Did you know there are at least eight countries around the world with an eagle as their national animal? There’s only one country, however, that honors the Dodo bird. From mythical creatures to religious representations, here are six countries where a strange or unusual beast is a national symbol.
Mauritius, a tiny island nation east of Madagascar, was once home to the famed dodo bird. First seen in the early 1500s by Portuguese sailors, the dodo likely died out by the end of the following century. While the large, flightless, and ever-so-strange bird has been extinct for many years, Mauritius still honors its memory. Images of the dodo are found throughout the country — on the coat of arms, in tourist shops, and on government stamps. There’s even a full skeleton of the creature at the Natural History Museum of Mauritius, one of just a few such skeletons in the world.
China’s national bird, the red-crowned crane, also happens to be one of the rarest cranes in the world. Named for the patch of red skin at the very top of its head, the omnivorous bird feasts on grasses and plants in addition to fish, crustaceans, and amphibians. Unfortunately, the bird’s population has been threatened by habitat loss. But since the red-crowned crane is synonymous with good luck, loyalty, and longevity, it is fiercely loved and protected by the Chinese people, as well as international conservation groups.
Bhutan’s national animal, the takin, is sometimes called a goat antelope, although it has more in common with wild sheep. Their powerful bodies and nimble legs help the creatures traverse the mountainous country, which is located in the Himalayas. According to legend, the shaggy creature was created by a Tibetan saint named Lama Drukpa Kunley, who arrived in Bhutan around the 15th century. Asked to perform a miracle, he rearranged the bones from his lunch of cow and goat meat so that the goat’s head was atop the cow’s carcass. With a snap of his fingers, the strange animal came to life. Today, although its population is vulnerable, the takin can still be found grazing in higher elevations of the country’s northwest and far northeast.
Although it may look a little like an anteater, Baird’s tapir is more closely related to a rhinoceros. The largest land animal native to Central America is surprisingly agile, however. It can swim in rivers, climb up steep embankments, and walk for miles in search of food. As an herbivore, it dines on grasses, aquatic plants, leaves, and fruits native to Belize. Its long, flexible snout and flat teeth make it easy to forage for hard-packed snacks, like twigs and nuts. Although the nocturnal animal is partial to nighttime ranging, it can sometimes be spotted in natural forest preserves throughout Belize.
The dugong, the national animal of Papua New Guinea, is cousins with the freshwater manatee. Often called a “sea cow,” this large, gentle creature can be found grazing on seagrass in bays, mangroves, and reefs. Dugongs have long played an important role in the lives of native Papua New Guineans, as the marine animal has been hunted for its hide, meat, and oil for centuries. Today, dugongs are protected by the nation, with the exception of traditional hunting.
The markhor is a large, wild goat that lives in the Himalayas of Pakistan, as well as the neighboring countries of India, Afghanistan, and Turkestan. As the national animal of Pakistan, markhors are recognized as a protective symbol of the nation. In fact, the word “markhor” means “snake-eater” in Persian, which may refer to the goat’s ability to crush snakes with its large hooves or the animal’s serpentine horns. Unfortunately, this species is critically endangered — they’re often poached for their beautiful horns, which are believed to have healing purposes in certain traditional medicines.