The Arctic Fox Center
History and museums
The Arctic Fox Center (Icelandic: Melrakkasetur) is a research center with an enclosed exhibition and café in the municipality Súðavík in the Westfjords in Iceland. It focuses on the Arctic fox (Vulpus lagopus) which is the only native terrestrial mammal in Iceland. The center was founded in 2007 by locals who are interested in the Arctic fox. It has a strong emphasis on ecotourism. The center is a non-profit-partner of 1% for the planet and a member of The Wild North.
The house is located in the new part of Súðavík, on the land of the former farm Eyrardalur. It was built in the last decade of the 19th century and has been renovated recently by the authorities of Súðavík.
Opened in 2010, the Center was founded by Páll Herssteinsson PhD and Ester Rut Unnsteinsdóttir MSc, Arctic fox experts as well as professor and pupil. Herssteinsson and Unnsteinsdóttir originally started studying the Arctic fox together on the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in 1998, one of the few areas in Iceland where the Arctic fox is protected from hunting, and wished to secure the continued study of the fox and to educate people on the facts of the Arctic fox, which in Iceland had a tarnished image and reputation. From this need grew the idea for the creation of the Arctic Fox Center, a den for collecting and displaying information on Arctic foxes as well as creating a foundation for the research which they had begun in 1998.
After introducing the idea to a mixed reception in a tourism conference in the town of Ísafjörður in 2005 the researchers began receiving supporters and backers, and by 2007 the Arctic Fox Center was officially created as a non profit organisation with 42 shareholders. The municipality of Súðavíkurhreppur had donated the oldest, but dilapidated house in the town of Súðavík to the project, and financed the complete restoration of the building. During this time Herssteinsson and Unnsteinsdóttir raised funds, collecting Arctic fox material and knowledge for the exhibitions as well as continuing with their research. On the 10th of June 2010 the Arctic Fox Centre was officially opened.
Herssteinsson died in 2010. The Arctic Fox Center maintains an exhibit of information, displays and videos of his work and through the creation of the Páll Hersteinnson Fund, which the Arctic Fox Center uses to support Arctic fox research in Iceland.
The museum consists of two parts. The first part deals with the biology and natural history of the Arctic fox including distribution, genetics, diet, details about their behaviour and the difference between 'white' and 'blue' morph Arctic foxes - the lesser known blue morph being especially significant to the region. The second deals with the social history of Iceland in relation to Arctic foxes, a complex history that reaches back over 1000 years. This part of the exhibition explores Iceland's fox-hunting tradition which continues to affect Iceland's relationship with the fox. Both the social and natural history parts of the museum give context to the scientific research conducted by the center (and associates), of which there are also exhibits on display. The information is available in Icelandic, English, and German and informative tours are also often available.
The research focuses on three main fields. The interaction between foxes and tourists, the dissections on carcasses from foxhunters, and the population estimation in the Westfjords.
Most of the field work to observe the population and the effect of tourism is carried out in the nature reserve Hornstrandir which is a popular hiking destination. Recently other areas in the Westfjords became also subject of fieldwork. To observe the foxes several volunteers are engaged every year. The aim is to establish a sustainable wildlife tourism, since there is an increasing interest of tourists in the foxes, especially to take pictures. The first studies were already published and they show the necessity to carry on. In addition The Arctic Fox Center is also member of The Wild North and a non-profit-partner of 1% for the planet.