Is hardline vegetarianism an issue in Bhutan?

10 national animals that are rare, unusual, endangered, or completely non-existent

Yes, the komodo dragons, the dodo, and the markhor are national animals.
(Photo: Komodo dragon: Kucherova / Shutterstock; Dodo: Biodiversity Heritage Library / Flickr; Markhor: OZinOH / Flickr)

If Benjamin Franklin had his way of being America's national animal, Turkey would be an animal that he calls "a true original Native of America."

And in his defense, there is certainly no shortage of turkeys to walk around, which cannot be said about a handful of countries around the globe with national animals that are decidedly less common - some even extinct. Other countries proudly boast emblematic critters that are straight-out bizarre and, in some cases, mythical.

From dodo to the Komodo dragon to folkloric winged horses we gathered to contemplate a colorful menagerie of extraordinary and / or threatened national animals.

1. Unicorn (Scotland)

Despite its mythical and occasionally sparkling portrayal, the unicorn represents purity, strength, and independence. (Photo: godam07 / Shutterstock)

It is a creature that is majestic, mystical and possesses the voice of Mia Farrow. It appears (chained) on the royal coat of arms and is a symbol of purity, strength and independence. It's also often covered in glitter and is in close proximity to the magical rainbow. How could anyone have a problem with the national animal of Scotland being a unicorn?

Shocking but true, a small but vocal group of Scots want to do away with the unicorn, the heraldic animal of Scotland, which has also served as the national animal since the late 1300s. And what did these activists suggest, take the unicorn? You push for another elusive animal to be named as Scotland's national animal, this one that you believe to be real (at least for tourist purposes): the Loch Ness Monster. Your argument for the unicorn to be replaced by a lake-dwelling cryptid, which is likely a very large catfish? “How many people visit Scotland to look for unicorns? Exactly."

2. Dodo (Mauritius)

The extinct dodo lives on through museums, postage stamps and statues in Mauritius. (Image: Biodiversity Heritage Library / Flickr)

If you are a small island nation in the Indian Ocean and your most famous endemic bird is also the poster animal extinction, of course, the bird would be your national animal. And although the dodo went, well, the possibility of becoming circa 1662, the curious-looking flightless bird remains a symbol of Mauritius pride and a powerful reminder of the fate of endangered species around the world threatened by human activity.

Though the story of the dodo - a warning from the national animal - if there was one - is tragic (Dutch settlers ate on the island, destroyed their habit and introduced predatory invasive species) that the spirit of this succulent pigeon cousin lives on through Mauritius business names, stamps, and public sculpting. Today, the bird is a tourism mascot and the subject of a museum in Mauritius’ bustling capital, Port Louis, where visitors see drawings and skeletons of the legendary Raphus cucullatus.

3. Okapi (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

Okapi is struggling to survive in small parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Photo: Steffen Foerster / Shutterstock)

It's a donkey. It's a baby giraffe. At the second thought, it's an antelope. Or maybe a zebra half covered in mud? No, wait ... what on earth is that?

Say hello to the okapi, one of Mother Nature's most confused creations ... an animal - a close relative of the giraffe, actually - so rare and so peculiar that it was long believed to be of mythical origin. This enigmatic herbivore, the hair-covered horns, striped hindquarters and an outrageously long tongue even served as the mascot for the now-defunct International Society for Cryptozoology. Of course, the okapi is not a cryptid, but a real species and an endangered variety. A tiny selection is limited to the forests in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), this shy and solitary animal known as the "forest giraffe" has experienced steadily declining populations since the mid-1990s. Says Noëlle Kümpel, okapi specialist with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN): “Unfortunately, Congo has been caught in civil war and devastated by poverty for nearly two decades, resulting in widespread degradation of the okapi habitat as well Hunt for your flesh and skin. Supporting government efforts to address civil war and extreme poverty in the region are critical to ensuring survival. ”

4. Komodo dragon (Indonesia)

The Komodo dragon is the deadly but threatened national animal of Indonesia. (Photo: Anna Kucherova / Shutterstock)

Much like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia's national animal is a creature so unusual that it was classified as a cryptid until not too long ago. In 1926 Western scientists confirmed the existence of massive "land of alligators" life in Indonesia's Lesser Sunda Islands - and the public fascination for the plus-size, carnivorous lizard, now known as the Komodo dragon, hasn't waned since .

The only reptile that appear on this list, the Komodo dragon is also perhaps the most feared national animal in existence. To put it mildly, this isn't the type of creature you want to encounter, alone in a dark alley. Or anywhere. Ever. Substantial body weight, muscular tail, strong jaws, long claws, the razor-sharp serrated teeth, bacteria-laden saliva and the fact that it can run - and run really fast, makes contact with this giant lizard best avoided if possible. Though terrifying, attacks on humans are relatively rare as most people know living under this fork-tongued monster to keep your distance.

5. Baird ‘s tapir (Belize)

Also called the "mountain cow," Baird’s tapir, enjoys some protection in Belize in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve. (Photo: Eric Kilby / Flickr)

Baird's tapir, an odd-looking animal (think the odd-toed lovechild of a pig, horse, anteater, and hippopotamus), produces some really cute babies, is both the largest native land mammal in Central America and that National animal of Belize. It is also an endangered animal with fewer than 5000 individuals estimated to survive in the wild.

