There are bears in Scotland today, but these species only exist in captivity. Several wildlife parks in Scotland contain Brown bears, Polar bears, Sun bears, and Giant Pandas. However, there have been no wild bears in Scotland since the Middle Ages.
The extinction of Brown bears is a bit of a mystery, though there are several compelling theories. In this article, we’ll explore why bears might have gone extinct in Scotland, if the country once had any native species, and is there any chance for bears to populate the glens of Scotland again?
Why Did Bears Go Extinct In Scotland?
Bears in Scotland became extinct in the Iron Age due to expanding human settlements encroaching on their natural habitats.
Experts suggest that the initial bear population in Scotland wasn’t all too high to begin with. Even when native Brown bears roamed Great Britain, they were more common in places like Yorkshire and, strangely enough, London.
Did Scotland Once Have A Native Bear Species?
Bear bones found in caves and peat bogs across Scotland suggest that a bear species found in Scotland was the same that roamed in other parts of Britain too. These bears were what we know today as Brown bears or Ursus arctos.
The Brown bear’s range stretches China in the east, all the way to Finland, Scandinavia, and several European countries. With a range that expansive, it’s not at all difficult to imagine that the species once called Britain it’s home.
More surprising was historians discovering 18,000-year-old Polar bear remains in a Scottish cave in Sutherland. which are now stored in the National Museum of Scotland. Although impressive, this doesn’t confirm the presence of Polar bears in Scotland, since the bones could have washed up into the caves from further north.
Read More: Do Bears Migrate?
But, experts agree that it’s likely Polar bears might have made it on the island at some point in the past. That’s because even though Scotland is not inside the Arctic circle, the northern extremities are only a few hundred kilometres from the Arctic, and almost all of Scotland was covered by glaciers during the last ice age.
Were There Bears in England or Wales?
Historians state that bear numbers within Britain picked up again during AD 43 to 410 when the Roman Empire was in power in parts of England and Wales.
That seems to suggest that Romans used to import bears from elsewhere in their empire for use in blood sports.
Bear fighting was popular among Romans in England, but it’s likely that the imported animals were either killed off during the fights or weren’t set free and allowed to reproduce.
By medieval times (AD1066), bears in Britain were being used to make money and draw in crowds through bear-baiting (making bears fight with other animals). Medicine men also utilized bear parts as treatments for hair loss and other ailments.
In short, bears in Britain were living difficult lives, to say the least, until all the capture and exploitation reduced their numbers enough for the species to disappear from all parts of the island entirely.
Why Do Bears Only Exist In Captivity In Scotland?
There’s no official reason why bears in Scotland don’t exist outside of captivity. Experts agree the native bear species of the country went extinct during the Middle Ages, and later, bears were imported from other European territories to Britain for hunting and blood sports.
The Highland Wildlife Park has two male Polar bears; the Blair Drummond Safari Park contains European Brown bears, and the Edinburgh Zoo has Sun bears and two Giant Pandas named Yang Guang and Tian Tian.
Research reveals that reintroducing bears in the wilderness of Scotland is a much-debated topic among environmental campaigners.
However, the ecological advisor to Cairngorms National Park Authority, Dr. David Hetherington, stated that reintroducing bears to Scotland could be a concern for public safety.
The assessment earned Dr. Hetherington plenty of criticism as supporters of the reintroducing bears argue that only 93 islands are inhabited out of the 900 Scottish isles.
What’s more, adding apex predators to the Scottish countryside could add biodiversity and control problems like deer overpopulation.
Read More: Do Bears Eat Deer?
Are There Bears Anywhere In The United Kingdom Today?
Nature-lovers and bear-enthusiasts might be a little unhappy to learn that bears are an extinct species in the entirety of the UK. The only bears to be found in the United Kingdom are in wildlife parks and zoos in different parts of the island.
Although, some of our readers will be happy to learn that Bristol Zoological Society recently launched the Wild Place Protect program that’ll allow Brown bears and wolves to populate the woodlands of Britain once again.
The rewilding scheme hopes to reintroduce extinct animals back to the wilderness of Britain – something the wilds of the UK haven’t witnessed for 1000 years.
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Are There Bears In Countries Near Scotland?
While there are no native bear species left in Scotland, there are plenty of bears elsewhere in Europe.
Greenland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland can all boast about being in the range of Polar bears. Countries closer to the UK, such as France, Spain, and Italy, have adequate numbers of Eurasian Brown bears.
While not so close to Scotland, Romania has approximately 70,000 wild bears, making it the country with the largest bear population in Europe. Another European country where bears might be easy to spot in the wild is Estonia – with a population of 700 bears and a land area of only 45,339 square kilometres.
Read More: Are Bears Endangered?
To conclude, bears in Scotland and other parts of the UK went extinct during the Middle Ages due to hunting and loss of habitat. Today, the only bear species in Scotland can be found in wildlife parks and zoos.
There have been debates about reintroducing the Brown bear species to Scotland, but there have been no concrete results.
The Bristol Zoological Society has recently launched a rewilding program in the county to introduce wild species like bears, wolves, and lynxes back to native woodlands.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.