Bear necessities: 10 Scottish facts about bears
- 31 October 2013
- From the section Highlands & Islands
Following news that a Highland landowner wants to reintroduce bears, here are 10 Scottish facts on the animals.
Paul Lister says he is determined to realise his long-time ambition of bringing wolves and bears to his Alladale Estate in Sutherland.
He believes as many as a dozen bears could be released into a habitat created using his 23,000 acres and also thousands of acres of surrounding land.
If Mr Lister's plan comes off, it would mark a new twist in Scotland's bear history.
1. Both brown and polar bears once roamed free in these parts.
The only polar bear remains to have been found in Britain so far were recovered from the Inchnadamph Bone Caves in Sutherland.
The skull was found in 1927 and is thought to be that of an animals that was washed into the caves 18,000 years ago.
The skull is held in the collections of the National Museums of Scotland.
From the same area, cave divers managed to retrieve an almost complete skeleton of a male brown bear.
The members of Grampian Speleological Group spent 12 years crawling through narrow spaces and moving soil to unblock entrances in their effort to recover all that they could of the beast.
2. The Romans are thought to have captured Scottish bears for use in blood sports.
Writing in AD 80, the poet Martial told in graphic detail how a "Caledonian bear" killed a criminal during an event held to mark the inauguration of Rome's Colosseum.
3. Bears can still be found in Scotland but only in captivity.
Blair Drummond Safari Park has European brown bears, the Highland Wildlife Park two male polar bears while Edinburgh Zoo has giant pandas and sun bears.
4. Reintroducing brown bears has frequently been the subject of debate.
In April this year, the idea was discussed at an event in Lochinver in Sutherland held to mark Earth Day.
The event's speakers included Mandy Haggith, an environmental campaigner and author of Bear Witness, a novel that tells the story of an activist who fights for bears to roam free in Scotland.
Dr David Hetherington, ecological advisor to the Cairngorms National Park Authority, has also assessed the potential for bring back bears.
He concluded that bears could be a big draw for tourists but may be cause for concern about public safety.
5. Wojtek, the Soldier Bear, was mascot to Polish troops during World War II. He spent the last years of his life in Scotland.
He helped to carry ammunition at the Battle of Monte Cassino in southern Italy.
After the war Wojtek lived at Hutton in Berwickshire, before ending his days in Edinburgh Zoo. He died in 1963.
The Wojtek Memorial Trust Fund has been raising funds to create two bronze statues of the bear. One would be erected in Poland and the other in Edinburgh.
6. Scotland has also been home to another unusual bear.
Hercules was a 8ft 4in grizzly bought as a cub from the Highland Wildlife Park, near Aviemore, by wrestler Andy "Grizzly" Robin and his wife Maggie.
The couple raised the bear at their Big Bear Ranch in Perthshire.
Hercules appeared in films, including James Bond movie Octopussy, and TV adverts. He died in February 2001.
7. In Scotland, as in many parts of the world, teddy bears are hugely popular.
Two years ago, a toy bear that repeats Gaelic words for colours, numbers and shapes was launched in an effort to help encourage greater use of the language.
It was developed by a Western Isles-based publisher with support from Gaelic organisation Bord na Gaidhlig.
In 2007, there was a plan for a robot teddy that could interact with its owner and could alert medical staff to changes in a sick child's condition to be tested in Highlands and Islands.
Huggable, which was fitted with sensors, was being developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.
The project had support from Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
It was to have technology installed that would allow the teddy to respond to cuddles and recognise its owner as they approached it.
The first designs were shown to nursery children in Avoch in the Black Isle in 2006.
8. Teddy Bears is a nickname for Rangers FC.
Other bear-themed names in Scottish football include Yogi for Celtic's 1960s winger John Hughes. He was nicknamed after the cartoon character Yogi Bear. The same nickname was given to 1990s Hibs defender John Hughes.
Another Celtic player, Roy Aitken, was known as The Bear during his playing career. Later, when he was manager at Aberdeen, Dons fans often chanted: "Feed the bear."
9. Celtic fan and comedian Billy Connolly has joked in the past about how the lyrics of the hymn Gladly, the cross I'd bear have been misheard as "gladly, the cross-eyed bear". Connolly also voiced the character Fergus, a bear slaying king, in the animated film, Brave.
10. In 2010, as an April Fool joke, RSPB Scotland put out a press release about an exhausted polar bear being found on the Isle of Mull.
The bird conservation charity suggested it had drifted to Scotland from Greenland.