Mere minutes away from Ísafjörður, the Arctic Fox Centre in Súðavík is the first of its kind in the world. The centre is dedicated to Iceland’s only native animal and features a small, but growing, collection of all things fox related, from stuffed creatures to jars of fox droppings (and fox foetuses, too). The exhibit is also jam packed with information on the species to raise foxy awareness, in three languages, to wit. They even have an orphaned fox pup that they are fostering until he can go live alone in the wild! Yes, that is as cute as it sounds.
Opened of June 12 of this year, the centre is housed in the oldest building of this adorable, tiny fishing town in the Westfjords, which was abandoned for many years and recently restored. Ester Unnsteinsdóttir is the curator of the exhibit and also runs the café in the building. She has been studying arctic foxes since 1989 and has worked at the Hornstrandur nature reserve observing fox wildlife. She moved to the Westfjords from Reykjavík as there is the highest density of arctic foxes residing in this region of Iceland. She has been building the collection for the past three years and is now very happy with the response the centre has received, estimating approximately 1.500 visitors since it opened.
“I am involved in the scientific community here,” Ester tells us about how she managed to make the centre a reality. “I was invited to Sweden last year for a conference of arctic foxes where my PhD advisor was speaking and that was really great. We are also really lucky to be in collaboration with so many people and institutes such as the University of Iceland, the Nature Institution and a lot of photographers.”
In addition to providing knowledge and information, they also act as a non-profit research centre where they work to gain more information on the species, observe their behaviour and develop sustainability methods. They work in conjunction with nature reserves and organisations such as Wild North, but also with fox hunters who are hired to control the population and contribute to the centre’s growth.
“We are also developing an interactive children’s programme,” says Ester, “We working with an illustrator named Billa and she is creating characters for the centre based on the popular Scandinavian character Mickey the Red Fox.” Further expansion for the centre will include scientific material, a research library and a collection of nature films. She has also received a large collection of receipts from the son of a fox hunter who sold pelts to the Hudson Bay Company in Canada in the 1930s.
Most of all, she is truly happy with the building and how beautiful the restoration process has made it. “I am really proud to give the old house life again,” she brims with joy, adding that members of the community have come by to bring her things that once belonged to the house. Another excellent gift to the house is a stamp collection donated by a former police officer from Reykjavík. The cosy atmosphere, hot coffee and super friendly staff (not to mention all the foxy fox wisdom) makes this a must on any Westfjords road trip. They have free Wi-Fi too!
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