One of my favorite nations on the planet, Scotland is home to lots of big beefy beasts, including Highland cows, birds of prey, red deer, and plenty more.
But since you’re reading this article, you probably have a few questions about the existence of another animal: are there elk in Scotland? If not, when did they go extinct? And what’s the Scottish government’s opinion on the kooky creatures?
In this quick FAQ-based guide, we’ve covered all that and more. So bring your binoculars, and come join the elken excitement!
Are There Elk in Scotland?
No, there are no wild elk living in Scotland. There once were, but they went extinct a long ol’ time ago, most likely around 4000 years ago (we’ll get all the relevant details on that soon). The nation was once also home to lynx, bears, wolves, and other big beasts, but they’ve all since been wiped out.
So if you’ve been hoping to find wild elk roaming around the mountains and lochs of Scotland, then I’m afraid it’s bad news.
But they still exist in some other parts of the planet, including Canada, the USA, Siberia, Argentina, Chile, Finland, Sweden, and many more.
And all of that said, you can still see elk in some of Scotland’s zoos. It probably doesn’t compare to watching them run around in the wild, but I suppose it’s better than nothing. The best place to see some is Highland Wildlife Park, close to Aviemore*.
*By total coincidence, Highland Wildlife Park welcomed a new elk just a few days before I wrote this guide. How’s that for topical!
If you want to know more about some of Scotland’s best wildlife centers, here’s our venue-packed guide to the best zoos in the UK.
When Did Elk Go Extinct in Scotland and the UK, and Why?
It’s hard to know exactly when that happened, but there are some pretty solid guesses.
Lots of elk bones have been found in various parts of Scotland… and of all the carbon-dated relics, the youngest is around 4,000 years old. This means that elk were definitely roaming around Scotland up to 4,000 years ago.
However, it doesn’t mean that they definitely died out exactly 4,000 years ago—it only means that we have no evidence of them being around after that period.
So while some people believe that an extinction date of 4,000 years ago is a decent guess (the local climate significantly changed during this period), others think that’s way too early of an estimation, and that elk probably went extinct much later than that.
These climate-cause naysayers instead believe that elk might have died out because of the actions of pesky humans, who would have hunted the animal for its big meaty body.
These same humans would have also used and exploited large parts of the animals’ natural habitat, causing a lethal double-whammy for the survival of elk. According to these potential extinction causes, wild elk might still have been present in Scotland up to 1,000 years ago!
In nations where elk still exist, hunting, deforestation and human interference continue to be problems for the native elk population… so it’s pretty safe to assume that old-school elk were battling those same issues in Scotland.
To make things even more confusing, there’s a reference to elk in the 16th-century manuscript ‘Book of the Dean of Lismore’.
Glenshee, the vale that close beside me lies,
Where sweetest sounds are heard of deer and elk,
And where the Feinn did oft pursue the chase,
Following their hounds along the lengthening vale.
Below the great Ben Gulbin’s grassy height
Of fairest knolls that lie beneath the sun,
The valley winds. Its streams did oft run red,
After a hunt by Finn and by the Feinn.
– The Dean of Lismore’s Book
But although this reference exists, no one believes that elk were still around back then.
So, in short, we’re not quite sure when elk died out, but it was probably somewhere between 4,000 and 1,000 years ago. Sorry, we can’t be more specific!
Interestingly, because elk are so rife throughout other parts of the world, their Scottish status is no reflection of their worldwide status—they’re not at all considered to be endangered or under threat on a global scale.
Are There Any Efforts to Reintroduce Elk in Scotland?
No, there aren’t—and it’s very unlikely that it’s ever going to happen.
The official Scottish government website has even addressed this very question, claiming “we have no plans to reintroduce lynx, wolves, bears or any other large carnivore species into Scotland.”
That said, there are lots of people who would support the reintroduction of elk.
Those who want to reintroduce elk to Scotland claim it would be good for several types of tourism, and that it would be a big boost for the nation’s biodiversity.
Elk in Scotland: Final Thoughts
So, there you have it—you won’t find wild elk in Scotland, even though they used to roam around the place many years ago.
But if you want to know about all the creatures and critters you can still find in the nation, here’s our listicle on the top 25 animals you can see in Scotland. And for much more information on bears in Scotland, here’s our fact-packed guide to exactly that.
Thanks for reading, you lovely traveler, and we’ll see you next time!