Scotland is jam-packed with rural wildernesses and remote landscapes.
Because of that, people often assume that the nation is a big beasts’ paradise, brimming with beefy bears and other hefty specimens.
So in this article, I’ve covered all the bases and brought you everything you need to know.
Are there bears in Scotland? Can you see them? Will they eat you? And will this entire article be packed with hypothetical questions like these ones?
Read on to find out!
Are There Wild Bears in Scotland?
No, there are no wild bears in Scotland. Sorry to disappoint you. That said, a long ol’ time ago, there were plenty of the creatures. Up to around 1,500 years ago (or perhaps way more recently, but more on that later), there were lots of brown bears in the nation.
Before then, around 18,000 years ago, Scotland was also home to polar bears. Back in 1927, a polar bear skull was found in a cave at Inchnadamph, in the western part of the Scottish Highlands.
But despite the history, only a few bears now remain in Scotland, and every last one of them is in captivity. So you won’t stumble across any bears wandering around the woods, or lurking in the mountains, or grabbing salmon out of a river.
It’s the same across the entirety of the UK—you won’t find wild bears in any other part of the region.
While Scottish polar bears have been extinct for a very long time, scientists reckon brown bears went extinct in Scotland some time around the 5th century, between 425 and 594 AD. Others think it was actually around the 8th or 9th century (or even later!). And that brings us to…
When and How Did the Wild Bears in Scotland Go Extinct?
The youngest brown bear remains in the UK were found in the dark recesses of a cave in North Yorkshire (in northern England).
This neck bone was dated to around the 5th century, so it’s very likely that brown bears were still lurking around Scotland during that same era.
But because Scotland has much more wilderness than England, some people reckon that wild brown bears might have lived in Scotland much more recently than that. Images of bears have been found on Scottish carvings from the 8th and 9th centuries AD, implying that brown bears might have existed around that period. That said, my friend’s kid drew a picture of an alien yesterday, but I doubt they’ve ever actually seen one.
No matter when they went extinct, most people agree that Scotland’s brown bears probably died out largely because of deforestation—but also because of sport hunting, and because brown bears were seen as a threat to farmers’ livestock.
That said, because there’s so little material evidence, it’s hard to know exactly why and how brown bears became extinct in Scotland.
The polar bear conundrum is easier to solve: they became extinct in Scotland because of global warming (around 18,000 years ago), when the nation’s ice sheets and cold conditions dramatically changed.
Where Can I See Bears in Scotland?
So you’re not gonna see wild bears in Scotland.
But here’s some good news: Scotland is still home to some captive wild bears, so you can see some impressive ursine specimens.
The only place to see brown bears (that I know of!) is the Scottish Deer Center, close to Perth, Dundee, and St Andrews. They have two brown bears, along with other now-extinct creatures, and 12 different species of deer. The bears here used to live in Blair Drummond Safari Park, but they were recently rehomed.
If you want to see polar bears instead, head to Highland Wildlife Park, inside the Cairngorms National Park (the biggest national park in the UK). They have two adult polar bears, and were once home to a cute little polar bear cub,
Or for pandas and sun bears, head to Edinburgh Zoo, which has around 1000 rare, endangered and unusual animals.
Will Bears Ever Be Reintroduced in Scotland?
Probably not, but this one has been up for debate for a while.
Those who want to reintroduce brown bears to Scotland’s countryside claim it would be a massive boon for tourism, and that greater biodiversity would only be a good thing for a nation with so much space and wilderness.
They also claim that the move would have positive knock-on effects for the ecosystem (deer populations would naturally decline, for example, which would in turn help with efforts to increase numbers of plants and trees).
The potential negative impact is (of course) that these brown bears might be a threat to both people and other animals. Standing most vehemently against any potential plans, would be farmers, who don’t want all of their sheep and cows to be eaten alive. Understandably.
Exactly how any reintroduction would be managed is pretty unclear. But, typically, in reintroduction schemes like this one, animals are initially placed into the wild in giant enclosures. Once the animals acclimatize to their new habitat, the enclosures are taken away, and the creatures are then free to roam. A similar program is currently taking place in South Korea.
All of that said, it’s looking pretty unlikely. The Scottish government website claims, “we have no plans to reintroduce lynx, wolves, bears or any other large carnivore species into Scotland” (source).
What Kind of Wild Animals Live in Scotland Nowadays?
Bears might be forever gone, but Scotland is still home to a massive number of wild animals—it’s a surprisingly brilliant place to see a huge selection of creatures.
In Scotland, you can see pine martens, deer, whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, badgers, red squirrels, mountain hares, basking sharks, adders, beavers, moles, otters, polecats, stoats, voles, and plenty more.
Weirder creatures include the long-eared bat, the Orkney vole (quite a lot bigger than your average vole), and the slow worm (a snake-like lizard with no legs).
The Scottish wildcat is the nation’s most famous wild animal. The rarest wild mammal in Great Britain, there are (probably) between 100 and 300 of the critters left (source), and they only live in Scotland. Famously elusive, they largely live throughout the Highlands, and are bigger, heavier and tougher than a domestic cat, weighing around 4 or 5kg (8.8-11lb). The biggest are twice the size of an average house cat.
Although they’re not wild, the nation’s Highland Cattle are also iconic, with their long horns, shaggy hair, and light brown color. You’ll fall in love with them, just like everybody else does.
Last of all, Scotland is also a popular nation for bird-spotting, home to puffins, golden eagles, grouse, osprey, capercaillies, owls, falcons, red kites, and plenty more.
Check out my in depth article about all the wild animals you can find in Scotland.
Final Thoughts and Further Reading
So, now you know—Scotland doesn’t have any wild bears, so there’s nothing for you to be scared of. You won’t be killed, you don’t need to be worried, and you won’t have a big brown bear stealing food off your plate when you’re eating outside of a pub.
Thanks for reading!