Bid to save Skye terrier from extinction

Skye terriers are on the endangered list, with just 3-4000 left in the world. Picture: Complimentary/CC
Skye terriers are on the endangered list, with just 3-4000 left in the world. Picture: Complimentary/CC
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DEVOTED dog breeders are campaigning to save the elegant Skye terrier – the Scottish breed with royal history and Greyfriers Bobby fame – from extinction.

With only 3-4,000 pure-bred animals left in the world, the dog once favoured by Queen Victoria and Mary Queen of Scots is now as endangered as the tiger and the giant and red panda.

The Skye Terriers Club is aiming to raise awareness for the under-threat terrier, the oldest Scottish breed, and is hosting a massive fundraising dog-walk on Skye next week.

Gail Marshall, secretary of the Scottish Branch, said: “We are really struggling with numbers of Skye terriers. Because we have such small numbers, we have a reduced gene pool.”


Only between 30 to 40 pure-bred puppies are born each year around the globe, and a world-wide effort is being made to save the breed. Experts claim around 300-a-year need to be born to prevent the breed becoming extinct.

Mrs Marshall said: “There are less Skye terriers in the world than tigers in the wild and the red panda.

“We are trying to get enough sampled for any illnesses in dogs and try to eradicate these in the breed.

“All puppies being born world-wide are getting swabbed so we can see if there are any underlying problems with them.”

She added: “Once there was a Skye terrier on every close, but that is no longer the case.

“Queen Victoria had a kennel of them, and Mary Queen of Scots reputedly had one under her skirt while she was beheaded.”

“People are now going for cross-designer breeds, and the Skyes are being forgotten about. We need to change that.”

The club is hosting a 42-mile fundraising walk next week to raise awareness of the dogs’ plight, and support the construction of a life-sized bronze statue of the terrier at Armadale Castle on Skye, where it has historic links.


Their efforts are being supported by Highland MSP Dave Thompson, who has raised a motion in the Scottish Parliament praising their work to save the vulnerable breed.

The SNP politician for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch said: “I wish the Skye Terriers Club every success in its bid to raise awareness of the Scottish breed, one notable example of which is the famous Greyfriars Bobby.

“The breed is unfortunately top of the vulnerable breeds list, with only between 30 and 40 puppies registered each year.

“As well as their fundraising walk which is to support the construction of a statue at Armadale Castle, the Club have a number of other activities arranged which are designed to raise awareness.

“I hope that they are able to secure the future of both the statue and boost the resilience of the breed.”

The world’s panda population stands at just 3000 wild animals, while the tiger population stands at under 4,000.

The Kennel Club say the terrier is number four on their list of under-threat breeds, and it is feared the dogs could be extinct in just a few generations.

Worldwide support

Cathie McLeod, who has bred Skye Terriers for 40 years and is behind the fundraising event, said: “Walkers and dogs will walk from Armadale to Portree over four days. One couple are coming across from Germany to take part with their dog. There is a lot of worldwide support for this venture.

“None of us wants to be responsible for the demise of this animal so we are pulling together to turn things around.”

The breed is known to be the oldest terrier breed of Scotland, going back to the fourteenth century at least.

Terriers were needed wherever there were vermin and the best of these little dogs came from the far west coast of the Highlands of Scotland.

It is generally accepted that canine survivors of a wrecked man-of-war from the Spanish Armada bred with local terriers, producing a strain with a long, silky coat.

Lady MacDonald of rmadale Castle owned a kennel of terriers of this type.

Studies of the Vikings have shown that they took with them dogs which may also have had an influence on how the Skye Terrier developed.

The body shape of the Drever, or Swedish Vallhund, whose history goes back to the Viking times, is similar to that of the Skye.

Greyfriars Bobby

The most famous Skye Terrier of all, Greyfriars Bobby, was born in 1856. Bobby was owned by John Gray, a police constable, and accompanied his master on duty as he patrolled the pens at the Cattle Market and Grass market to ensure that there were no thefts.

The police were expected to patrol in pairs and to have a watchdog, which was bought for them by the constabulary. Bobby and his master had only a short working life together when John Gray died of tuberculosis in 1858 and was buried in Greyfriars churchyard. For the next fourteen years Bobby kept a vigil by his master’s grave, rejecting the Grays home and preferring the shelter of a neighbouring gravestone.