here but another I had photographed. She had a vertical scar that ran from the ridge of the eyebrow to below the eye socket and while the eye itself looked to be intact, maybe it wasn’t. She was relatively thin, an indicator of sexual dimorphism or age perhaps, or hunting skill. An adult silver fox is bigger and stronger than any Arctic fox, thin or fat.

Arctic foxes cannot go further north where in winter they could not survive. And they cannot stay.

Listen to Mark Seth Lender read his Arctic Fox Hunting essay

Mark Seth Lender's website

Mark Seth Lender’s stay in Churchill was hosted by Frontiers North, the inventors of the Tundra Buggy. Mark’s fieldwork and travel are arranged by Destination: Wildlife.

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