||Inuit knowledge on foxes
TRADITIONAL USES AND CULTURAL IMPORTANCE
The trade of Arctic Fox furs has been the main source
of income for Inuit families from the 1920s to the 1970s.
During that period, the pelts of Arctic Foxes were sold
to the Hudson Bay Company trading post, established in
Pond Inlet in 1921, in exchange of essential goods such
as riffles, ammunitions, sowing material, soap, etc. According
to the elders and hunters interviewed, Arctic Foxes were
very important during that period as they were almost
the only way to obtain goods that would facilitate daily
life on the land.
To obtain fox furs to be traded, interviewees mentioned
that almost every Inuit families dedicated their winters
to fox trapping. Trap lines were mostly located along
the coastline. This facilitated travel by dog teams and
allowed them to hunt for seals which Inuit families depended
on for food but also for light and warmth (through seal
Besides being used for trading, fox furs were
sometimes used for clothing. The tail could be made into scarves,
and the tail tendons used as thread for sowing. Fox furs could
also be used for hood trims or placed around the waist area to
keep warm. This was called ‘Qaumailissaq’ in Inuktitut.
Fox furs could also be used by hunters when going seal hunting.
Placed under the feet, the fur would allow hunters to approach
seal holes without being heard, thus facilitating the hunt. Although
hare fur was mostly used for that purpose, fox pelts were also
After the settlement of Inuit families in the late 1960s, fur
trading remained an important economic activity, until the collapse
of the fur trade market in the 1980s. Today, fox furs are used
mainly for hood trims. To some elders and hunters however, fox
trapping remains an important activity as it is one way to get
the Inuit traditions alive.
ECOLOGY OF THE ARCTIC FOX
Winter feeding ecology and distribution
According to scientific information, not much is known about the
winter diet of Arctic Foxes from the area of Pond Inlet. Elders
and hunters from the area were therefore asked to share their
knowledge about the feeding habits of Arctic Foxes and the location
where they are mostly seen during the winter. Of the 21 elders
and hunters interviewed 18 commented on the location where Arctic
Foxes are most often seen during that season. Of these, 8 commented
that they observed Arctic Foxes mostly on the land, while 3 mentioned
seeing them mostly on the shorelines, 3 either on the land or
the ice, 2 on the sea ice, 1 at the floe edge (where the sea ice
meets the open sea), and 1 at the floe edge and on the mainland.
Sixteen informants commented on the winter diet of the Arctic
Fox. According to them, its diet consists of various items: the
most often cited being carcasses of sea mammal (12/16 interviewees)
and lemmings (11/16). Some specified that these carcasses came
from beached animals (7/12) or were left on the ice by Polar Bears
(5/12) or hunters (3/12). Caribou meat (2/16), Arctic Hares (1/16),
birds (most likely ptarmigans; 1/16), and food caches prepared
by hunters (1/16) were also cited as items consumed by foxes in
Interestingly, 11 informants unexpectedly reported on the existence
of two types of Arctic Foxes that can be distinguished by their
different wintering strategies: one type mostly remaining on the
land during the cold season and the other remaining on the sea
ice. According to these 11 elders and hunters the two types of
foxes can be distinguished by the facts that the "land fox"
has a thicker fur (8/11), a whiter fur (4/11) and a larger body
size (2/11). Other informants also mentioned that "land foxes"
have a harder and less oily fat (1/11), longer fur (1/11), thinner
skin (1/11), are better to eat (1/11) and turn white earlier in
the winter (1/11). Variations in food sources (6/7) and temperature
gradient between the sea ice and the land (1/7) are the reasons
raised by 7 persons to explain the differences between the "land"
and "sea" foxes.
Interestingly also 17/21 spontaneously reported that Arctic Foxes
engage in a massive migration from March to April during which
foxes move towards the sea ice to feed on newborn ringed seal
Arrival of the Red Fox in the Area
Red foxes have only recently expanded their range to the Baffin
Island area. This recent colonisation has only been sparsely documented
and the impact it may have on Arctic Fox populations raises some
concerns. In order to complement the information available on
the arrival of the Red Fox in the area of Pond Inlet, based on
pelt records from the Hudson Bay Company trading post, interviewees
were asked if they remembered having seen a Red Fox for the first
time in their hunting area. Seventeen informants provided comments,
of which 3 mentioned having always seen an occasional Red Fox,
1 believed, based on his parents, that Red Foxes have always been
around and 13 remembered their first encounter with a Red Fox.
Among the persons interviewed who remembered their first sighting,
1/17 stated having seen one for the first time in 1943, in Igloolik,
2/17 stated having seen one in 1947-1948 in the Pond Inlet area,
8/17 stated their first sighting in the 1950s and 2/17 in the
1960s. Nine out of ten elders and hunters mentioned that since
it arrived around Pond Inlet, the Red Fox has increased in numbers.
Moreover, the silver and cross colour morphs (variation) of the
Red Fox have been sighted in the area.
Locations and Characteristics of Denning Areas
People interviewed were asked to comment on the best area for
foxes to build a den. Observed denning locations were noted on
maps, which included pinpointed locations as well as general areas
for both Arctic and Red Fox dens. Seventeen informants also commented
on the characteristics defining good denning habitats. The majority
mentioned the presence of a sandy soil or sandy area (13/17) as
an important characteristic. The presence of fish (2/17), places
with abundant soil (1/17), low lying areas (1/17) and small hills
(1/17) where also cited as important characteristics.