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March 19th 1680

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Wild wolves?

There is no doubt that Red Riding Hood did her bit to perpetuate the myth of the wolf as a vicious homicidal animal. Even today it is still assumed that wolves will attack man. Yet in both Canada and Russia where there are large populations this does not happen. For instance, in the wilderness section of the Algonquin Park in Canada there are many wolves. This is also a favourite area for camping and canoeing. Yet there have been no accounts of attacks by the wolves on holidaymakers. The only exception that must be made is that a rabid wolf, like a rabid dog, will attack human beings.

In spite of these facts there was at one time both a hatred and a genuine fear of wolves in Scotland. Both of these characteristics are shown by a story told by Angus McDiarmid in his book ‘The Beauties of Edenample and Lochearnhead.’ Angus was a ghillie employed by the Duke of Breadalbane. He taught himself English with the aid of a dictionary.

“In the ancient time, when the woods was more copious repletion both on the hills and on the level than it is at present, particular the oaks, which woods was a habitation to voracious wild animals, such as wolves, which animals would slipped imperceptibly to houses, eluding observation, when the people at the field acting in their domestic management.

A certain man, after being disengaged of his day’s employment, upon his return to his house, he directed his eyes through the window to meet the hypochondriacal discovery of his youngest child on one side of the fire and the wolf on the other side. Upon the child to have an idea of being one of his father’s dogs, he uttered some merriment expression to him, as gaiety laughter, at which his father’s bowels did yearn over him, observing his endearment amorous child at the hazard of being swallowed up or tear in pieces by that voracious animal; but as providence meant otherwise for him, he drew his bow adventure, pointing to the said animal, with much anxiety how to screen his child from being injured or molested by the arrow; at which point he finished the above animal.”  No evidence in this story of evil intent by the wolf towards the child.

The main accusation against the wolf was not that it killed human beings but that it killed, not only deer and other wild animals, but also cattle and sheep. It was bound to be viewed as an enemy by pastoral man and as early as 1427 there was an ordinance stating “ilk Baron, within his barony, in gangard time of year, shall chase and seek the whelps of the wolves and gar slay them.”  Later, another act ordered that sheriffs and bailies should “gather the country folk three times in the year between St Mark’s Day and Lammas, for that is the time of the whelps…” 

As the Highlands became more settled it was obvious that the wolf in Scotland was doomed. The last known killing in Perthshire was probably by Cameron of Lochiel at Killiekrankie in 1680. There is another story that a killing took place at a miller’s cottage on the banks of the Moine Buidhe burn near Dunalister. Over sixty years later the last authenticated killing took place near Findhorn in Morayshire.

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