Last week it was reported that the spread of rabbits in Iceland has been so extensive that the species is now considered to be part of the country’s wild fauna. Rabbits, part of Iceland’s wildlife?
Estimates of the number of rabbits in Iceland vary between several hundred to several thousand. But they didn’t spring up overnight.
According to Ævar Petersen, a specialist at the Icelandic Institute of Natural History, rabbits have been present in Iceland since the 19th century, becoming extinct multiple times but returning again and again.
The reason for this is that people release their pet rabbits into the wild. Having lost interest in them, they leave them to fend for themselves.
And fend for themselves they do! The damage, or potential damage, the rabbits are causing to vegetation is now considered a major issue in Iceland.
A recent study found that around 85 percent of the rabbits in the capital area are found in the popular outdoor recreation area of Elliðaárdalur valley.
The majority of the animals live in the garden and surrounding area of a house on the edge of the valley. The house owner feeds them daily, and the animals are a popular attraction for families and passersby.
Last year, I spoke to the owner of that house. He told me that the rabbits had been living on his doorstep for many years and they now numbered, he estimated, at least 100. Even without the constant and plentiful food provided to them, the winters are becoming milder, further helping the species adapt.
So, what is the solution to stopping the spread of rabbits here?
Environmental authorities are calling to have the rabbits exterminated. That alone, they realize, will not solve the problem if people continue to release their unwanted pets into the wild.
Some people have suggested that they be hunted for food. In all seriousness, while rabbit farming has started in Iceland, killing off the wild rabbits for food isn’t going to happen.
Either way, the rabbits may pose a serious threat to vegetation and biodiversity on the island.
City and environmental authorities as well as consultants, have been investigating the possible impacts of their spread and solutions to dealing with the issue.
Australia and New Zealand no doubt provide some useful case studies.
One reader from New Zealand recently wrote in to warn of the threat rabbits may pose to efforts towards reforestation as well as those by farmers to grow fodder for their livestock.
Rabbits have cost New Zealand and Australia millions of dollars, through attempts to control them and lost production on farmland, including devastating effects on sheep farming.
Various rabbit control techniques have been considered and carried out, including the construction of rabbit fences and the use of poison.
While such problems may not seem likely in Iceland, let’s hope that the authorities continue to take the matter seriously and take the appropriate action.
Zoë Robert – [email protected]