Are there elk in Scotland?

Written by Chris Thornton | 29th of June 2023
Are there Elk in Scotland?

There are no wild Elk in Scotland; they only exist in captivity.

Elk, majestic creatures known for their size and branching, pointed antlers, are a sight to behold in the wild. They are one of the largest species within the deer family, native to North America and East Asia. But can you expect to encounter these impressive animals in Scotland?

In Scotland, when people refer to 'elk,' they often refer to what North Americans would call 'moose', which Europeans usually call 'Eurasian elk.' However, if we're talking about the animal known as 'elk' in North America, it's more similar to what's known as 'red deer' in Scotland - but much bigger! This article will focus on the Eurasian elk (Alces alces alces).

Unfortunately, a present-day journey through Scotland's vast wilderness won't yield a sighting of wild elk. Despite their historical presence in this part of the world, these magnificent creatures are currently absent from Scotland's fauna, a result of factors that this article will explore in the following sections.

Why did elk go extinct in Scotland?

Elk, or "Eurasian elk" as they are known in Europe, are believed to have gone extinct in Scotland - and the UK more broadly - due to a combination of overhunting and habitat changes.

Overhunting likely played a significant role. Humans have hunted elk for thousands of years for their meat, hides, and antlers. As human populations grew, hunting pressure could have increased to unsustainable levels, leading to the elk's local extinction.

Changes to the elk's habitat also likely contributed to their disappearance. During and after the last Ice Age, the UK's climate became warmer and more hospitable to forests. This led to an increase in woodland and a decrease in the open, mixed woodland-grassland habitats that elk prefer. Changes in habitat could have made it more difficult for elk to find food and avoid predators, contributing to their decline.

A mighty elk in a forest. Extinct from over hunting.
European Elk.

When did elk go extinct in Scotland?

It's thought elk have been extinct in Scotland for around 3000 years, but it's thought a small population may have survived until 900AD. There is no exact extinction date for elk in Scotland.

Reintroduction of European elk to Scotland

While there are no plans to reintroduce elk to Scotland, some groups believe it would help biodiversity and tourism.


It's believed that if elk were reintroduced to Scotland and allowed to thrive, it would create lucrative hunting tourism, which would be very valuable to the Scottish economy. It feels a bit off to me to reintroduce an extinct species just to kill them off again, though, even if it is managed.

Environmental benefits

Some believe that forests could be managed naturally with the reintroduction of elk. Over the last few hundred years, Scotland has suffered dramatically from deforestation due to human pressures for timber. North Scotland is very desolate, considering it was covered in rich, dense forests thousands of years ago.

Considering there is a problem with the large deer population eating tree saplings, I'm not sure how reintroducing an even bigger deer will help forests grow.

I think a trial herd would be a great project, in a similar way reindeer have been reintroduced to the Cairngorm mountains.

Where can I see elk in Scotland? Highland Wildlife Park

Highland Wildlife Park is the best place to see elk in Scotland, not far from Aviemore and Kingussie in the Scottish Highlands.

There are four Eurasian elk at the park, being relatively new additions added between 2019 and 2022. Two calves were born at Highland Wildlife Park in May 2023 - the first elk births in Scotland in one thousand years.

Highland Wildlife Park has two areas, a safari drive-through and a walk-through area with enclosures - the elk can be viewed in the drive-through reserve.

Elk died out a thousand years ago. Highland Wildlife Park elk.
Driving past one of the elk within Highland Wildlife Park.
Paul Lister, forest
Another view of the elk at Highland Wildlife Park.

Irish elk (Megaloceros giganteus)

The Irish elk was once native to Scotland but became extinct around 7500 years ago. These elk are even larger than the elk in the wild today, weighing more than 700kg. Towering over a horse, these elk were 2.1m tall at the shoulder and had antlers that spanned 3.7m from tip to tip, each weighing 22kg!

It must have been a sight to see bulls fighting with these huge antlers during the breeding season.

