Living in rural Ireland we often see foxes, badgers, hares and every now-and-then, red deer, visit the fields on our farm. There’s something special about seeing native species enjoying life in the countryside. Foxes in Ireland are red, but Arctic Foxes, once they get their beautiful winter coats; are white. Their pure white coat provides superb winter camouflage allowing them to blend into the Arctic’s harsh omni-present snow. At home we never place food outside for wildlife, other than bird feeders during winter. During our day trip to Ranua Zoo, we were beyond excited to receive an invite from Enna Paavola, CEO of Ranua Zoo; did we fancy Hand Feeding an Arctic Fox at Ranua Zoo, with the added bonus of getting to watch majestic Polar Bears eat their breakfast? Surely it would be rude to refuse the invite…and of course we accepted, without hesitation!
RANUA ZOO, FINNISH LAPLAND
After a peaceful nights sleep in a Glass Igloo at Arctic Guesthouse & Igloos, we dressed and drove the short 5 minute drive to Ranua Zoo for our breakfast meeting with an Arctic Fox. The time was 6am. Outside the temperature was -12°C and no doubt the Arctic Fox was more awake than we were! Silence in the back seat of the car, Lily-Belle and Matilda yawning and rubbing their tired little eyes. Once we had parked at Ranua Zoo, we had a short walk to the Holiday Village Gulo Gulo reception. Our guide, from Wildlife Safaris; was waiting for our arrival. Although we had dressed in appropriate winter clothing for the day ahead and for Hand Feeding an Arctic Fox at Ranua Zoo a helmet was provided…a helmet…to feed a fox…how dangerous is this fluffy chap? It soon became apparent why helmets were provided, our journey to the Arctic Fox pen was in an open sleigh towed by a snowmobile.
THIS NOT-SO-LITTLE PIGGY WENT TO MARKET
Our group, around 10 people in total; sat quietly enjoying the snowmobile ride, taking in the sights and sounds as we passed the animal enclosures at Ranua Zoo. Many seemingly devoid of life as diurnal animals were only just rousing from their night of slumber. Peaceful, and just the odd bird call could be heard over the hum of the snowmobile engine. First stop on the agenda, Polar Bears. Our route took us past the wild boar enclosure and the chit-chat from our group must have roused the boars inquisitive nature. One by one, boar exited their snug den and ventured close to the fence. These are no domestic piggies, they are huge, and commonly referred to as ‘wild pigs’. Males can weigh up to 200kg and have sharp tusks protruding from their mouths. A few photos and our journey continued to the Polar Bear enclosure.
FASCINATING FACT: baby wild boar are often referred to as ‘humbugs’, after the tasty sweet; due to their stripey black and brown coats.
FINE DINING WITH A POLAR BEAR
The extended viewing area provides visitors to Ranua Zoo with a perfect platform for watching the Polar Bears. Late winter-early spring and the Polar Bears had emerged from their deep winter hibernation. The male and female were in separate enclosures. On one side, the female walked back and forth along the wall that separated the two majestic Polar Bears, on the other, the male stood on his hind legs, sniffing the cold arctic air. On his hind legs the male stands at 10 feet, and weighs over 500kg…a truly imposing figure! I lifted Matilda and pretended that I was going to feed her to the Polar Bears! Bad idea, she was not a happy bunny, still tired the poor critter! The Polar Bears, able to smell a food source from over a kilometre away; could sense breakfast had arrived as they trundled across the snow covered ground and stood directly below our group. The guide threw in two large legs of meat, one into each enclosure. From what animal the legs came from, I don’t know, but I would presume reindeer or pork?
POLAR BEARS LIKE TO PLAY WITH THEIR FOOD
The Polar Bears playfully wrestled with their breakfast, possibly a way of practicing their natural hunting skills. The ‘breakfast leg’ was dragged by the male Polar Bear to the upper area of the enclosure, and closer to the den; where he tore greedily at his bloody prize. Matilda asked what the bones were that were strewn around the enclosure, couldn’t resist….children’s bones….and that was me, in the bad books once more! During winter hibernation Polar Bears lose between 25-40% of their body weight. In early spring when Polar Bears emerge from the state of hibernation; these magnificent creatures often appear to be drunk, this state is known as ‘walking hibernation’ and can last several weeks until their huge bodies get back to normal. We left the Polar Bears in peace to enjoy their breakfast. Next stop, Hand Feeding an Arctic Fox at Ranua Zoo.
HAND FEEDING AN ARCTIC FOX AT RANUA ZOO
After a short walk, our party arrived at the Arctic Fox enclosure. Our guide explained that Ranua Zoo had two Arctic Foxes, one male and one female, but the female escaped (inferred possibly let out) just two weeks earlier and was nowhere to be seen. Outside the Arctic Fox pen we were given a safety briefing, in short… keep an eye on your fingers as Arctic Foxes see them as tasty sausages. Before entering the enclosure, through a double door system, we could see the Arctic Fox running along furrowed tracks in the snow, deep tracks that the fox had made as he paced from one place to another. And we were in….single file along an aforementioned fox track, to a clearing in the centre of the enclosure…and there he was, the splendid and fluffy white Arctic Fox…wow! Tiny in size, but big in attitude!
