rabbits invade iceland

Rabbits are creating havoc in Iceland, and they have several people quite worried. Rabbits are not native to the country.

Rabbits are creating havoc in Iceland, and they have several people quite worried.

Rabbits are not native to the country. They only here within the last century.

They are descended from pets that have been set loose or that have escaped from their owners. 

On one hand, some say the rabbits are cute and that the Icelandic fauna could do with a little more variation.

These are healthy animals that seem to be settling in quite nicely, and who knows, perhaps wild Icelandic rabbit meat will become a delicacy sought after throughout the world in another few years.

And there is some truth to that.

But on the other hand, how does a country that has never had rabbits deal with them?

Truth be told — not that well.

Some complaints seem less serious, though they express annoyance.

The rabbits are, for example, much disliked in a graveyard close to downtown Reykjavík, as they eat the fresh flowers people put on the graves.

But other complaints over these fuzzy little animals are more serious.

Puffins in the Westman Islands, along with other places, suffer under the onslaught of bunnies.

They have used the same nesting holes for centuries. These holes exist in soft grassy areas on top of steep black cliffs, and there, these funny little birds with their colourful beaks lay their one egg of the year.

The rabbits are more aggressive than the puffins, and chase them from their holes.

Because puffins can’t dig more holes, they are left without a nesting area and, therefore, simply stop breeding.

The rabbits, on the other hand, breed more once they’ve found this safe haven with lots of greenery around to eat, but vegetation is often very versatile near the nesting grounds of seabirds, due to the birds’ excrement and dropped food.

As more puffins nest in Vestmannaeyjar than anywhere else in the world, this invasion of rabbits has many islanders quite concerned.

Ásmundur Pálsson, whose job is to kill vermin, has — along with a few other hunters in Vestmannaeyjar — worked steadfastly in the past years at diminishing the rabbits in the islands.

The six hunters call themselves the Storm Troop, and seem to believe they can get rid of all the rabbits, though many people claim that’s an impossible task.

Last winter, the hunters caught about 1,000 rabbits on the largest island alone, but a few still remain.

“I haven’t gone to the cliffs lately, but I saw one with the help of my binoculars. It was grey; then someone told me that he’d seen a brown one, so there are at least two left,” Ásmundur told a reporter of a local paper recently.

Much of the rabbit meat goes to waste, though some of the hunters save either the meat or the fur of their catch, according to Ásmundur.

Another problem is that it’s actually illegal to hunt rabbits, as, by law, they are not considered a wild animal.

In fact, rabbits don’t exist in Icelandic law, so animal rights activists have been attempting to stop the hunt until the law has been regulated — something that appears to be a rather complicated task for the bureaucrats.

Nonetheless, the ministry of farming has given leave to several hunters to catch rabbits, particularly in places where they are considered a pest, as in Vestmannaeyjar.

Predictably, animal rights activists have raised fuss about this, and asked the ministry to stop the hunt.

It’s also illegal to hunt animals within the limits of Reykjavík and other municipalities, unless they’re vermin and then only a licensed vermin hunter, like Ásmundur, can catch them.

Ásmundur and other island dwellers hope the wild cats will keep the rabbit population down — but only time will tell.