Agronomist Stella Kristjánsdóttir has the greatest job in the world.
“I often joke that I was picked up by the wrong family,” Stella Kristjánsdóttir laughs as she strews grain to a crowd of about three dozen hungry ducks and geese. Although born in Reykjavík, Stella has spent her entire life fascinated by farm life. So much so, that she pursued an education in agronomy, and today works at the Reykjavík Family Park and Zoo, where she does just about everything.
When we meet up with her, it’s an hour before the zoo closes, and she still has plenty to do. There are a few families following her with us, as she goes from feeding the seals while talking about their particular quirks, to the stall housing goats, sheep and horses. The adults amongst the guests seem almost incidental; it’s the children she pays attention to, encouraging them even to help her feed these animals.
“Children can be shy about having anything to do with the animals, but if one of them does it, the rest of them will,” she says. This is especially apparent when it’s time to milk the cows. Stella produces a pail of milk, freshly extracted from an unfazed heifer, and offers some to the kids. They regard the pail of milk as if she were offering them broccoli. “Sometimes kids are even surprised to learn milk comes from cows,” she says. “When I ask where they think it comes from, they’ll often say ‘from a carton.’”
Stella isn’t alone as she makes her rounds. Svalur, a particularly spry russet hound, follows her everywhere. Wherever she goes, the animals welcomed her: pigs squeal, sheep bray, even normally taciturn goats get antsy upon her arrival. Her relationship with these beasts seems to go beyond mere caretaker. She greets them, and regards them, as friends.
Stella’s dog, Svalur, and an Arctic fox are the best of friends:
(Video: Varvara Lozenko)
The zoo soon closes, and we wander up to the reindeer area, where Stella shows us some of the antlers that had been recently shed. The animals seem wary of us, despite handfuls of yummy Icelandic moss being offered. But it doesn’t matter, because the real attraction is still to come.
As we walk down the hill from the reindeer, Svalur suddenly bounds forward. In the distance comes a shrill cry that sounds like something between a seagull and a small dog.
“That’s the foxes,” Stella says. “The female is kind of shy, but the male absolutely loves the dog. They’re always playing together.”
True to her word, when we get to the enclosure, a small brown Arctic fox is right up at the bars, and starts wagging its tail and screaming like crazy when it sees the dog. The female watches guardedly from a few metres behind him. We’re led into the enclosure itself, and I am nearly overcome with joy to be this close to not one but two Arctic foxes. The male—who, we are told, is “particularly feisty” on account of it being mating season—immediately sets upon the dog. Although Svalur is easily more than twice his size, this doesn’t stop the fox from leaping up to bite his ears, or to race him around the pen.
Stella pins the fox at one point, rubbing its belly and cooing at it with baby talk, before it breaks from her grasp and sniffs curiously around our ankles. It’s at this moment that I become convinced Stella probably has the greatest job in the world.