A total of 29 foxes from three lairs were shot and killed in the Stadarfjöll and Thverfjall mountains in Skagafjördur, north Iceland, last weekend. The foxes had become “sheep eaters” (dýrbítar in Icelandic)—there were remains of about 70 lambs in their lairs.
Grazing sheep. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.
“These animals are like dogs; they are so large and powerful,” fox hunter Birgir Hauksson told Morgunbladid.
Hauksson and fellow fox hunter Baldvin Sveinsson found the lairs. While they were watching one of them, a fox approached with the heart and liver from a lamb.
“It was so fresh that the heart was almost still beating,” Hauksson said. “One puts special effort into catching them when this is the situation.”
It is more common for male foxes than females to become sheep eaters. The urge is either instinctive or a coincidence causes foxes to attack sheep the first time.
Sheep eaters breed other sheep eaters and can therefore cause extensive damage to farmers if they aren’t caught.
Hauksson believes that the leaders of the pack may have been brothers and that they were raised in a lair of a sheep eater. “I have never found three sheep eater lairs in the same mountain range before,” he said.
“When foxes increase it becomes more difficult to find food which they regularly feed on, eggs, chicks, birds and such. Then there is a risk that the animals start attacking sheep,” said fox hunter Snorri H. Jóhannesson, who is chairman of Bjarmaland, the Association of Professional Fox and Mink Hunters in Iceland.