Conservation and tourism hand in hand: a case study of the Arctic Fox from Scandinavia

Nowadays, interest in wildlife tourism has been growing very fast. The search for new and varied experiences from wildlife tourism has been expanding into new areas, new species and through new forms of interactions. These activities have their preference in pristine and high conservation value environments, justifying themselves as ecologically and socially sustainable. Even with this rationale, any type of activity has an impact on the environment and its effects varies greatly. The main targets of this particular type of tourism have been rare or endangered species that are quite sensitive to all kinds of disturbances. Even the slightest pressure causes an impact on these ecosystems.

Arctic Fox (Vulpes lagopus) jumps up on a tourist. Photo: Pal Jakobsen.

On the other hand, ensuring ecological sustainability can be the key to promoting a future for species and their habitats. Wildlife tourism has the capacity to produce positive economic contributions to conservation, since for many communities this has been a form of livelihood and at the same time an incentive for conservation. It is a form of tourism that can affect people’s behavior and attitude, with the ability to indirectly bring benefits to animals and their habitats.

A young Arctic Fox playing. Photo: Konsta Punkka.

The Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) is a case of an endangered species that has been subject of increasing interest by Wildlife tourism. These foxes are known to have a white coat used as camouflage, so they blend in tundra environments. Their coat is adapted to all seasons, changing to brown or gray colour depending on the season. They feed on rodents, birds and fish, but in the winter, the prey numbers are low and to find food foxes tend to follow polar bears (Ursus maritimus) to feed on the remains of their hunts. caçadas.

Red fox feeding on an Arctic fox. Photo: Don Gutoski.

In Scandinavia, arctic foxes were chased for their fur and skin, which had great economic value. Their population was reduced to worrying numbers and, even after receiving legal protection, their numbers continued not to go up. They are also victims of direct competition with the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) as well as reduced food availability, namely rodents.

In order to help their population, measures were taken, such as hunting red foxes or setting up feeding stations. These measures were crucial to the success of these populations as it allowed their numbers to increase again. Nowadays, because Scandinavia is a region famous for its leisure activities, in both summer and winter, tourism stations take the opportunity to alert visitor to the Arctic fox’s problems, focusing on wildlife tourism and conservation. Money collected through these activities is subsequently used to buy dog food to, for example, sustain food stations during summer.

These activities have been shown to have an impact on the daytime behavior of the arctic foxes in the region, but no negative impact on their reproductive success was observed, nor was there any abandonment of their burrows for years. Some impact has been observed, but it is small and only at the individual level (meaning the overall population does not seem to be affected).

The impacts of wildlife tourism are extremely dependent on the context of the species, it varies from individual to individual, from population to population, as well as, for example, food availability. The case of the Arctic fox is seen as a success since the positive effects outweigh the negative ones, but there is need of constant monitoring to ensure it continues this way.

Positive impacts can (and should) offset the negative ones, but they can never undo what can be/has been done wrong. Wildlife tourism has been growing steadily and is a strong way to help conservation, but it is also a business, and as such, it is imperative to never lose the ecologically sustainable motto because the ultimate goal is the conservation and protection of these species and habitats.



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Malin Larm, Bodil Elmhagen, Sandra M Granquist, Erika Brundin & Anders Angerbjörn (2017): The role of wildlife tourism in conservation of endangered species: Implications of safari tourism for conservation of the Arctic fox in Sweden, Human Dimensions of Wildlife. doi: 10.1080/10871209.2017.1414336

Author: Hugo Guímaro


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