In A Nutshell
There are few cryptids that have as complete a life cycle and a history as the wild haggis of Scotland. Even though the greater haggis is now extinct, the patient, quiet onlooker might be able to catch a glimpse of the elusive lesser haggis in the wild. Most of the haggis you find in restaurants is farm-raised haggis; this allows Scotland to preserve the few wild haggis they have left, and selective breeding has created haggis that bear bigger litters with more haglets, that are generally larger and less hairy, and that don’t get drunk as often as they used to.
The Whole Bushel
Anyone who’s said Scotland isn’t one of the most exotic places in the world to go on a hunting trip obviously hasn’t heard the story of the wild haggis.
Most of us all know what haggis is—normally inedible innards stuffed with more normally inedible innards and delicately seasoned. It’s the perfect example of making do with what you have available. Somehow, it’s a staple in Scotland.
There are recipes online for making it, but there’s an incredible legend that’s grown up around a bit of mistaken logic. Beef comes from cows, mutton comes from sheep, pork comes from pigs, so haggis must come from . . . wild haggis.
According to the popular story, wild haggis has been hunted in Scotland for hundreds of years, as evidenced by the woodcuttings and engravings from the 18th century showing hunters returning from the woods with the remains of a wild haggis trussed up from a log carried on their shoulders. An amazing amount of work has gone into the mythos of the haggis, too. Unlike mythical beasts like the Loch Ness monster, we supposedly know everything there is to know about the wild haggis.
Today, it’s only the lesser haggis that remains in the wild. In centuries past, the great haggis was just as numerous, and its unique physical characteristics made it a challenge to hunt. The legs on one side of its body were shorter than the other, making it easier for them to run along the mountainside. They could only run in one direction, though. (The haggis that ran clockwise around the mountains were the Haggis Scottii dexterous variety, while the counterclockwise creatures were known as Haggis Scottii sinistrous). But, once hunters realized that they could stay in the same spot and just wait for the creature to make another circuit around the mountain, their numbers began to decline.
The last remaining great haggis had developed legs in front that were shorter than those in back and could run up and down the mountain incredibly quickly. Unfortunately, it could only run backward down the mountain, which was eventually its undoing when it impaled itself on a tree.
Early Scottish crofters kept the Hebridean haggis, and during the Clearances, the haggis were threatened by the sheep that they were now forced to share their land with. A good number of them went feral and spread across the Scottish Highlands. Different species, differentiated by the lengths of their legs, were created.
According to a paper prepared by the University of Glasgow Veterinary School, most haggis that are eaten now are farm-raised haggis, and steps are being taken to preserve the very shy wild haggis. They breed on only one night a year, November 30, when they’re given a libido boost after St. Andrew’s night parties. They’ll typically have two or three hagglets at a time.
Farmers have had success raising captive haggis, with many taking part in selective breeding programs designed to make them bigger, less hairy, and less prone to partake in the drink.
Sounds crazy, right? In 2003, haggis manufacturers Hall’s of Broxburn took a survey of American tourists. According to their results, 33 percent thought the haggis was a real animal, and 23 percent said they were hoping they were going to be able to see or catch one.
Show Me The Proof
The Haggis: Wild haggis (Haggis Scottii)
The Veterinary Record: Applications of ultrasonography in the reproductive management of Dux magnus gentis venteris saginati
Windsor Public Library: Wild Haggis
The Guardian: Majestic haggis of the glens proves elusive for US tourists