11/8/2012 4:52:07 PM

The Day of the Fox

She sauntered past - and then pounced on her prey. On Tuesday morning, we watched a fox catch a vole for breakfast directly in front of the buggy.

The fox is one of my favorite types of animals. Here in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area there are two species, the Arctic fox and the red fox. The Arctic fox is supremely adapted for life in the cold. In winter they don dense, white coats. Curled up in a ball of pure cuteness, they keep their noses warm with fluffy white tails. They have furry feet to travel far on the snow and ice, and small ears to conserve energy. Under all that fur they actually have a lot of body fat to provide energy and keep them warm.

Later, we watched a young Arctic fox find a snow goose carcass and gnaw it vigorously for at least 15 minutes. They are such delightful, impossibly adorable little creatures, fierce predation practices not withstanding.

The other species here, the red fox, is a generalist. They are larger and usually red as their name implies, though we've seen several that are almost black. They are beautiful animals, though they lack adaptations for life in extreme northern environments.

In the afternoon we discovered a red fox curled up in the willows fast asleep. We stood on the buggy's back deck, watching her snooze. When she awoke, she immediately leapt straight into the air with her back arched. She'd apparently smelled a vole or a lemming, which she pursued fruitlessly until she caught another scent and trotted off.

While both species are wonderful, the numerous red foxes present here in Manitoba are another sign of global warming. This warming area has become more suitable for red foxes, and they have increased their numbers. All around the Arctic, red foxes are moving north. And the answer to the question that kids like to ask - "If an Arctic fox and a red fox got into a fight, who would win?" - is very clearly the red fox. Not only does the larger species out-compete the Arctic fox for food, they will also kill individuals of the smaller species. Where red foxes move in, Arctic foxes will ultimately disappear.

To save the Arctic fox, we need deep and rapid greenhouse pollution reductions to slow global warming and preserve this animal's icy home. We have the technology and the successful environmental laws to make it happen; we just need to break through the political barriers, including climate denial. And because of the links between Arctic warming and the global climate system, if we save the Arctic fox and the polar bear, we'll save the rest of the world as well. Thanks to Polar Bears International, Explore.org, Tundra Connections, and Canada Goose for making these magical days out on tundra possible. Each trip brings wonderful new friends and colleagues and renewed determination to fight for solutions to the climate crisis.

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