From Iceland — Investigation: Where Have All The Rabbits Gone?

Investigation: Where Have All The Rabbits Gone?

Published December 14, 2021

Photo by
Ragna Ó. Guðmundsdóttir/Art Bicnick

Kjarninn has published a detailed investigative report on a mystery of lagomorphic proportions: the alleged sharp decline of rabbits in the wooded Öskju­hlíð area of Reykjavík.

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Rabbits are not native to Iceland. The present stock of rabbits in this country can be traced back to 2010, from a few pet rabbits that were released into the wild near the Elliðaárdal area of Reykjavík. From that point, they experienced a population boom of sorts. In 2011, rabbits bounded onto a Reykjavík highway, causing a three-car pile up. By 2012, rabbits were plaguing farms in south Iceland, as they burrowed into hay bales intended for animal feed, leaving waste inside them.

Many of these rabbits found their way to Öskju­hlíð, the wooded area around Perlan, in Iceland’s capital. For many years, it was not uncommon to be on a walk in these woods and see now-wild bunnies bounding about. However, Kjarninn journalist Sunna Ósk Logadóttir noticed that she has barely seen them in the area at all, and reportedly takes frequent walks at Öskju­hlíð. This sparked an investigation into whether the population of rabbits at Öskju­hlíð has in fact decreased, and if so, why.

Þor­kell Heið­ars­son, the department head of the Animal Welfare division of the City of Reykjavík, confirmed that the city has taken no measures to reduce the rabbit population at Öskju­hlíð, but has heard similar reports on their decrease in numbers. No hard data was available.

Villikan­ínur, an Icelandic organisation that helps rabbits caught in Iceland find homes, said that they have not been able to confirm whether or not the rabbit population has declined. They offered the possibility that the population has simply moved elsewhere, as the rabbit population at Elliðaárdal had previously done. Recent construction at Öskju­hlíð may have encouraged the rabbits to move elsewhere.

Another, more sinister, possible explanation is disease. As reported last year, the Icelandic Food And Veterinary Administration (MAST) recently received a report from the Animal Hospital in Víðidalur, warning that a parasite called Encephalitozoon Cuniculi had been diagnosed in two rabbits. This disease shows few immediate symptoms, but is incurable and usually fatal.

Sunna is asking that anyone with photographic or video evidence of rabbits at Öskjuhlíð send them to her email, sunna@kjarn­inn.­is.

“This investigation is far from over,” she concludes. “If it comes to light that other fans of Öskjuhlíð have seen the tell-tale signs of numerous rabbits then there is a chance that another possibility supersedes them all: that the reporter needs new glasses.”

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