The threats against the Baird ‘s tapir - also known as the“ mountain cow ”- are not atypical: habitat destruction and poaching, illegal but not always enforced. And extremely low reproductive rates have not contributed to declining populations. In Belize, Baird's tapir, enjoys some protection within the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, a more than 6,000 acre reserve co-managed by the Belize Audubon Society, home to a wide range of flora and fauna, some of which are like Baird's tapir are threatened.

6. Markhor (Pakistan)

The markhor is known for its curvy antlers. (Photo: OZinOH / Flickr)

Recently upgraded from endangered to near threatened on the IUCN Red List after decades of unrestrained trophy hunting and habitat destruction, the imposing markor (Capra falconeri) is slowly but surely making a comeback.

Best known for sporting curvy, corkscrew-like horns, the name of these super-agile wild goats comes from a Persian mixture word that translates to "snake eater." While Markhor certainly does not have a liking for reptiles - as far as the scientific community is concerned, maintain a strict vegetarian diet of grass and various vegetation, local legend has it that goats have been known to hunt, stomp and eat snakes . Others believe the name comes from the animal's characteristic horns, which in traditional Asian medicine were believed to have healing properties. In addition to Pakistan, markhor can be found in the mountains of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and northern India. Closer to home, these sure-footed ruminants can be found at the Los Angeles Zoo, the Calgary Zoo and the Stone Zoo in Boston.

7. Takin (Bhutan)

In local lore, the takin is believed to be derived from the skeletal remains of a goat meat and beef lunch. (Photo: Valerie / Flickr)

Relatively new to going as national animals, the takin was named the national animal of Bhutan in 1985. A relative of the musk ox, it is a rare and strange-looking creature for sure - seemingly "composed from a variety of zoological sources" - and designed accordingly traverse Bhutan's dizzying topography, thriving best in harsh alpine environments of 4,000 feet or higher.

A revered animal, the origins of the takin are deep in local mythology and date back to the 15th century when Drukpa Kunley, sexed-up Tibetan saint, known as the Divine Fool of Bhutan, created the takin - or dong gysem tsey - from the skeletal remains of a goat meat 'n' beef lunch provided to him by the villagers. Reanimated leftovers, basically. Today these bamboo-chewing animals (large goat antelopes, technically) are considered endangered species and, outside the Himalayas, can be found in a number of American zoos, including the San Diego Zoo, the Cincinnati Zoo, and Chicago, Lincoln Park Zoo. The druk - "Thunder Dragon" is Bhutan's mythical national animal and appears on the national flag.

8. Phoenix (Greece)

Another mythical creature, the phoenix, is a symbol of rebirth. (Image: Fotokostic / Shutterstock)

While some might identify the national animal of Greece as the dolphin (that's not wrong), many would say that the national bird, a mythical bird, - is the true national animal with the dolphin second fiddle. Mythical or not, both dolphin and phoenix are wonderful beings with roots in ancient Greek mythology. (Here is the hope that some of that rebirth-y phoenix mojo carries over to modern Greece and as it goes, rise from the financial ashes.)

And Greece isn't the only country with a mythical national bird. Turul, a massive falcon, serves as a divine messenger and has long served as a powerful symbol for the Hungarian people. And in Portugal, the Rooster of Barcelos is the country's top-emblematic chicken, its colorful shape displayed front and center at tourist souvenir shops nationwide.

9. Chollima (North Korea)

Chollima, a winged horse from Chinese myth, makes an imposing statue in the Pyongyang skyline. (Photo: Nicor ​​/ Wikimedia Commons)

Aside from the wide empty streets, socialist realism propaganda posters, and the ghostly glass-and-concrete pyramid that positively soars into the sky, one of the first things the limited number of Western visitors allowed to walk into town Pyongyang, capital of the self-isolated Hermit Kingdom of North Korea, stands out for its huge statue of a winged horse.

Said winged horse in none other than Chollima, a mythical being of Chinese origin - a kind of hard-line communist take on Pegasus, if you will - that came to symbolize the plans for swift post-war economic development introduced by Kim Il-Sung in the late 1950s. “Let's break into the spirit of the Collima!” was the reconstruction campaign slogan. Decades later, Chollima remains an important - and fairly ubiquitous - symbol of North Korea. High up on Mansu Hill, the Chollima statue at 150 meters high, is one of the most imposing monuments in a city, filled with imposing monuments. It also usually appears on the strictly regulated tourist routes.

10. The hedgehog, rabbit and wooden mouse (Monaco)

Monaco wouldn't be happy with the national animal, so it took three: a hedgehog, a rabbit and a wooden mouse. (Photo: Claus Rebler; Mathias Appel; jans canon / Flickr)

Oh, Monaco. Sweet, innocent, super-rich Monaco.

In a bitsy, billionaire-filled European principality best known for a popular fairy-tale princess named Grace, it only makes sense that the three national beasts are the kind of harmless, cute-as-a-button woodland critters you might find sing, Snow White: a hedgehog, rabbit and wood mouse. Carved into the Mediterranean coastline on the French Riviera, this sun-drenched microstate-cum-jet-set playground, famous for its glitzy gambling facilities and the Grand Prix, has no distinct fauna to call its own, that's why it is seems that you just went with the obvious and harmless. Hey, it's better than Marcel, the baccarat-playing-mole. The national animals of other European microstates, including the Pyrenean chamois (Andorra) and the Pharaoh hound (Malta), are certainly not a match against the menacing menagerie of Monaco.


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Matt Hickman (@mattyhick) writes about design, architecture and the crossroads between the natural and the built environment

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