The arctic fox population has increased across Iceland since reaching a historic low, but the population in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the Westfjords has remained stable. Mammalian ecologist Ester Rut Unnsteinsdóttir says there are natural reasons foxes aren’t increasing in the reserve that could include, simply, a lack of space.
“It’s really just natural processes that impact and limit the stock. There is only room for a certain number,” Ester stated in a radio interview for RÚV this morning. Ester is a mammalian ecologist who recently completed a three-week research trip to the Westfjords reserve, where she was examining the local fox population. “What is so remarkable is that I have looked at the population across the country and there has been a large increase from the historic low and especially since 1996, 1997. I have also compiled data from the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve and it does not seem to have increased there since the fox was protected [in 1994].” Harsh winters were another factor Ester mentioned had a limiting effect on the fox population.
The Arctic fox is the only wild terrestrial mammal native to Iceland. It arrived on the island approximately 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age. In the 1970s the population reached a historic low and numbered under 1,000. Today it is around ten times that size, numbering between 9,000-10,000 animals, according to Ester. While the fox is protected, fox hunting is permitted outside nature reserves, subject to regulation by the Environment Agency. While arctic foxes are endangered in parts of Europe, they are not considered at risk in Iceland.
In 2019, Ester assisted the BBC with filming a documentary in Hornstrandir that followed an arctic fox cub in its first year of life.