I just arrived to the Centre earlier this week, but it already feels like home. Though a bit chaotic at times, the kitchen is stocked, the company is friendly, and the foxes are warm. Freddy, the little guy out back, was brought here in May when he became an orphan, after his parents were hunted. A real life version of Bambi, Dumbo, and Copper rolled into one, my heart instantly burst when I saw his tiny face.
A self-proclaimed waffle aficionado, I seem to have come to the right place for comfort food and good vibes. But as a student of environmental education, my interest in learning more about Iceland’s relationship with its unique wildlife ranks just a fur higher than endlessly enjoying the Centre’s world-famous “fox brownies” or its delicious soup.
I am learning so much here in such a short time. For example, I was surprised to learn that hunting the arctic foxes in Iceland remains far less regulated than the country’s famously sustainable fishing industry. Before I arrived, I did now know much about these types of issues, aside from the government’s support of its controversial commercial whaling business. The one place that foxes are protected is on the peninsula of Hornstrandir, a remote area of the Westfjords accessible to humans only by boat. The research of the Centre serves to shed a bit of light on the human-fox relationship there, and promotes educational stewardship to its visitors.
I am also finding out that in spite of the hunting, the species continues to thrive, so much so that the government of Iceland questions whether to cull their numbers further. This same question was asked recently in the United States’ (where I am from) Yellowstone national park, about its grey wolf population. Due to the wolves’ competition with local farmers for their livestock, hunting of the wolves recently became legal, with limits on how many can be taken per season. The wolves are viewed to many as a majestic species, and such tactics have been widely criticized. The similar ongoing debate between foxes and humans in Iceland intrigues me. Are the arctic foxes competing with commercial farmers over livestock? It seems we need more data collection on the issue.
In the meantime, a recently enacted law prohibits any animal raised in captivity, with the aid of humans, to be openly released into the wild, so poor Freddy’s future hangs in limbo. Left with the unfortunate choice between sending him to the Reyjkavik zoo or sending him to live a domesticated life with a family in nearby Heydelur, the Centre searches for answers on what the future holds for their orphan rehabilitation program. The current plan is to develop a larger, more appropriately fashioned habitat for the visiting animals, until an amendment to the legislation can be adopted. Or would it be better for the program go on hold indefinitely? I plan to investigate further, so stay tuned.