Iceland is a secluded island far north in the Atlantic sea, and when the Vikings arrived there were hardly any animals to be found in Iceland with the exception of birds and the fish in the sea. The Vikings brought sheep, horses, dogs, cats and cows and over the years a few other animals were brought over that were at first domesticated but became wild (such as minks, rabbits and reindeer).
Still today Iceland has no deadly animals, although you can be stung by bees, wasps and midges. No mosquitos or snakes though - and not even ants! And Reykjavík is a cat city, where cats are kept as household pets, but most of them roam the streets freely and get the locals to pet them.
Here is a list of some Icelandic mammal breeds and what makes them so great!
Domestic animals in Iceland
There are more Icelandic sheep in Iceland than people, and some farmers own nearly a thousand sheep of their own! The extensive farm land around Iceland's coast is full of them, and every summer they roam the highlands and mountains freely.
They're tough, sturdy little animals, and grow lots of fluffy white wool that we use to make all our woollen goods from. They don't taste bad either, if you want to try a delicious lamb steak.
The Icelandic sheepdog is a descendant of the Nordic dogs the Vikings imported many hundreds of years ago. It’s a fluffy, curled-tail dog, a little smaller than its relatives, and can live to about 12 years old. They're often used as working farm dogs, to help herd sheep and horses since they have a natural instinct for herding.
The Icelandic horse is world famous, with more Icelandic horses around the world than in Iceland. This is partly because it's illegal to import any foreign breeds, and Icelandic horses who go abroad for showing or breeding can never return home.
The Icelandic horse is most famous for having 5 gaits, and the ongoing joke is that most Icelandic horses are actually ponies, since not all of them grow taller than 145 cm. Make sure you try the 'tölt' on a riding tour in Iceland, since this special gait is so much more comfortable to ride than any other.
- Find all horse riding tours in Iceland here
Wildlife in Iceland
Reindeer in East Iceland
Reindeer were imported to Iceland in the 18th Century from Norway. They once lived wildly around the whole country, but now survive only in Eastern Iceland. There are around 3000 wild reindeer in Iceland, and their population is controlled with seasonal reindeer hunting permits. This ensures they do not damage the fragile highlands or grow to unsustainable herd sizes that would take food away from all the visiting sheep every summer.
Whales in Iceland
There are a handful of whale species that feed and breed off the Icelandic coast. Most common to spot during a whale-watching tour are minke whales and the humpback whales, plus a few types of porpoises and dolphins, but lucky travellers can also see blue whales and orcas during certain times of the year.
- Read about whale watching in Iceland here
This cute little fox is the only domestic, wild, land animal in Iceland. It was here before the Vikings, and still survives today, well adapted to life on this cold island. It changes colour, from brown in the summer to white in the winter, to camouflage into its natural environment. For this reason, and because they're quite shy, they're pretty hard to spot, but their population is thriving and one farmer in the east from Aðalból even has pet baby foxes.
There is also the occasional Polar Bear in Iceland (the only dangerous animal to be found in Iceland!), but they come over by accident on drift ice from further north in the Arctic. So far, none have survived and the last two to come over (the only 2 to come since 1993 when it was agreed in parliament that they couldn't be killed and should be transported safely and alive to a different location) were accidentally killed as they were considered a threat to humans.
Additionally, you can find millions of birds in Iceland!
- Here you can read about birds in Iceland