Remains of “ancient wolf” found in Highland peat bog

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The remains of an animal believed to be a young wolf that roamed the Highlands up to 2,000 years ago have been discovered in a Highland peat bog.

The find was made on a croft at Rogart, Sutherland with the animal remains well preserved by the acidic ground.

The find was made on a croft at Rogart, Sutherland with the animal remains well preserved by the acidic ground.

The find was made on a croft at Rogart, Sutherland with the animal remains well preserved by the acidic ground.

Skulls, bones, teeth, claws and golden fur have been removed from the site with the animal now dubbed the ‘Rogart Bog Beast’.

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The find has been described as a “once in a lifetime chance discovery” by Brora Heritage with the remains due to be sent to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh for further analysis.

The beast was found by a digger operator extracting peat from the croft of Duncan MacKay, 67, who has lived his entire life on the land.

The skull of the 'Rogart Bog Beast' with its teeth on show. PIC: Contributed.

The skull of the 'Rogart Bog Beast' with its teeth on show. PIC: Contributed.

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Mr MacKay said: “You always think you might find something when digging peat but I have never come across anything like this before.

“It must have been around 3ft underground and there was no sign that it had been buried in a hole or anything. It was just lying there and the peat has preserved it.”

The depth at which the animal was found suggests the time frame for the animal’s death, with peat naturally forming over the carcass since then.

Crofter Duncan MacKay at his peak bank where the animal remains were found. PIC: Contributed.

Crofter Duncan MacKay at his peak bank where the animal remains were found. PIC: Contributed.

However, expert analysis will be required to determine species, age and cause of death.

Dr Nick Lindsay, an archaeologist and chairman of Clyne Heritage Society, was called to the croft after the remains were first spotted.

The mechanical digger had slightly damaged the carcass but the skull and the feet of the animal were intact, along with parts of its pelt.

Dr Lindsay said: “I met Duncan at his peat bank and saw the carcass, which had been a little mangled by the digger, so it wasn’t a perfectly formed body. It was 1.5m down in the peat and I carefully excavated it and collected all of the disturbed bits that lay around.

The animal's foot and claws on show. PIC: Contributed.

The animal's foot and claws on show. PIC: Contributed.

“I put it in the plastic bags I had brought and when home, placed them into a plastic box, into which I poured a little water to keep the remains in a moist environment, and sealed the lid.

“The moisture content is very important, as it needed to be kept in a similar environment as where it was discovered.

“I took the box to the Inverness Museum, where it was left for the Conservator, Jeanette Pearson to look at.

“At first glance, she ruled out it being a fox, so it could be a large dog or a young wolf, its sex as yet unknown.”

The remains will now be sent from Inverness to Edinburgh further examination.

Dr Lindsay said he hoped the animal could go on permanent display in the Sutherland area.

The golden fur of the animal can still be seen. PIC: Contributed.

The golden fur of the animal can still be seen. PIC: Contributed.

Wolves are known to have roamed Sutherland until 1700, when a man called Polson is said to have killed the last wolf in the area. A carved stone at the side of the A9 marks the spot of the killing.

Although attempts are being made by a small number of landowners to reintroduce the wolf to the countryside to boost bio-diversity, the wolf was regarded as a common enemy through time.

People of Sutherland took to burying the dead on the isle of Handa to preserve the resting places, given wolves would routinely dig up graves.

Hunts of wolves were common, with one attended by Queen Mary in 1563 ending in the death of five of the animals and 360 deer.

According to accounts, large areas of woodland in Perthshire, Lochaber and Argyll were destroyed to deprive wolves of their habitat with claims that wolves would also attack people.

While the stone marks the spot of Polson’s last cull of the wolf in Sutherland, others believe a wolf was killed near Findhorn in Moray in 1743 following claims it had killed two children.