You can see an image below of the size of these antlers taken at the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd Centre.

Deer diagram.
Diagram at Cairngorm Reindeer Centre showing the size differences.
Irish elk antler, great for deep snow.
The actual size of an Irish elk antler.

FAQs on Elk in Scotland

What is the closest species to elk in Scotland?

The closest are red deer, which are still numerous in Scotland and cause a lot of environmental damage to forests and hamper replantation attempts over vast areas of deforested land.

Are Highland cows related to elk?

No, Scotland's famous Highland cows are a different species entirely from elk.

What is the difference between a moose and an elk?

Both moose and elk are impressive species, each exhibiting unique features and distinctions. To start, their colour varies significantly. Elk display a light brown hue, with a bull elk occasionally showcasing a near-golden sheen, especially contrasted with its pale yellow rump. In contrast, moose have a darker fur colour that doesn't have the same golden undertones.

One of the most noticeable differences between these two species is their facial features. A moose is characterised by its large, elongated, bulbous nose and distinctive fur hanging under its throat, commonly called a "bell". Contrarily, an elk has a much more streamlined, narrower snout and lacks this characteristic bell.

Further differentiation can be observed in their antler structure. A mature bull moose sports broad, flat antlers which have a unique palmate shape, somewhat resembling open hands. On the other hand, elk antlers have a more pointed, branched structure, with each antler extending upwards into multiple points.

Therefore, through their fur colour, facial features, and antler shape, it becomes relatively straightforward to distinguish between a moose and an elk.

Are there elk in the UK?

No, they are extinct in the wider United Kingdom too but can be seen in captivity at Wildwood in Kent, England.

What other animals are extinct in Scotland?

These species are also extinct in Scotland:

  • Wolf: The last Scottish wolf is thought to have been killed in the 1700s. The extinction was primarily driven by hunting due to the threat wolves posed to livestock.

  • Brown Bear: Bears are thought to have become extinct in Scotland around the 10th century. Similar to wolves, they were hunted extensively.

  • Lynx: The Eurasian lynx disappeared from Scotland around 1,500 years ago, likely due to loss of woodland habitat and overhunting.

  • Wild Boar: Wild boar were hunted to extinction in Scotland by the 17th century. However, feral populations have since been established due to escapes and deliberate releases from boar farms.

  • Elk/Moose: Elk, also known as moose in North America, went extinct in Scotland around 1,000 years ago, primarily due to overhunting and habitat changes.

  • Beaver: Beavers were hunted to extinction in Scotland in the 16th century for their fur, meat, and scent glands. However, they were officially reintroduced in Scotland in 2009 and gained legal protection as a native species in 2019.

Interesting facts on elks

  • Elk can eat 20kg of food daily - a full elk stomach can weigh as much as 65kg.

  • Male elks are named "bulls" and females "cows".

  • One of the largest living deer species.

  • Despite their size, elk can run as fast as 45 miles per hour.

  • Strong swimmers.

  • A lifespan of around 20 years but closer to 10 to 13 in the wild due to predation.

  • Elk prefer woodland habitats and open plains.

  • Physical characteristics - heavy body, humped shoulders, long legs, short tail and wide hooves.

  • Births occur between May and June after a gestation period of 216 to 264 days; twins are often born.

Key information on Elk in Scotland

  • Elk have been extinct in Scotland for around 1000 years.

  • Red deer are elk's closest remaining relative in Scotland.

  • Elk died out due to overhunting by humans and climate change.

  • Elk were hunted for their meat, bones and hides.

  • Some groups want to reintroduce elk for hunting and for forest management.

  • Elk can be seen at Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie and Aviemore.


So sadly, European elk is another species that can no longer be found in Scotland due to us pesky humans, joining the Eurasian wolf and Eurasian brown bear as extinct species. Thankfully elk are considered a species of "least concern" due to large populations in other areas, including Europe, Asia, Scandinavia, northern China and Mongolia.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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