Red, white and resourceful
Following the tracks of Northern foxes

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife ( Jun 05/00) - Our territorial flag bears a portrait of one because they were a mainstay of the trapping industry -- the fox has, willingly or not, played an important role in the history of the Northwest Territories.

Rae Lakes trapper Joe Zoe said their reputation for being intelligent animals is well deserved.

"Sometimes we see a lot of tracks but we just go right through. We don't bother trapping. They're a smart animal, the fox."

The area where Zoe traps is part of the large overlap zone of red fox and arctic fox habitat. Arctic foxes can be found from just below the tree line on North throughout the circumpolar world.

The Northern limit of red foxes is generally the arctic coast, though they also live on Baffin Island and Southampton Island.

Foxes in the Rae Lakes area den live near the shores of lakes, ponds and swamps, because there are more mice there, said Zoe.

There isn't much in the way of food that foxes will turn their noses up at. Lemmings and voles are the staples of arctic foxes' diet.

For reds, the staple diet is mice.

Both also feed on other small game, such as ptarmigan and grouse and scavenge carcasses left by wolves, polar bears and hunters.

Arctic foxes also follow polar bears to dine on their leftovers.

Zoe said last season he saw foxes trying to dig into the ice to feed on caribou that had broken through and died.

While out trapping, the main animal he looks for is marten.

The distances foxes travel depends largely on how plentiful game is.

According to information provided by the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development, fox generally have fairly small home ranges -- from three to 25 square kilometres.

"They stay close to where they're born," said Zoe.

"We see them at almost the same place."

Though there are no estimates on the number of foxes in the NWT, it is known that their numbers rise and fall with mice and lemming populations.