The Arctic Fox, Iceland’s Only Native Mammal Skip to content
Photo: SIgne. An Arctic fox in its winter coat.

The Arctic Fox, Iceland’s Only Native Mammal

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The tiny Arctic fox is the only land mammal in Iceland that is truly native to the country and predates the first humans that ever arrived here. Every other mammal in the Icelandic fauna, from sheep to reindeer to mink, was imported from Norway by the first settlers. The Icelandic Arctic fox is a subspecies of the common Arctic fox and is believed to have arrived in Iceland around 10,000 years ago during the Ice Age. The Arctic fox is a hardy little creature whose defining feature is its light, bushy winter fur that makes it almost look like snowballs with feet. In the summer that winter coat is shedded and replaced by darker, shorter fur that blends in with the environment. Currently, there are around 10,000 foxes in Iceland, and due to conservation efforts, the population is holding steady.

Photo: Golli. An Arctic fox in summer in Iceland

The Arctic Fox Centre in Iceland

The Arctic fox is quite an elusive animal and quick on its feet so it can be hard to spot in its natural habitat. In Reykjavík, the best place to see foxes is in Húsdýragarðurinn Zoo, a small petting zoo close to the city center that houses up to four foxes that can be seen up close both in their outdoor enclosure and in an indoors den. The largest population of Arctic foxes in Iceland can be found in the Westfjords and in the small town of Súðavík is a special facility called Melrakkasetrið, or the Arctic Fox Centre. The Centre is open during the summer season from May 1st to October and during the season hosts a number of events dedicated to the Arctic fox. The main focus of the Centre is to be an information and education centre about all things related to the Arctic fox. On site is a museum that displays, among other things, the different types of colour variations the foxes can have. However, one of the biggest draws of the Centre is a fenced area near the house where little fox cubs are kept during the summer and visitors can get close enough to pet.

Photo: Signe. The Arctic fox comes in a few colour variations

For a more adventurous journey to see the Arctic fox we recommend a hike in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, one of the few places in the world where the fox is protected from hunters by law. As a result, the foxes in Hornstrandir are less wary of humans and a couple of them have even made a den close to Kvíar, a lodge and adventure base in the heart of the Reserve. Hornstrandir gives visitors a unique experience in a mostly untouched nature with the added bonus of seeing Icelandic wildlife at its best.        

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