As all travellers know, there are some countries on Earth that boast far, far more exotic animal life than others. There’s a real imbalance there, which we’ve no choice but to come to terms with.
For instance, I’m from the UK. In the Harry Potter world, Britain is home to some intriguing endemic species like the Welsh Green dragon. Sadly, this is the real world, and I can tell you that there are no dang dragons around here, buddy. Granted, I’m a Muggle, so I could very well have seen them and then had my memory magically modified, but I rather doubt it.
I suppose that’s just a Northern Hemisphere thing. Over here above the equator, we have our share of fascinating species, but it’s still a bit of a one-sided contest in that regard.
Why? Because the Southern Hemisphere boasts an intriguing array of unusual ecosystems, comparatively tiny pockets where rare and wonderful species can thrive. Take Madagascar and Papua New Guinea, whose unique environment plays host some of the rarest and most fascinating animals on earth. Not forgetting Australia, of course, a proud and noble country renowned for its range of exclusive zoological oddities.
Let’s take a trip to the Southern Hemisphere, then, to see some of these adorable, obscure animals in action. From the world’s cutest, furriest owl to the gorgeous bird of paradise with a tail three times as long as its body, we’ve got a little of everything here. Hop on board, it’s going to be an incredible ride.
20 Wait, Let Me Put My Glasses On
Where better to start than with this unusual character? The spectacled bear is instantly recognised for its curious coat. It has a dark brown body, save for those spectacle-like rings around its eyes. These bears all have different individuals markings; the cream colouring spreads further down its chest in some individuals.
The spectacled bear is also known as the Andean bear, being found almost solely in the Andes (some have ventured further around South America). Super unusual in more ways than one, the spectacled bear is the only species of bear found in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s quite small, at 4-6ft long, and has a largely vegetarian diet.
19 The Only Place You Can P-P-P-Pick Up A Penguin
Now, we all love penguins. Of course we do (don’t @ me, this is actual fact). With their characteristic waddling walk and playful demeanours, they’re one of the most popular crowd pleasers at zoos and parks around the world. I was once treated to the ‘penguin walk’ at Edinburgh Zoo, and that was one heckola of a sight.
As Discover Wildlife reports, there are eighteen known species of penguin, all of which are exclusive to the Southern Hemisphere (the Galápagos penguin is an exception, sometimes venturing north of the Equator). There’s so much to love about these flightless birds, but I think this image says it all.
18 Australia’s Most Adorable Local
Next on our tour of the wildlife of the Southern Hemisphere, we’re off to Australia. Because of course we are. If Australia’s known for anything, it’s for its flip-flop-melting heat. If it’s known for anything else, though, it’s for its truly spectacular range of endemic animals.
Kangaroos aside (we’re coming to them later), there’s no more iconic Australian animal than the koala bear. Certainly no cuter Australian animal. These little guys are threatened in the wild, thanks to habitat destruction and their super-picky diet, but conservation projects are working tirelessly to preserve them and their homes. Just look at their furry faces.
17 Well, It’s Dang Cold In The Antarctic Ocean
Now, when it comes to the seals of the Antarctic, there’s usually one in particular that comes to mind. The leopard seal is a huge, fearsome creature, measuring up to 11.5 feet and weighing up to 1,320 pounds! You do not want to bring this thing home to meet your mama, however cool and relaxed she may be about the guys you date.
Cute and cuddly really isn’t the leopard seal’s style, though, which is why we’re turning to a different species here: the Antarctic fur seal. These slim, furry souls came back from the brink of extinction in the nineteenth century in a big way: there are now over four million of them.
16 The Golden Dog Of South America
The next stop on our Southern Hemisphere tour is South America. More specifically, it’s areas of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Peru (and scattered parts of Uruguay). Here, if you’re very lucky, you’ll spot the maned wolf.
This beautiful creature is the largest species of its type in South America. It is renowned for its gorgeous, striking coat, which is alluded to in its scientific name, Chrysocyon, which means Golden Dog.
It may look pretty, but it certainly doesn’t smell great. As is typical of these animals, the maned wolf scent-marks its territory, and the odor left behind is so strong that locals have given the species the nickname skunk wolf.
15 So Pretty In The Pampas
As we saw in the last entry, the maned wolf is the largest species of its kind in the region. It’s certainly the tallest, standing 35 inches at the shoulder. Its super long legs (comparatively speaking) contribute to this, and are a huge boon in the tall grasslands of its native habitat.
Do you know what else lives in the grasslands of South America? The Pampas deer, that’s what. This adorable species is quite small, as deer go, which gives them a handy-dandy ability to hide in the aforementioned tall grass. Their population is stable, mostly found in Brazil, but poaching is becoming a threat.
14 Those Adorable Walking Memes
Ah, the llama. Along with the alpaca, which they are very similar to and often mistaken for, llamas have become quite the pop culture mainstay of late. I’m not entirely sure how this happened, as many of us have never actually seen a llama or alpaca in real life, but there it is.
There are llama cuddly toys, llama pyjamas, llama-branded pencil cases… you name it. You can see the appeal, as these majestic creatures are super, super cute. In their native South America, they’re hardy and intelligent pack animals, and their fur is dang useful too. Unlike that of sheep, llama wool is free of lanolin.
13 Madagascan Mischief-Makers
Crossing over to the beautiful island of Madagascar, we’ve got a real biodiversity hotspot on our hands here. As the fourth-largest island in the world, there’s a lot of ground to cover here, and a real treasure trove of rare and threatened animals. Over 90% of the species found here are exclusive to the island, and some truly fascinating species they are too.
