Carving slogans into a moss-covered hillside, knocking on doors asking for a bed for the night… if tourist behaviour in Iceland appeared to have gone as far as possible, a group of Americans has taken it to a new nadir – by stealing a lamb and slaughtering it to eat.
Nine men travelling in camper vans were arrested in the East Fjords region this week when they were witnessed stealing the animals by locals “getting meat for their barbecue”.
The men – who were Afghan, resident in the US – were spotted by residents chasing animals in a field. “There were nine of them together so I didn’t want to go alone to talk to them,” witness Bjarki Svavarsson, who called the police, told Mbl.is.
Svavarsson later approached the men in a group of four, including the farmer whose lamb had been taken, and accused them of stealing. He said: “They were just shouting at us and lying. At first they wouldn't admit to anything and then they admitted to having taken a lamb. It was in a black bin bag in the back of the car and they had cut its throat.
“They told us they were saving the lamb from drowning after it had jumped into the sea.”
But Svavarsson says that isn’t true: “They were just making stuff up. They were just getting meat for their barbecue.”
The men were taken to the police station in nearby Fáskrúðsfjörður, where they admitted stealing and killing the lamb. They were released after paying the farmer for the animal, plus a fine of 120,000 krona (£906).
Iceland guide Gunnar Birgisson told The Independent that he was appalled by their behaviour. “They weren’t hungry, they had plenty of money if they paid the fine on the spot. They were travelling in two expensive rental RVs. A fine isn’t enough – they should be thrown out of the country.”
But another local guide, who wished to remain anonymous, said matters are not so clear cut. Icelandic law allows people to eat food from government land. “It’s thought more as picking berries and herbs instead of killing animals,” they said, adding that egg theft is already a problem in Iceland.
The lamb, of course, was private property – but the anything-goes attitude of tourists in Iceland could have blurred the boundaries.
The feeding off public land law is well publicised to tourists by the likes of Kuku Campers, which rent RVs to tourists. On its website, offering a "Natural Life" itinerary, Kuku Campers writes: “As a measure to keep travellers alive in Iceland, there is a law here that allows anyone to eat anything of any government land property. You can't take anything with you but you can eat as you want. We've challenged many of our customers to live off nature for a week.
“A whopping 20 per cent finish this challenge and receive a super size meal from KúKú Campers at KFC as a reward.
“We know you are fed up with the urban life and want a genuinely natural experience. No problem, rent our KúKú van or tent along with a BBQ set and you can avoid supermarket shopping for as long as you want.”
“Information like this is bad for tourism,” the guide said. “They’re encouraging people to leave as little money behind as possible. I guess they didn't imagine someone would actually kill livestock, but we get people from different cultures and traditions, so we really need to be careful with what we publish and say.”
After The Independent asked KúKú Campers whether it thought its website was encouraging bad practices, Viktor Ólason, Chief KúKú Officer, said the company would be changing the wording to be less misleading. He said: "We are only talking about eating from the land, such as picking berries, herbs and mushrooms. We are not mentioning hunting, fishing or any other form of killing live animals.
"We will however in light of this incident – which does NOT involve our customers – change the wording to be more specific without leaving our true spirit of being free spirited and focusing on the lighter side of life."
The guide said that there might be a cultural element in this instance too: “There are no halal butchers in Iceland, as far as I know.”
Birgisson added: “Sadly this isn’t the only sheep or lamb to be killed – it’s common for people to hit them with their cars.
“But there are plenty of people who deserve to see Iceland over those who would steal and kill one to eat.”
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