The wolf was the last of the big predators to become extinct in Scotland - lynx had disappeared in Neolithic times while the brown bear probably died out in the tenth century due to human persecution.
Man seems to have an ancestral fear of any large predator, and this is especially so of the wolf. Tales like 'Little Red Riding Hood' and 'The Three Little Pigs' have as their villains a 'big bad wolf'. Prince Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, son of King Robert II and brother of Robert III, was known as the "Wolf of Badenoch" for, amongst other deeds, burning down Elgin Cathedral. During the war, German U-boats were known as the wolves of the sea. And next to vampires, the werewolf or Loup garou was probably the most feared of the mythical monsters.
Wolves were at one time extremely numerous in Scotland. The wolf was especially feared because it hunted in packs and travellers were said to fear to venture into the forests of Mar, Badenoch and Lochaber because of the number of wolves there.
The Dunkeld Litany includes the following lines:
From caterans and robbers,while Hector Boece wrote:
from wolves and all wild beasts,
Lord deliver us.
The wolfis are richt noisum to the tame bestiall in all parts of Scotland, excepte ane part thereof namit Glen Mores, in quilk the tame bestiall gettis littill damage of wild bestiall.
However many lambs may have been taken by wolves, it is not clear if there were actually any attacks on humans by wolves in Scotland. Like man-eating big cats, some animals may have attacked humans because illness or old age prevented them from catching their natural prey - the red deer. In times of famine, wolves may have been accustomed to feeding on human flesh on battlefields and gallows. A poem in the Book of Highland Minstrelsy of 1846 even tells how in Ederachillis in Sutherland, the inhabitants were forced to bury their dead on the island of Handa because wolves were digging up graves.
On Ederachillis' shore
The grey wolf lies in wait-
Woe to the broken door,
Woe to the loosened gate,
And the groping wretch whom sleety fogs
On the trackless moor belate
The lean and hungry wolf,
With his fangs so sharp and white,
His starveling body pinched
By the frost of a northern night,
And his pitiless eyes that scare the dark
With their green and threaten light.
He climbeth the guarding dyke,
He leapeth the hurdle bars
He steals the sheep from the pen,
And the fish from the boat-house spars,
And he digs the dead from out the sod,
And gnaws them under the stars.
Thus every grave we dug,
The hungry wolf uptore,
And every morn the sod
Was strewn with bones and gore;
Our mother-earth had denied us rest
On Ederachillis' shore.
Man had persecuted the wolf for hundreds of years. In the twelfth century the monks of the newly founded Abbey at Melrose were trapping wolves and in 1283 an allowance was paid to 'ane hunter of wolves' in Stirling. In 1427 under James I's parliament passed an act requiring lairds to hunt and kill wolves while in the later part of the century, James IV had two acts passed by the Three Estates ordering the destruction of wolves. Wolf hunting was at times a Royal sport and in 1528 James V attended a hunt for wolves, foxes and wild cats organised by an Earl of Atholl. In 1563 Mary, Queen of Scot participated in another hunt organised by another Earl of Atholl and 5 wolves were reported amongst the kills. In 1577 James VI ordered that wolves should be hunted three times a year following severe losses of cattle from wolf attacks in Sutherland. This constant persecution over the centuries eventually took its toll. The wolf, once so common, was virtually extinct by the end of the seventeenth century.
Many people appear to have claimed to have killed 'the last wolf in Scotland'. Pennant, writing in 1775, said that the last wolf was killed in 1680 near Killiecrankie by Sir Ewan Cameron of Locheil. However, some wolves probably survived in Sutherland until the end of the century and others may have lingered in the remoter areas of the Grampians and Cairngorms where man seldom ventured.Traditionally, the last wolf was killed in 1743, two years before the 'forty-five' Jacobite rising, by the upper reaches of the River Findhorn in Moray. A large black animal, thought to be a wolf, was reported to have killed two children in the hills. The Mackintosh of Mackintosh assembled a hunt and the wolf was killed by a gillie named Eagan Macqueen of Poll a'chrocain. The story was told in the Lays of the Deer Forest written by the Sobieski Stuart brothers.
In the morning the Tainchel had long assembled and the MacIntosh waited with impatience, but MacQueen did not arrive; his dogs and himself were, however, auxiliaries too important to be left behind, and they continued to wait until the best part of a hunter's morning was gone, when at last he appeared, and the MacIntosh received him with an irritable expression of disappointment.Whenever the last wolf was actually killed, it is unlikely to be re-introduced officially in Scotland in the near future due to primal fear of this creature. This is unfortunate as the wolf would be a useful predator to help keep the numbers of the red-deer population in check.
Ciod e a' chabhag? - 'What was the hurry? - said Poll a'chrocain.
MacIntosh gave an indignant retort, and all present made some impatient reply.
MacQueen lifted his plaid - and drew the black bloody head of the wolf from under his arms - Sine e dhùibh! - 'There it is for you!' - said he, and tossed it on the grass in the midst of the surprised circle.
MacIntosh expressed great joy and admiration, and gave him the land called Sean-achan for meat to his dogs.
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