Nature

The Arctic fox

A closer look at one of Iceland's favourite animals

When the first explorers stepped on dry Icelandic ground in the late 10th century, the fox had been here for few thousand years, probably since ice age. Bones as old as 3,500 years old have been discovered so this original Icelander truly knows what it is to live Icelandic. The Arctic Fox is both a hunter and scavenger with an incredible sense of smell which enables it to smell food or enemies within many kilometres radius and its unique coat has some of the best insulation of any mammal.

The Arctic Fox has for long reigned alone – the king of the animal kingdom on this remote island, until humans arrived, who feared the fox because of their livestock. This is now changing to some extent as there is an increased interest in the Arctic fox – in particular among travellers – and both locals and foreigners are realising the unique nature of this beautiful animal. The image of the Arctic fox has changed in recent years, being considered an illusive and at times dangerous animal, to now be considered one of Iceland's favourite animals, valued for its incredible beauty, elegant and illusive nature as well as its rareness.

If you want to come close to the Arctic fox you can do so. Seek advice from the locals and they will point you in the right direction. The lairs are not too hard to find when you know where to look but once you've found one you should not get too close, 40 meters should do the trick, and then you wait. Be quiet and don't make any sudden movements, even when you finally see the animal sticking its head above ground. The fox is curious by nature but easily frightened so your best bet is to stay still. Once the fox feels that you are no threat it just might try to get closer to you to take a better look. And that is the moment to slowly aim your camera.

The Icelandic word for fox is refur, but the fox has many other names. Nicknames really. The most popular one is "melrakki", combining the words "melur" (gravel bed) and "rakki" (dog). Some of those names are quite negative ("skolli, vargur, vembla") while others are very positive and graceful ("lágfóta, holtaflór, melrakki"). This shows how frequently people have found themselves discussing this intricate fellow Icelander, both the good and the bad.

Farmers, scientists, writers, poets, historians, teachers, researchers, linguists – we all have something to say about the Arctic fox.

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Icelandic skyr sauce
100 ml skyr
1 tbsp lemon juice
Zest of ¼ lemon

Mix into a bowl the skyr,lemon juice and zest in and season to taste. Add 2 tbsp dill oil to the sauce just before service.

Dill-oil
100 ml rapeseed oil
100 gr fresh dill

Put the oil and dill into a blender, mix a few minutes (until warm), strain through a cloth. The result should be a dark green and flavourful oil.

Pickled fennel & pickled pearl onion
100 ml apple vinegar
100 ml water
100 gr caster sugar
½ fennel bulb, thinly sliced
6 pearl onions

Peel the perl onions and blanch for 1 minúte in boiling water, strain and put aside in a small bowl. Slice the fennel as thin as possible and put aside into a small bowl. In a pan mix the vinegar, water and caster sugar and bring to a boil. Divide the liquid into the bowls and leave to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.

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