The Tiger of the Highlands

L1010034Today I’m sitting in a bar in a Turkish area of Berlin with The Canadian, as my nephew Wee Joe calls her, having just flown back from Spanish islands off the coast of the Western Sahara, where I was writing about Scottish-Texas. Confusing. In between attempting to drown out the screeches of a hyperactive German infant at the next table, I was doing a wee bit of research for the (seemingly never-ending) Texas chapter of the book and I have just discovered Scotland’s national animal!

I had no idea so many countries had national animals. The official Afghani mammal is a snow leopard. Algeria is represented on the four-footed stakes by something called a “Fennec Fox”—a wee desert fox with huge ears. Good call. Both Angola and Kiribati have swiftly vaulted high up my Must Visit in 2012 list because they’ve both chosen the Magnificent Frigatebird as their animal. Nice work, Angola and Kiribati! So what it’s not actually an animal, it’s magnificent. Argentina has opted for the Cougar, Lebanon for the Striped Hyena, Bangladesh for the Royal Bengal Tiger, Belarus for the Wisent, which looks like some sort of buffalo-esque beastie, Japan the funny wee Raccoon Dog. Bhutan has bet on some weird goaty thing called a Takin, Gibraltar has put its money on the Barbary Macaque, Luxembourg and the Netherlands stretch the imagination a little by picking the Lion. Many countries have National Birds. A few, such as Indonesia, have a National Fish. India has a National Animal (Bengal Tiger), Bird (Indian Peacock), Icon (Gray Langur Monkey), Marine Animal (Gangetic Dolphin), Heritage Animal (Indian Elephant) and Reptile (King Cobra). Mexico has a National Arthropod (the Grasshopper), which is taking things a hop too far. Iran is either greedy or indecisive with three animal ambassadors (Asiatic Cheetah, Persian Leopard and the Persian Fallow Deer). Even Ireland has a couple of creatures on its books, the Irish Woldhound and the Red Deer. And Scotland? The National Animal of Scotland is the Unicorn.

The Unicorn? As the reliable source site says, “The national animal of Scotland is not a real animal!”  Outrage. We have to face the other countries of the world with a makey-uppey monster as our mascot? This is not going to help my efforts to alert the cloak sellers and dragon stand shoppers of Scottish-America’s Highland Games to the fact that Harry Potter and Scotland are not the same thing. But, yes, Scotland has to settle for the Unicorn. Why? When we have plenty of fine Scottish mammals that could clamour for the title of top Scot critter. We could be represented on the animal plane by the Pine Marten, the Scottish Wildcat, the Red Squirrel, Red Fox, Red Deer, Roe Deer, Badger, Otter, Grey Seal, by dolphins or porpoises, by the stunning white Mountain Hare, by Minke Whales. Glitzy Monaco proudly named the European Hedgehog, European Rabbit and the wee Wood Mouse as its mammals, why doesn’t Scotland have something un-fancy but not fictional?

I’d vote for the Scottish Wildcat, Britain’s only free-living native forest cat and the UK’s last remaining large wild predator. The Scottish Wildcat Association describes the “Tiger of the Highlands” as “one of the most impressive predators in the world: intelligent, fearless, resourceful, patient, agile and powerful” and also as a “superpredator.” They’re about 50% bigger than the average domestic tabby (which still leaves them significantly lighter than my Canadian companion’s vast, black 20-pound feline back in Toronto). I just promised Adrian I’d get her a Wildcat kitten for a belated Hanukkah present, but, alas, the Wildcat Association folks state that they are “the only wild animal that can never be tamed by human hand.” Sigh.

I still think we should have a Wildcat as our National Animal. We could hold our head up when we meet the Angolans and Kiribatis if we had a superpredator to pit against their measly Magnificent Frigatebird and our Wildcat would work through Monaco’s trio of hedgerow hopefuls as a pre-breakfast snack. But we better make it fast—there are less than 400 Wildcats left at large in Scotland and they’re threatened with extinction within the next five years. I’ve just told Adrian that not only can she not have a Wildcat kitten for Hanukkah, but that she only has around five years to become the first person to tame one. Two glasses of wine later, she has now decided to devote her life to saving the Scottish Wildcat. I’ll toast to that.

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