Ten Thousand Sheep Carcasses to Rot in Mountains

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Ten Thousand Sheep Carcasses to Rot in Mountains

There are no plans to locate and dispose of the carcasses of the estimated 10,000 sheep that died in mountain pastures in North Iceland when an unexpected blizzard struck in mid-September 2012.

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Search and rescue workers rescuing sheep in Northeast Iceland in September. Photo courtesy of ICE-SAR.

Farmers and search and rescue members focused on finding sheep that were alive. Poor weather conditions and a thick snow cover have made it difficult to search for carcasses. In spite of the recent thaw, many mountain pastures are still covered in snow.

“We don’t know what can be done about the carcasses until early August,” farmer Sæþór Gunnsteinsson at Presthvammur in Aðaldalur, Northeast Iceland, told Fréttablaðið. “When the snow melts in mid-summer, the carcasses will just disappear. This is such a large area that we would never try to collect them.”

Sæþór lost 100 ewes and lambs of the 900 that he drove into the mountains last summer. “It has been a disastrous winter,” he said. “Experience tells us that the sheep that are killed and appear from underneath the snow can be gone in two weeks. To dispose of the carcasses is impossible.”

When the carcasses are exposed, birds and foxes will feed on them until only bones, heads and wool remain.

Alfreð Schiöth, managing director of the Public Health Authority in Northeast Iceland, stated the Ministry for the Environment has agreed to provide funding to farmers to assist them with disposing of the carcasses at recognized areas.

“Farmers know well that the remains of these animals can be visible throughout the summer,” Alfreð stated. “The areas include popular tourism destinations and it is rather unpleasant if tourists must face hundreds of carcasses. I doubt ravens and foxes are that efficient.”

Þorsteinn Ólafsson, a specialized veterinarian at the Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), stated it is unlikely that foxes will spread diseases after feeding on the carcasses, which rot incredibly fast.

“I agree that it was difficult to remove the carcasses and it will always be difficult. The scenario cannot be avoided,” Þorsteinn added.

Amazingly, sheep are still being found alive and well in mountain pastures.

Click here to read about the last recovery of sheep.

ESA