The arctic fox might look cute and cuddly with its thick white fur, but they are tough with excellent hunting instincts and will make light work of rodents and other small mammals. But, are arctic foxes dangerous to humans?
No, arctic foxes are not dangerous to humans unless they deem you to be a threat or if they have rabies which causes unnecessary aggression. Although they do not actively hunt humans, you should still be respectful of them and maintain a distance of several hundred meters to avoid disturbances.
Keep reading to find out more about the dangers posed by arctic foxes and how you can reduce the chances of any problems when you encounter them.
Do Arctic Foxes Attack Humans?
No, it is unlikely that arctic foxes will attack humans without cause. They will often hide from humans if they come within a 200m range and they will become more vigilant1 (source: Wildlife Management, M. Larm, et al, Vol 84, Issue 4, 2020). As they are mostly nocturnal, chance encounters are unlikely unless you are with a guide who knows where to find them.
Arctic foxes that spend a lot of time in areas disturbed by humans tend to become more tolerant of humans.
They may be inquisitive and attempt to approach you, however, you should never feed or touch them, especially younger pups as this might cause the mother to become protective2 (source: Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators).
Do Arctic Foxes Eat Humans?
No, the diet of an arctic fox mostly consists of small mammals such as lemmings in inland areas and seabirds or fish in coastal areas.
However, they are often described as omnivores because they will scavenge almost anything they can get their hands on including berries, seaweed, carcasses, and feces of other animals3 (source: Journal of Zoology, B. Elmhagen, et al, Vol 251, Issue 2, 2000).
Unlike wolves which will happily hunt larger mammals like caribou, arctic foxes stick to smaller mammals that are easy to catch thanks to their white winter fur which helps them camouflage against the snow.
Are Arctic Foxes Aggressive?
No, for the most part, arctic foxes are not aggressive towards humans unless they perceive you to be a threat to them or their offspring.
However, if they have rabies it can cause unnecessary aggression. The arctic fox is the main host for rabies in the Arctic where the disease occurs sporadically.
Animals with rabies suffer a range of symptoms including anxiety, confusion, agitation, and hallucinations4 (source: Medical News Today). This brain deterioration can cause them to act aggressively and increase the chances of them attacking humans or other animals to whom they may spread the disease.
Rabies can be spotted in arctic fox by signs of dehydration, low food intake, low body weight, and aggressive behavior5 (source: Rabies in an Arctic fox on the Svalbard archipelago, I Ørpetveit, et al, 2011). If you encounter a dead fox, you should not touch it with your bare hands to minimize the chances of passing on the disease.
Tips for Avoiding Disturbances with Arctic Foxes
Here are some tips for avoiding disturbances between humans and arctic foxes:
- Avoid approaching arctic foxes. A distance of 500m is often recommended, although studies have found that 300m is adequate to avoid disturbing them.
- If they approach you, do not touch or feed them. They may have rabies which humans can catch if bitten by an infectious animal. It may not be obvious that they are infected.
- Try and avoid areas with fox dens between June-August. This is the time when newborn pups are born so parents will be very vigilant.
These tips were informed by the guidelines by the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators, we recommend reading their full guidelines if you’re planning a visit to the region.
Are Arctic Foxes Dangerous to Other Animals?
Yes, arctic foxes pose more of a threat to other wildlife than to humans, including sheep, seabirds, ducks, and more.
For example, they have had a significant effect on the populations of Arctic seabird colonies in regions where they have been introduced by humans or naturally settled6 (source: Management of wild canids in human-dominated landscapes, C. Sillero and D. Switzer, 2004).
In Iceland, arctic foxes are regarded as vermin for killing sheep and colonies of eider duck. Farm-bred arctic foxes have escaped and bred with natural arctic foxes, the resulting offspring are less shy of humans and more likely to attack sheep.
As such, government-funded foxhunting takes place to manage the arctic fox populations in Iceland and has been relatively successful7 (source: Biological Conservation, P. Hersteinsson, et al., Vol 49, No. 1, 1989).
Can You Keep Arctic Foxes As Pets?
You cannot keep wild arctic foxes as pets because they are undomesticated predators which makes them dangerous to keep in your home. Although several US states will allow you to keep foxes as pets if they have been bred in captivity.
However, despite the fact that they come from the same family of animals as dogs, they have some traits that make them bad pets such as very pungent urine and being very loud.
Why is the Arctic Fox Endangered?
However, there are certain populations of arctic fox that are critically endangered in Fennoscandia due to the impacts of climate change such as habitat loss, vulnerability to predators, and red foxes encroaching on their territory.