Arctic fox cubs in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the Westfjords have a starring role in the new BBC nature series Animal Babies: First Year on Earth, RÚV reports. The series, which began airing earlier this week, follows “six iconic baby animals as they face the challenges of surviving their first year on Earth” and also features the Savannah elephant, mountain gorilla, spotted hyena, Southern sea otter, and toque macaque.
Mammalian biologist Ester Rut Unnsteinsdóttir has studied the Arctic fox for two decades and assisted the BBC with the making of the documentary. She noted that Fela, the fox cub that the series follows, was specifically selected because he has white fur, and therefore easy to differentiate from his siblings, all of whom have black fur. Choosing to follow such an easy-to-spot cub did, however, carry certain risks for the documentarians, Ester said, as many Arctic fox cubs do not live very long.
“It’s not guaranteed that all cubs will survive the whole summer, so to choose a cub that looks different than the others and to always try to find him again was a bit difficult, and people were really stressed about it.”
The name Fela was originally chosen because the documentarians wanted to follow a female cub, but nature did not oblige them in this wish, as Fela is a male cub. “I sat with them for many evenings looking at video where I could see that this wasn’t a female cub. The filmmakers were pretty sad about that, but they made their peace with it,” explained Ester.
Although the documentarians were permitted to film the foxes in Hornstrandir, they were still subject to restrictions that were put in place to protect the animals. One of Ester’s primary roles, she explained, was to ensure that filming proceeded according to the rules that had been set. This is especially important because Arctic foxes that feel that they are being encroached upon will often not take care of their young as well as they would otherwise.
“We set the condition that the foxes are left alone in the evenings and all the way to the morning so that they have the night to rest and hunt,” Ester says.
The filmmakers had also intended to shoot ‘behind the scenes’ footage as extra content and so briefly sent a second team to film the primary team of filmmakers. The foxes, however, were not fond of having so many people in their habitat and so the second team was sent away and the ‘making of’ featurette scrapped.