We’re big fans of wildlife here at Wee Walking Tours (*gives a nod to the Highland Wildlife Park), and want to share a place many of you may be unaware of. Situated among the serene Fife countryside across 55 acres is The Scottish Deer Centre. However, it isn’t just deer that call this place home- there are many other friends of the animal kingdom waiting to say hello. So, lets stretch our legs a bit, and take a wee virtual walk on the wild side.
Our walkabout started off in the peaceful entrance courtyard where we were greeted by the kaleidoscope giraffe. The courtyard is the Ranger Tours Meeting Point for guided tours. There are also various animal talks that take place at the enclosures. We recommend you take note of the informational board before heading in so you can plan your visit accordingly.
The courtyard is also the perfect place to stop for a wee treat before starting your adventure or something more substantial for after (they have a great soup and sandwich deal for lunch). Since we just had breakfast, we decided to head right into the park and set out on our ‘explore and discover’ mission.
Walking around the Scottish Deer Centre, it was nice to see how family-friendly they are. The ‘Education Bus’ looked like a fun place for kids to learn about the animals at the Centre.
There were also various play areas including go-karts for aspiring Formula 1 drivers and a Dino Dig area for future palaeontologists.
At the Scottish Deer Centre, you need to make sure to look up and down as you never know what animals you will spot on the ground or in the air. For example, we were captivated by the cheeky Asian Short Claw Otters as they actively played about.
As for our advice to look up, later in the day, we attended the falconry display where we were treated to a fascinating talk about their eagle-owl, Banff. As his handler told us all about him, Banff made his way flying from table to table, allowing us an amazing up-close look at the stunning owl.
The weather can be tricky in Scotland in March, but were fortunate that the sun made occasional appearances on the day we visited. And it only added to the majesty of the moment as we watched one of the Highland Cows run through his pasture.
However, the majesty of that moment was short-lived as some hilarious bum scratching alongside the fence took place right after.
Right next to the Highland cows were a herd of Red Deer with one curious fellow coming over to show us his impressive antlers.
Continuing on, we next entered Wolf Wood where we were treated to the sight of two Eurasian Grey Wolves loping about their enclosure. It’s always marvellous to watch these beautiful animals. Unfortunately, they were hunted to extinction in Scotland centuries ago, but it is great to know that these often-misunderstood animals are making a comeback in the wild on the European mainland.
Another reason you want to make sure to look up and down at the Scottish Deer Centre is that you might miss some lovely surprises- including the Fairy Wood.
Sometimes you have to look carefully to spot the residents of the Centre and this proved true for our spotting of their Northern Lynx.
Close-by we saw another type of wild cat- two Scottish Wildcats. Now, I know that the one pictured below looks just like a domesticated tabby cat, but be assured that Scottish Wildcats differ both genetically and anatomically from house cats. They are known for being “solitary, secretive animals” and “are now only found in tiny, fragmented populations across the Scottish Highlands”. Additionally, they are critically endangered so any conservation work on these mysterious animals is crucial.
I know I shouldn’t have favourites, but I have to be honest and tell you that one of the highlights of our visit to the Scottish Deer Centre was seeing the magnificent European Brown Bear, Loki, lumber about.
You know we’re talking about an extremely large animal when they use a tree stump as a ‘pillow’.
Loki lives with Nelly and we were fortunate to see them on our visit as the warmer weather coaxed them out of hibernation.
Nearby, Loki and Nelly is an adorable friend, Willow, who also seemed to be enjoying her time in her wooded retreat. Now, at this point we need to discuss the elephant or should I say ‘moose’ in the room. The animal (known by its scientific name- Alces alces) that most people in North America call ‘moose’ are called ‘European Elk’ or ‘Elk’ in Great Britain and Europe. Now you might be wondering- how did the same species of animal become known by two different names on different continents?! Well, bear with us because the history behind this is quite fascinating.
The English word ‘elk’ derives from German word ‘elch’ which has been the term used for centuries to refer to Alces alces on the European continent where they could and can still be found. However, elk (Alces alces) were already extinct in Great Britain when the colonists migrated to what is now North America; the meaning or understanding of the word ‘elk’ changed in Great Britain over the centuries after their extinction and become more of a name used to refer to a very large deer.
Furthermore, settlers coming from Great Britain often didn’t know what to call some of the animals they came across in the Americas and sometimes even used the wrong names (more on that below). Of course, First Nation people/Native Americans were naming animals long before the European settlers arrived. In fact, the word ‘moose’ derives from various Algonquian languages (e.g. the Narragansett word is ‘moos’ and Eastern Abenaki is ‘mos’). Therefore, not knowing what else to call the Alces alces, the settlers adopted the local name and anglicized the word to ‘moose’.
The Wee Walking Tours family prefer to honour this indigenous heritage and say ‘moose’ when referring to the Alces alces. We often joke that our beloved Labrador Retriever’s, Finn’s, spirit animal is a moose as they both have long, lanky legs.😂
Now, just when you thought this story couldn’t get any more confusing- you would be wrong. Because, as many of our readers in North America know, there is a different species of animal that many in the U.S. and Canada call ‘elk’. However, in Great Britain and Europe, this same species of animal is called ‘Wapiti’- more on that name in just a second- but first some historical context.
When settlers from Great Britain came to North America and saw the animal that is known by the scientific name Cervus canadensis – they thought it looked very similar to their Red Deer, just much larger. Therefore, as I mentioned above, the word ‘elk’ to the British colonists meant very large deer, and they started calling the animal ‘elk’- which of course was the wrong name, but it stuck.
Now, ironically, the word that is currently used to refer to Cervus canadensis by the British and Europeans is ‘Wapiti’. I say ironically because the English word ‘Wapiti’ also came from Algonquian languages. It derived from ‘waapiti’ (meaning white rump) which was used by both the Shawnee people and the Cree nation to refer to Cervus canadensis. It is thought that the anglicized term ‘Wapiti’ started to be used in Great Britain and Europe because they needed a name for this North American deer and couldn’t use ‘elk’ (like the North Americans) because that name was already taken.
Hopefully these explanations haven’t confused you, and we just think that it is quite interesting to see how names of animals in English vary depending on the continent and history.
At the Scottish Deer Centre there is much to see and do- including a delightful ‘Tree Top Walk’ situated in Witches Wood. To get a wee glimpse of this experience, watch the video below and look carefully for a surprise guest who makes a brief cameo):
Of course, being the Scottish Deer Centre, in addition to the ones we’ve already discussed, you are treated to a variety of deer species including- Axis, Barasingha, Fallow, Hog, Reeves’ Muntjac White-Lipped, Sika, Pére David, and Reindeer. Scroll through the slideshow below for some photos of the deer on display:
Well, that brings our walk around the Scottish Deer Centre to a close. However, we highly recommend that you visit them in person to get the full experience as there is so much to see and do. They are currently operating under a ‘pay as you please’ payment system, and you can find more information on how to best plan your visit by heading over to their website.
Until next time- Explore & Discover!