Do Bears Live in Scotland? The Answer to That Question May Soon Change

Polar bears and brown bears were once believed to roam the Scottish countryside.

Lauren Wellbank - Author

May 2 2024, Published 4:50 p.m. ET

Mama bear and her cubs
Source: Getty Images

Bears have been the topic of much debate in Scotland over the years. Everything from how the bears made it to the island of Great Britain in the first place to whether or not they deserve a chance to regrow their numbers has been discussed at length by Scots, who seem to have differing thoughts about the bear's place in the rolling hills and forests that make up portions of the country's landscape.

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When it comes to knowing whether there are bears in Scotland, you first need to understand the long (and sometimes horrific) history of the furry creatures and when they may have made their initial appearances in the country in the first place.

Continue reading to learn whether there are any native bears left in Scotland and why that answer could change if certain people get their way.

Claonaig, Mull of Kintyre, Scotland
Source: Getty Images
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Are there bears in Scotland?

Visitors and residents of Scotland can spot a few different types of bears on the island of Great Britain, but they'll have to travel somewhere like Highland Wildlife Park for the experience. The location is home to a foursome of polar bears, who serve as ambassadors and help raise awareness about the importance of natural habitats, like those the polar bears need to survive.

Unfortunately, that's the only type of place hopeful bear watchers will be able to check them out, because there are no longer native bears living in the modern wilds of Scotland.

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When did bears go extinct in Scotland?

To spot a bear roaming through Britain, the BBC says that you would've needed to have been alive some 1,500 years in the past. Although that number isn't exactly exact, according to a study reviewed by the publication. Instead, it seems like they've narrowed it down to two plausible scenarios, and experts believe the bears either went extinct during the Middle Ages or about 3,000 years ago.

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That may seem like a pretty large margin, but when you learn why there's some confusion about the timeline of the last of the region's native bears, it may make a little more sense. You see, it's believed that the Romans imported bears from Britain for sport.

The BBC says that there is some documentation from 80 AD which seems to prove that bears were taken to the Colosseum to celebrate the structure's grand opening, which could've put a dent in the native population.

When you add in the fact that the landscape itself makes it difficult to track the remains of the bears from a time gone by — there simply isn't enough proof to confirm their theories, considering it's hard to find concrete evidence in spots like the fens, caves, and bogs that they're searching — experts just can't put their finger on an exact date.

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That said, there does seem to be a consensus about the types of bears that once called Scotland home.

Both polar bears and brown bear remains have been found on the island of Great Britain, with one set of remains believed to date back more than 18,000 years!

Badger roaming in the forest.
Source: iStock
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What is the biggest predator in Scotland?

The biggest carnivore to call Scotland home is the badger. However, if Highland's Paul Lister gets his way, that could all change. The landowner wants to use some of his 23,000 acres of land for a re-wilding experiment involving bringing bears and wolves back to the countryside, per The Scotsman.

While it doesn't seem like Lister's plan has enough support to come together, it would dramatically change things around Scotland and not everyone's convinced it would be for the better.

Of course, if they could pull it off, bears could become a major draw for residents and visitors alike. Whether that and the possible revenue generated by these visits motivate Scotland's officials to okay the deal remains to be seen.

Currently, bears reside in zoos and parks around Scotland, but you might want to think twice before giving your revenue to a zoo and wait to see the real thing in the wild.

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