Bizarre National Animals

In 2016, President Obama's act of designating the bison the U.S. national mammal caused quite a stir. It drew attention to the majesty of the animal and its cultural significance. Indeed, many lauded the executive decision as the right one to make. That said, the move didn't supplant the bald eagle as the national animal or symbol of the United States.

Yet, the bison pales in comparison to some of the majestic and mythical creatures countries around the world have claimed as national animals.

From the majestic to the downright strange, here's a look at six of the most bizarre national animals worldwide.


Unicorn, Scotland

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Many of us appreciate the mythical unicorn, but Scotland actually made the creature its national animal. In fact, the unicorn has been Scotland's national animal since the late 14th century. Back in the 1300s, people believed in the existence of unicorns and thought they were powerful enough to defeat elephants (which apparently was a concern in 14th century Scotland). The Scottish also revered unicorns for their purity, innocence and courage.

The unicorns from 13th century Scotland can't be equated with rainbow-covered store facsimiles that sparkle and poop glitter, however. Back then, they were considered wild, powerful creatures. The unicorn was also often depicted in chains and equated with the power of Scottish kings.


Dodo Bird, Mauritius

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You may think it surprising that Mauritius made an extinct, flightless bird its national animal. However, you'll come to appreciate the country's decision once you learn the reasons for it.

In all, the dodo bird is actually pretty significant in Mauritius history. The island nation, which sits in the middle of the Indian Ocean, was the dodo's original home. In fact, Mauritius is the only place these unique birds have ever been found. With no predators to flee from, these non-flying birds thrived after their arrival. Dutch settlers later discovered the birds when they landed on the uninhabited island in the late 16th century.

You can probably guess how the story ends. With the arrival of predators in the form of people and other animals like rats, pigs, and cats, it didn't take long for the dodo to become extinct. So, the country immortalized the bird by crowning it the national animal.


Chollima, North Korea

Credit: Oleg Znamenskiy/ Shutterstock

If you don't know what a chollima is or that it's North Korea's national animal, relax. In truth, few Western visitors get to visit the country and even fewer know about its customs.

If you do visit North Korea, you'll likely see enormous statues of massive winged horses reminiscent of the Greek Pegasus. A 150-foot statue exists in Pyongyang, which you'll likely come across during structured tours of the country's culturally significant buildings.

The winged horse is called a chollima, a creature based on Chinese mythology. It represents North Korea's plans for post-war economic development. Kim II-Sung introduced the creature in the late 1950s and it remains an important national icon to this day.


Hedgehog, Rabbit, and Wood Mouse, Monaco

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As a country famous for its abundant wealth and alluring sights, it makes sense that Monaco would have not one, but three national animals. That said, you'll be forgiven in thinking that the three animals symbolize riches or power.

In reality, the friends symbolize no such thing. The innocence of the picks seems right somehow, when you consider that Monaco's glamour is open to all who visit.


Okapi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Credit: Yobab/ iStock

Is the okapi a zebra, donkey, or perhaps a giraffe with a short neck? The truth is somewhere in between: the okapi actually resembles all three animals in one aspect or another. It's also the national animal of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

It's a rare animal. So rare, in fact, that it was once considered a mythical creature. Male okapis have two small horns on their heads. From the side, the horns look like a single, fused horn, which prompted many in the past to mistake okapis for unicorns. That said, okapis live in the rainforests of Africa and are generally peaceful creatures.


Takin, Bhutan

credit: johan10/ iStock

Many people mistakenly think that the druk or "thunder dragon" that appears on the Bhutan flag is the country's national animal. However, the honor belongs to the takin. This extremely rare mammal lives in groups and looks like a blend between a sheep, antelope, and goat.

Legend has it that the creature was created by a Tibetan saint in the 15th century. Accordingly, the saint was called upon to produce a miracle during his time in Bhutan. He promised to do so on one condition: the people must feed him a whole cow and a whole goat as a reward. After he ingested the animals, the saint assembled the bones, snapped his fingers and the takin materialized.

Today, this peaceful animal lives in the northern part of the country and eats bamboo.


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