Although I spend much of my time on tours telling stories of the people who have lived in the city and shaped its history, there are also occasional stories of Edinburgh's animals - famously the city has more statues of dogs than it has of historical women...
But as you pass along its streets there's a whole bestiary of other animals to be discovered in Edinburgh! Some are works of public art, others are details of buildings, and a couple are actual animals who have been preserved by taxidermy...
Here are just some of the wildlife you might spot around town.
Two giraffes stand outside the Omni centre in New Town, sculpted out of parts of old motor vehicles.
It is called Dreaming Spires, and was created by Helen Denerley, a contemporary Scottish artist who fashions scrap metal into a variety of creatures and figures. The two giraffes here are nicknamed Martha and Gilbert, and have stood at this busy junction since 2005.
The sculpture is inspired by a poem by Roy Campbell, lines from which are set into the ground at the foot of Denerley's scultpure:
Who live between the earth and skies,
Each in his lone religious steeple,
Keeping a lighthouse with his eyes.
This rhino's head can be found between Bristo Square and George Square, mounted onto the side of one of the modern buildings of the University of Edinburgh.
It is a commemoration of a bookshop which used to stand on the site, until the buildings were demolished in the 1970s.
Run by Jim Haynes, who also helped found Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre, the shop was known for stocking a variety of controversial titles - including the infamous Lady Chatterly's Lover.
Haynes had bought a stuffed rhino's head which was mounted in the window of his bookshop, hence the rhino which represents the old bookshop today.
There are plenty of real pigeons around town, not to mention seagulls, the menace of the skies. But at the top of Leith Walk, near Valvona and Crolla, are a mini flock of friendly looking birds set into the pavement of Elm Row.
These are a sculpture by Shona Kinloch, and had been a staple sight in the area before the tram works led to their temporary removal in order for the infrastructure works to be carried out. That temporary removal ended up lasting 17 years, until the pigeons came home to roost once again in 2023.
This glorious beast can be found on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, and believe it or not was modelled on an actual elephant - who used to live inside the castle itself! The elephant belonged to the 78th Highlanders regiment, who had returned from Sri Lanka in the 1830s with said elephant as their mascot. It was quartered within the castle where (if you believe such things) it developed a taste for the soldiers' beer...
Unrelated, but the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals can be contacted on 03000 999 999.
A favourite of visitors, and another creature who might have kept the SSPCA busy... Wojtek was adopted by a Polish military unit during the Second World War. He was tamed by the soldiers with cigarettes, until he became a functioning part of the unit, carry the soldiers' packs and shells as they made their way across Europe.
When his unit was rehoused in Edinburgh at the end of the conflict, Wojtek was brought to Scotland and given to Edinburgh Zoo - where in the 1950s visitors would light cigarettes and push them through the bars of his cage...
The statue of Wojtek in Princes Street Gardens celebrates not just the bear himself but by extension the Polish community in Edinburgh.
Another series of animal sculptures by Shona Kinloch, the seven swans a-swimming can be found at Fountainbridge, near the terminus of the Union Canal. This major industrial waterway was only active for a relatively brief period of time, between the 1820s and the end of the nineteenth century.
Today the canal offers a peaceful stretch of 'blue space' (in contrast to the 'green spaces' of the parks) with a path for walking, jogging or cycling. Rowers and kayakers can be seen during the summer months, and the canal provides a link through West Lothian to Falkirk, where the Falkirk Wheel and Kelpies sculptures are popular attractions.
A truly important animal - Dolly the sheep, the world's first genetically cloned mammal, was born in 1996 at the Roslin Institute, a research group that is part of the University of Edinburgh.
Having been cloned from the mammary cells of a donor sheep, the scientists named her Dolly, after what they said were the world's other finest set of mammary cells, on the country singer Dolly Parton...
When Dolly (the sheep) died in 2003, her preserved body was donated to the National Museum of Scotland, where she has been on display ever since. Dolly Parton remains alive and well.
A little way from Edinburgh city centre is the suburb of Cramond, which was the site of a Roman camp during the creation of the Antonine Wall, around 40 CE.
Several artefacts from the Roman occupation have been discovered over the years, including this grand piece of sculpture which was found in 1997 and became known as the Cramond Lioness.
Created to adorn the grave of a grand military leader, the lion is depicted with its jaws around a naked, bearded man - a common symbol of mortality. Two serpents on the base of carving represent the survival of the soul.
Like Dolly the Sheep, the Cramond Lioness can be found in the National Museum of Scotland.
This cute carving of an armadillo is one of a whole host of animals to be found on the walls of the King's Buildings campus of the University of Edinburgh - specifically on the building which used to house their Zoology department!
The buildings were built in the 1920s by John Fraser Matthew, and although they no longer accommodate zoology classes the animals remain as an indicator of its former use.
Take a walk along Cowgate in the Old Town and you can spot a few variations on the bovine theme.
The road was originally a cattle route providing access to the market in Grassmarket, and I have had some groups get stuck in a debate over whether this particular example represents one or two cows. (It has both horns and udders which, by some reckoning, suggests it is both male and female...)
Flying out of the front of the Gladstone's Land on Lawnmarket on the Royal Mile is a golden bird with a mouse in its claws.
This is a red kite, one of Scotland's native birds of prey, which in Scots is sometimes called a 'gled' - it's a play-on-words of the original owner of the building in the sixteenth century, Thomas Gledstanes.
The building is one of the oldest surviving structures on the Royal Mile, and is a visitor attraction operated by the National Trust for Scotland.
Look up - always a good rule in Edinburgh! - to the rooftop of Ramsay Garden, next to Edinburgh Castle, and you may spot a cheeky cat standing on one of the eaves of the building.
Ramsay Garden - built by poet and librarian Allan Ramsay - is full of surprising details and decorations, largely from the late nineteenth century when it was restored and redeveloped by the father of Edinburgh's heritage protections, Patrick Geddes.
Another animal to be spotted at Cramond, this sculpture - referred to affectionately as 'the big fish', for obvious reasons - is carved from pink granite by the artist Ronald Rae, who used to create his sculptures in a workshop in the grounds of nearby Cramond Kirk.
Weighing around 8 tonnes it's a hefty piece of seafood, and was purchased by the local community in 2009.
Ah. Sorry. There are no tigers in Edinburgh - except the stuffed creature in the National Museum of Scotland, pictured above as a way of making the blog headline not entirely misleading...! :)
So those are just a handful of the exotic (and not so exotic) animals to be spotted on Edinburgh's streets. Keep your eyes peeled - there are also multitudes of unicorns, dragons and horses, as well as the various dogs celebrated in statue...
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