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The mysterious life of the wild haggis
A wild haggis on display in a museum
The Wild Haggis' tale of woe
The story of the wild haggis is a tale of an animal hunted to near extinction not unlike the tragic tale of the Dodo, just as the Dodo was relentlessly hunted to extinction on the island of Mauritius the wild haggis has over hundreds of years been hunted to near extinction in Scotland. The wild haggis (Haggis Scoticus) is found only in Scotland but sadly there is now thought to be less than 250 still living in the wild as a result of several hundred years of relentless hunting in a country where the haggis is eaten as a delicacy.
Wildlife experts have predicted that the wild haggis may become extinct within the next 50 years as, despite the species perilous state, they continue to be illegally hunted by those seeking to use their bones and teeth as bagpipe parts whilst there are also still those who hunt the wild haggis to sell as a highly priced food.
Tragically this 'beastie' which is such an important part of Scottish history may disappear forever.
Wild Haggis the Vital Statistics
The wild haggis commonly about 40cm in length and weighs up 10 kilos, the male of the species is significantly larger and heavier than the female.
The animal is covered in a thick brown fur which is usually longer and thicker in the winter with significant change in summer, sometimes the difference between summer and winter coats can make the haggis look like two different animals. The haggis has long razor-sharp claws and strong sharp teeth, capable of taking down a small tree through scratching and gnawing.
Commonly found in the Scottish highlands it was often the case that a haggis could have much longer legs on one side than on the other, this enabled them to move frighteningly quick on the hillside but only in a single direction. When being hunted or chased by a single person on a hillside this gave the haggis a massive advantage but when being pursued by a group of hunters it was relatively easy to 'turn' a haggis and make it roll over.
Wild haggis have been known to attack humans and can deliver a nasty bite but normally they are elusive, rarely seen let alone encountered face to face.
Wild Haggis & the Romans
The Romans occupied the southern part of Britain but never managed to occupy what is now Scotland in the north and indeed were driven to construct Hadrian's wall in order to keep the Scottish natives at bay. the part that the wild haggis played in that historical stand-off is little known but adds to the mysterious legend of the animal.
Roman writings record that the feared tribes who led them to hide behind Hadrian's wall feasted on the beast which the Romans referred to as Haggis Scoticus, the haggis was consumed before battle along with an early form of whisky as the early Scots built themselves into a frenzy of aggression. It is also recorded by the Romans that the most bloodthirsty of all of the tribes were the Haggi tribe who wore only the pelt of the wild haggis as a loincloth when they entered battle and had facial piercings made from haggis teeth. The Romans associated haggis eating with increased strength, aggression and also the ability to grow wild bushy ginger (red) hair.
In an attempt to understand whether the haggis conveyed some form of mystical power to the tribes, the Romans captured wild haggis and took them to Rome. In Rome it is recorded that haggis was fed to gladiators but that the Romans were unable to recreate the effects they had witnessed in battle and that a Scottish gladiator told them it was because they "had nae baws".
Wild Haggis & the Vikings
The records we have of the vikings are less comprehensive or reliable than those of the Romans however there are age-old of tales of how a wild haggis sunk the longboat of one of the most feared viking warriors of all time.
A Viking warrior, named Wilhelm the Bawheid by the Scots, who had rampaged through Scotland leaving devastation in his wake throughout the 8th century apparently developed a strong liking for haggis. When he planned to return to his native Norway with the loot from his raids Wilhelm also took a number of wild haggis on the longboat. Legend has it that during the trip across the often wild North Sea the haggi' escaped their weak wooden cages and managed to munch their way through the hull of the boat in a number of locations and it took on water, finally sinking within sight of Norway but with only one survivor to tell the tale.
Wilhelm the Bawheid the bloodthirsty warrior who had brought fear to thousands was finished off by a puckle (a group) of wild haggis.
The age of the Haggis
From the 12th to 18th centuries the wild haggis which had been so rampant across the country were hunted widely, by the 18th century the hunting had neared industrial proportions and the species was starting to reach the low numbers which would ultimately take us to today's tragic situation.
By 1734, when a law was passed stopping the wearing of blue face paint being compulsory for all Scottish men, the poor wild haggis was already endangered. One Church Parish record states that in 1729 no wild haggis could be caught for the October haggis celebration and that the customary Frost Dance could not be performed, according to the parish records this ultimately led to there being a frost free November which affected the neep (turnip) harvest.
it was also in this period that parts of the haggis started to be used in bagpipe manufacture which also made the animal more valuable and increased the hunting pressures.
The wild haggis - here and now
The wild haggis continues to be a proud part of Scottish heritage and every effort is being made to protect the species from hunters. Russian Oligarchs and central American druglords are amongst those still believed to funding the market for the wild haggis delicacy but in response the UK government has introduced a minimum jail sentence of 12 years for the offence of haggis hunting.
The Scottish food industry use farmed haggis to manufacture their haggis products but these products are sold for less than 2% of the value of a haggis made from a wild animal.
So the fight goes on to save the wild haggis with hope that the species can be saved but unfortunately many other animals including the panda and rhino attract so much more attention and funding.
Please support the wild haggis. Fight on brave beastie!