Arctic Fox

Arctic Fox

Words / Carrie Hambach

Photo / Mark Dupont

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Chordata

Order: Chordata

Family: Canidae

Genus: Vulpes

Species: V. Lagopus

Of the many things that characterize the arctic tundra in Alaska, rabies is not a word that generally jumps to mind. Among the arctic fox that inhabit Alaska’s coastline, rabies has been endemic for quite some time with the first reported case of a rabies-like disease dating back to 1887.

Rabies is always present in a small fraction of arctic fox. However, epidemics that occur in arctic fox frequently infect red fox when the arctic fox population experiences a surge. These surges occur about every three to four years, typically after numbers increase in lemming and vole populations, the arctic foxes' main food source. The transmission of rabies is through the saliva, occurring commonly when an individual feeds on carrion after an infected fox. The arctic fox has one of the largest migrations, presenting a single individual the opportunity to infect many. Due to their migration and lack of infrastructure on the North Slope, eradicating rabies among arctic and red fox continues to present problems that we have yet to find solutions to.