From Iceland — Invasive Alien Species

Invasive Alien Species

Published July 6, 2014

Invasive Alien Species
Haukur Már Helgason
Photo by
Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this year, Grapevine reported that wild rabbits in Reykjavík and elsewhere around Iceland “will be removed”, with fittingly “little rifles” as soon as the law allows. Why? you may have asked. Well …

Öskjuhlið is the name of the hill next to Reykjavík Airport, crowned by the glass-covered half-sphere called Perlan. Perlan opened in 1991. Obviously, it is supposed to stay there. So are the hot water storage tanks upon which it rests. The 300 thousand birch and pine trees planted and grown in Öskjuhlíð since 1951 are certainly supposed to remain there, as well as the artificial geyser which opened in 1998. The heated water tunneled into the sea by the manually-transported-yellow-sand-designer-beach, which opened in 2000 —that’s all supposed to be there. And on a hot summer day so are you, which is why the huge parking lots are also right where they are supposed to be. Öskjuhlíð is, however, also the site of Iceland’s largest, or at least best-known, wild rabbit stock. This has been the case for some decades. The rabbits are there but they are absolutely not supposed to be there. Supposed by whom? Authorities —although in a country whose population is yet to reach half a million, the boundaries between authorities and the public are not always clear.

In 2012 Fréttablaðið ran a front page news item stating that rabbits were now part of Iceland’s wild fauna. They quoted a specialist from The Icelandic Institute of Natural History (IINH) who said as much. The fact that the statement made front page news seemed peculiar, since to many observers the man only appeared to state the obvious. IINH moved swiftly to correct this sad misunderstanding: Not a day went by before IINH sent out the following press release, titled ‘Rabbits do not have the status of subjects in Iceland’s nature’:

“Alien Species to be Exterminated”

On the front page of [daily newspaper] Fréttablaðið on Thursday September 27, it was stated that the rabbit had become part of Iceland’s wild fauna. A specialist at IINH was quoted as saying that rabbits should be considered to have earned their status as subjects among wild species in the country’s fauna. If that specific specialist is therein quoted correctly, he is voicing his personal opinion without having consulted the institute.

It is the IINH’s official stance that the rabbit is an alien species to be exterminated from the country’s wild nature, or otherwise put under severe controls, in accordance with the relevant Icelandic law and international obligations. Rabbits are pets and not part of the country’s fauna. It makes no difference if rabbits often escaped into the wild since the 19th century, and always became extinct after some time. In recent years rabbits have been let loose from human custody around the country and they have managed to survive and multiply due to the warming atmosphere. This temporary situation does not, however, bestow upon them the status of subjects in the country’s wild fauna. On the contrary, the rabbit is now registered as a potentially invasive alien species on an international list of invasive alien species in Europe (NOBANIS). In many other countries around Europe, rabbits are considered among invasive alien species to be exterminated, for example in Sweden, Finland and Poland.

Come Again?

And so it remains to this day. The rabbits are there. On their own, out in nature. But make no mistake about it: they are not part of that nature. They are confused pets, at best. Not so much wild as vagrant. The persons responsible for the above statement obviously do not hate rabbits: calling them rabbit-haters might probably be considered libel. They would, correctly, point out that they have nothing against people keeping rabbits in their homes, as pets. As far as the wild is considered, they just think that rabbits should stay where they came from. Presumably, Icelandic wildlife is precarious, existing in a delicate equilibrium between moss, asphalt, sheep, jeeps, salmon rivers and aluminum smelters, that must be kept stable at all costs. Probably the rabbits would eat all our crops, disrupt our traffic and take our jobs. You must be realistic: We cannot save all the world’s rabbits! No, they don’t hate rabbits. They just think that, whatever atmospheric conditions make Iceland temporarily habitable for their kind, they should stay elsewhere.

Related items: The Progressive Party, the Interior Ministry, the Directorate of Immigration and Mannanafnanefnd.

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