ARCTIC FOXES ARE COLOURFUL CHARACTERS
During hot summer months the Arctic Fox colouration varies but is usually dark grey, brown or a bluish-grey-brown. In the winter months, the summer coat is replaced by a much thicker coat, often stark white or off-white in colour. The Arctic Fox has a short muzzle that is tipped with a shiny black nose, perfect for sniffing out its prey of rodents (and sometimes birds and fish) hidden beneath the deep snow. A short stocky animal, the Arctic Fox has thick fur, small curled back ears and a long bushy tail (to aid with balance) which are adaptations that help it to survive in Finland’s cold harsh winter months. This little fella looks adorable and at times, seemingly smiling at you. But beneath all that cuteness, there’s a hunter, a scavenger, ready to pounce or steal whatever food source he can find. In the wild, Arctic Foxes are known to follow Polar Bears, hopeful to gather up the scraps or leftovers from a kill.
COUNT YOUR FINGERS GOING IN, COUNT THEM AGAIN COMING OUT
The Arctic Fox seemed to have an instant attraction to Lily-Belle, as he made haste to walk behind her, sniffing the air as he followed closely behind. Inside the Arctic Fox enclosure we were each given a pan containing food for the Arctic Fox. Chicken, pork, reindeer, squirrel…who knows, and we never asked! The Arctic Fox scurried hastily to the first offering, snaffled a piece of meat, and then retreated just a few short feet away to gobble down his breakfast. Hungrily and hastily the Arctic Fox returned to the pan until he had taken the last morsel, before moving on to the next food source offered by another member of the group. This pattern continued until the Arctic Fox had eaten all of the free offerings. At this point we were again informed to keep our hands by our side and away from the Arctic Foxes mouth, and not to attempt to pet Mr Fox. Quick finger count, 1, 2, 3, 4…..yup, 10 digits, phew!
FANTASTIC MR FOX…BUT NOT THE MOVIE
As we stood and watched the Arctic Fox move graciously and stealthily among us, his long white bushy tail would, on occasion, brush against our legs. Lily-Belle and Matilda were mesmerised and somewhat a little cautious of this cute bundle of white fluff. Standing patiently still when the temperature is around -10 °C, it didn’t take long for Lily-Belle and Matilda to begin feeling the cold. The Arctic Fox has a thick fur coat, perfectly adapted for dealing with harsh, cold environments…we don’t! And just at the moment of ‘Daddy, it’s really cold, are we done yet?’ whispered into my ear by Lily-Belle, our guide, after providing us with lots of informative facts about the fantastic Arctic Fox; called an end to this memorable excursion. Wow, Hand Feeding an Arctic Fox at Ranua Zoo…so personal and special, perfectly magical, and the Arctic Fox himself…adorable and cute!
WATCH OUR HIGHLIGHT VIDEO BELOW OR VIEW ON YOUTUBE
And now, the short drive back to Arctic Guesthouse & Igloos for breakfast before being towed across frozen Lake Ranua in a Glass Igloo.
READ: SLEEPING IN A GLASS IGLOO AT ARCTIC GUESTHOUSE & IGLOOS
WOULD WE GO BACK?
Most definitely. There are lots of amazing animals on God’s great earth, but sadly, through no fault of their own, many are rapidly declining in numbers, or indeed, on the brink of extinction. Whether you like zoos or not, they are crucial and play an important role in protecting endangered species through conservation and international breeding programmes. And, zoos and aquariums are the best places for you and I to get up close and personal to animals that we may never get to see in the wild. As of August 2020, there are fewer than 10 individual wild Arctic Foxes left in Finland….10…let that sink in for a moment! Sadly, losing the female Arctic Fox has created a setback for the vital breeding programme at Ranua Zoo. So please, support your local zoo and help save some of the animal species that are in decline.
With a very special THANK YOU to:
- Enna Paavola (CEO Ranua Zoo) – for your kind invite to Ranua Zoo to feed your beautiful arctic fox, and for the lovely fluffy polar bear teddy that you gave to Lily-Belle and Matilda. They LOVE them!
- Excursion Guide – for being a great guide and for giving us lots of informative facts and anecdotes during our excursion.
May we take this opportunity to say thank you for offering and taking us on this wonderful guided excursion. Never in our wildest dreams would we have ever thought that we would get to see, let alone feed; an arctic fox. Our visit to Ranua Zoo will remain a treasured memory for many years to come. From the depths of our hearts, thank you for the great conservation work that you do at Ranua Zoo. It was a true pleasure working alongside Ranua Zoo on this collaboration.
“Riippumatta siitä, kuinka vähän omaisuutta sinulla on tai kuinka vähän rahaa sinulla on, villieläinten ja luonnon rakastaminen tekee sinusta rikkaan.” – Paul Oxton
LILY-BELLE SAYS (11)
The Arctic Fox was really fluffy and cute, and I would have loved to have held it. He was really hungry and ate all of the food offered, for such a small animal he had a big appetite.
MATILDA SAYS (5)
Feeding the fox was really good and he was very cute.
Date(s) of visit: 12th March 2020
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[disclaimer: Our Hand Feeding an Arctic Fox at Ranua Zoo excursion was gifted. Gifted item(s) were provided in return for social media and blog coverage. This blog post contains external links, we do not receive any commission or payment if you click through these links.
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