Mag
Articles
Raccoons In Iceland: A Sad History

Raccoons In Iceland: A Sad History

Published July 11, 2014

As visitors to Iceland will no doubt soon realise, Iceland’s fauna is not particularly diverse. Several attempts have been made to remedy this fact by importing exotic (at least by Icelandic standards) animals to Iceland, but these trials have not been too successful.

In the spring of 1932, an enterprising bookbinder named Ársæll Árnason came from Germany bearing a cargo of seven raccoons—to the best of our knowledge the first time raccoons touched Icelandic soil.

Ársæll had previously been involved in shipping several young muskoxen to Iceland, all of whom died soon after their arrival in Iceland, a story regular Grapevine readers may be familiar with from one of our past columns.

While Ársæll had seen the benefits of muskoxen—including their plentiful meat and warm wool—he saw no special use for racoons in Iceland. He simply adored the creatures, describing them in Icelandic magazine articles from the time as “wonderful” and the most “fun” animals he could imagine.

The first few months, the racoons lived in a cage outside Ársæll’s home in central Reykjavík. There, a litter of raccoon cubs was soon born, becoming Iceland’s first native-born raccoons. The cubs drank milk from a bottle like babies and slept with Ársæll’s children at night.

The coons could not stay in Reykjavík forever, so the group was split up. A few went to a fur farm in South Iceland, where one of them managed to escape, surviving for months in the Icelandic wilderness before a local farmer shot a “strange creature” that had attacked his hens. Ársæll was distraught over his passing.

Three raccoons were sent to Ársæll’s sister Guðbjörg Árnadóttir in Vestmannaeyjar. They soon became a popular attraction with the islands’ children, who enjoyed feeding them various foods—raccoons are notorious omnivores—and setting them free from their cages, sending Guðbjörg to chase after them on their leaps to freedom. The raccoons were sociable creatures and especially enjoyed going downtown.

Eventually Guðbjörg tired of the constant chase and had the coons put down.

Second Chapter

Iceland remained raccoon-free for the next forty years until December 1975 when the Hafnafjörður Aquarium bought raccoons from the Copenhagen Zoo.

The Icelandic media announced proudly that the Aquarium, where in the seventies and eighties Icelanders could see a number of exotic animals (most of them, unfortunately, badly treated), now hosted two Danish raccoons. What they didn’t mention was that the coons that came from Copenhagen were actually three. But one of them didn’t care for a future in the Aquarium and escaped en route.

A few weeks later, newspaper Dagblaðið ran a gruesome photo of a mangled animal corpse on its front page. “Strange animal threatens fishmeal factory worker,” read the headline. The creature had hissed at an electrician at the Hafnafjörður factory, who responded by shooting it on the spot.

According to the article, specialists at the Icelandic Institute of Natural History had not managed to identify the creature, and speculated if this might be a wild dog, “tall fox” or even a skoffín, the fearsome cat-fox-hybrid of Icelandic folklore.

Of course not — this was the third raccoon, which had managed to survive in the wild around Hafnafjörður for weeks before meeting this grisly end in the fishmeal factory.

Third Chapter

In October 1998, employees of a Reykjavík hot tub store were taken aback by the sight of a furry creature hiding in a shipment of massage tubs from Toronto.

It was, of course, yet another raccoon. In Toronto, the poor animal had likely rambled into a shipping container bound for Iceland, and had been travelling for almost a month. The raccoon had in its desperation started nibbling on the wooden shipping pallets. He appeared dazed from hunger and thirst.

The employees called the police, and a policeman responded quickly by shooting the miserable creature.

 


Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

The Ghosts Of Best-Ofs Past

by

Compiling the BEST OF REYKJAVÍK has always been, at best, a half-absurd proposition. As much as we love our city, it is a tiny one, a miniscule one. It is a city that hosts exactly two competitors for the category of ‘best Indian food’, in a country where the Prime Minister ceremoniously and reverently chomped down the first Big Mac served at the island’s first McDonald’s franchise back in ’93 (miss u, cheap cardboard hamburgers and delicious fries). Yet, compiling the BEST OF REYKJAVÍK, half-absurd as the act may be, is always a deeply satisfying endeavour. The best part is:

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

Best Of The News

by

In reviewing the past year in news, you will see certain patterns emerge: certain public figures, events and topics that seem to ignite social media and office break room conversations for days, weeks or even months. Arguments are had, alliances are formed, and people are unfriended over these very stories. These are news trends that never really go away; they just change form and come back to pay repeated visits, for better or for worse. Let Grapevine take you back over the past year to savour the delectable banquet that is the very best the news has had to offer.

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

Completely Unthinkable

by

As you read this, the State Prosecutor is reviewing the latest findings of a months-long police investigation of the Ministry of the Interior, over a memo on Nigerian asylum seeker Tony Omos that found itself in the hands of select members of the media last November. This memo impugned Tony’s reputation, with accusations— which later proved false and misleading—at a time when he was facing impending deportation, and the Ministry was facing a protest. So far, those investigations have seemingly confirmed what has long been suspected: the memo originated in the Ministry, that Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

Searching For Ido

by

In the summer of 2004, exactly 10 years ago, a tragic accident happened on Laugavegur, Iceland’s most popular hiking trail. Ido Keinan, a young man from Israel, passed away after getting trapped in a vicious storm. Only one kilometre away from the hut in Hrafntinnusker, he died of exposure to the fierce elements. To this day a memorial on the Laugavegur trail reminds hikers of the highlands’ hidden dangers. Friday, June 25, 2004, Ben-Gurion airport, Tel-Aviv—Dressed in a black t-shirt and baggy jeans, Ido Keinan, 25 years of age, says goodbye to his family. He is about to take a

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

The Last Emperor Of Atlantis Was An Icelander

by

Karl Kerulf Einarsson, aka Dunganon, aka the Duke of St. Kilda, aka Emperor Cormorant XII of Atlantis, was both an artist and a poet, but his most remarkable creation was himself…or I should say his various selves. Born in 1897 near Seyðisfjörður in eastern Iceland, Karl moved with his family to the Faroe Islands when he was still a child. He may have derived some of his eccentric genes from his father, a grocer who displayed a dead cat playing a violin in the window of his Torshavn shop. Early on, Karl realised that he could find a better playing

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

News In Brief: Late June, 2014

by

Former prime minister and first openly gay head of state Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir delivered a moving speech about LGBT rights at Toronto’s WorldPride Human Rights Conference last week. In her speech, Jóhanna expressed gratitude for LGBT activists and told the audience that she lived with shame and inner conflict before coming out, but that her “story [was] also a tale of triumph. Because in the end love conquered all. Speaking of epic Icelandic women, Björk made international news again last week when MoMA announced they were putting together a special retrospective of her work. According to Klaus Biesenbach, chief-curator-at-large for MoMA,

Show Me More!