North Uist, one of the islands in the Outer Hebrides is used to counting  people and sheep among its regular residents.  You will also see eagles and otters if you are lucky.  But in August 1980, a bear was added to the list of those who called the island home. North Uist’s exotic new arrival wasn't Paddington, but a grizzly bear called Hercules, whose popularity would come to rival the marmalade-eating Peruvian cousin.

Now, you may ask, what on earth was a grizzly bear doing on Uist?  It all started off for Hercules when he was born at the Highland Wildlife Park in Kingussie, but later had to be rehomed due to overcrowding.  He was bought (we like to think of it as adopted) for the lavish sum of £50 by Scottish wrestler Andy Robin and his wife Maggie, who planned to keep him at their home near Dunblane and train him as a “wrestling bear”.   Andy already had some experience in bear bonding, having grappled with the wrestling  bear  “Terrible Ted” during his career in the ring.

But baby bears like puppies grow quickly and after just one year, Hercules weighed 30 stone or 190kg. After perfecting his wrestling skills with Andy, Hercules carved out a career for himself in television, which was a roaring success.   It was his TV work which brought him to the Outer Hebrides. While filming a TV advert in the islands, he made a bid for freedom and managed to evade capture for over 3 weeks, despite being pursued by the army, the navy, nearly all of the island’s population, and much of the world’s media.

The search was finally called off, but sometime later, a local crofter spotted Hercules enjoying a swim in one of the lochs.  He clearly just fancied a holiday. The bear was tranquilised  and airlifted to be reunited with his owners. The local ferry company, Caledonian Macbrayne,  awarded  Hercules complementary travel for life (to the envy of most locals) in case he ever wanted to pop back to Uist for a swim.

The story spread around the world, making Hercules a global celebrity.  Being brought up in captivity, it turned out Hercules wasn’t so great at living in the wild.  After being missing for 24 days, he had lost nearly half his weight, and fears of him savaging live-stock proved unfounded.

Hercules escapade did great things for his film career. He appeared in the Bond Movie, Octopussy (1983), though not as the famous spy himself even though some say he wanted Sir Roger Moore’s role. He even made it to Hollywood, living in California for a couple of years, before passing away in 2001 aged 25.

A life-size statue of Hercules was unveiled on North Uist at Langass Woodland in 2013.  Both children and children-at-heart can follow a "Paw Print" trail and rekindle the story of the famous bear.  When Andy Robin, Hercules’ adoptive father passed away in 2019 he was buried next to his beloved grizzly, and Maggie says she wants to join them when the time comes..

A TV documentary about the story , Hercules the Human Bear, was first broadcast in 2014.

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