Firstly, we’re going to tackle the most famous of Madagascar’s endemic residents. There are almost 100 different species of lemur on the island, the most iconic being the ring-tailed lemur. You’re looking at the silky sifaka, a critically endangered species which is one of the rarest primates on the planet.
12 How Did A Kangaroo Get Up THERE?
As I say, Australia is world-renowned as the home of some of the most unusual endemic creatures on earth. It’s a country that laughs in the face of its huge, dangerous spiders, snakes and such, while non-natives just turn to wibbling jello molds at the very thought of them.
The folk of Australia know animals. They are one with extraordinary creatures. Tree kangaroos, they’ll say, sure! Why the heckles not?
As though regular ‘roos weren’t unique enough, some similar marsupials have adapted to a life in the trees. There are several species of tree kangaroo, which tend to be found in Papua New Guinea and parts of Queensland.
11 The World’s Rarest Armadillo?
The humble armadillo has a long history with the peoples of the Americas. The Aztecs called them āyōtōchtli, which translates to the fantastically apt ‘turtle-rabbit.’ The word as we know it today means little armoured one, and… well, that’s right on the dang money as well.
As a general rule, these hardy creatures have flourished over the years, and they’re now found all over North and South America. Sadly, some species aren’t so fortunate. The pink fairy armadillo, so named for its distinctive colouring, is found only in central Argentina. Conservation efforts continue, but it is –yet again—threatened by humans encroaching on its habitat.
10 The Magnificent Madagascan Moon Moth
Now, it’s often said that butterflies are the pretty ones. They’re colourful, fancy-patterned ones. As for moths? Well, they’re just tones of grey and beige, like my Aunt Janet’s living room in 1984.
That’s not always the case, though. Step back, butterflies, because the Madagascan moon moth is here and it’s not taking any of that sort of talk.
Just look at this thing. It’s magnificent. Sadly, its beauty is fleeting; the adult comet moth (as it’s also known) is unable to feed, and so only lives for five days at the most. It is also endangered, but captive breeding programs have proven successful.
9 You Call That A Tail? THIS Is A Tail
Back in the subalpine forests of Papua New Guinea now, one of the striking and beautiful birds on the planets awaits. This is the ribbon-tailed astrapia. If you thought peacock plumage was something special (which, I mean, it is, nobody’s talking smack here), this amazing bird-of-paradise is on a whole new level.
As you’d probably gathered, this endemic species is named for that remarkable tail. The bird itself is of an average size, at just over thirty centimetres long, but that tail! It has the longest tail feathers (in proportion to its body size) in the world. Impressive, sure, but it’s unwieldy too.
8 What's A Bandicoot Again?
So, as I say, I live in the less-than-exotic London, UK. Therefore, I’m fortunate if I can get a fleeting glimpse of some of these marvellous animals, as I’m traveling or visiting safari parks and zoos. Some of the more endangered species, as a result, remain a mystery to me.
If, like me, your only experience of bandicoots has been with PlayStation character Crash Bandicoot, you’ll be awed by this animal too. There are incredibly rare giant bandicoot, endemic only to very select spots of Papua New Guinea. One of the world’s most endangered marsupials, they live on the banks of the Goldie River.
7 The Most Adorable Owl You Ever Saw
Sometimes, words are just completely unnecessary. That squeeee face you’re pulling right now? I can actually feel it. I can see it through the internet. That’s how adorable this thing is.
I don’t know how much cute is too much dang cute, but I think we’re getting perilously close to the limit here. This happy little thing is a Madagascar long-eared owl. At about fifty centimetres long, World Atlas reports, it’s the largest owl species on the island, and is characterised by that brownish-black streaking on its otherwise white body.
It’s also, scientifically speaking, the kind of creature you want to sit and hug for about eight years straight.
6 That’s One Cute Crocodile
Now, I don’t mean to take away anyone’s dreams here. If a crocodile wants to be considered ‘adorable,’ then they can just go straight ahead and be adorable. It’s 2018, after all, and we’re all free to be whoever we dang well choose to be.
Having said that, it’s not exactly in a crocodile’s nature to be adorable. The crocodile icefish of Antarctica and South America, however, can pull that off a little better. Just look at this cheeky thing, happily swimming around with its colourless blood (due to the lack of haemoglobin) and beady eyes. What’s not to like?
5 Hey, What Are You Laughing At?
It wasn’t going to be long before we crossed back over to Australia, was it? The island just has such a rich, fascinating range of wildlife. There’s a rich variety to pick from here, let me tell you.
Next up, we have the laughing kookaburra. This is a large, iconic kookaburra, notable for its trademark laughing call. They’re very territorial, and have established a range across much of eastern Australia. They were introduced to other areas because they had a reputation for being great at dealing with unwanted snakes, quickly asserting their feathery dominance over the region. They’ve got plenty to laugh about.
4 Like Kangaroos, But Smaller
Now, of course, at lot of the Aussie species we’ve looked at here have been the big ones. The kangaroo, however, was just a step too far there. It’s a little too conventional for my liking. Instead, we’re heading just a little off the beaten path here, with the wallaby.
Wallabies are native to Australia, New Guinea and New Zealand. They’re of the same family as their larger, more famous cousins, but just edge them out on the cuteness factor because they’re smaller. Smaller means cuter, that’s just a scientific fact. The dwarf wallaby, for instance, is a species that only weighs 1½ kilos.
3 Maybe Not So Devilish After All
I hear you, friends. I really really do. That is indeed a Tasmanian devil, which would hardly be a number one candidate for adorable-ness.
It’s a species that is characterised by being aggressive, antisocial and smelling awful. It sounds like a lot of people I went to high school with, in short, which doesn’t really help when I’m trying to sell you on its cuteness.
They may have a vicious reputation, but they’re sorely misunderstood. Carnivores, yes, but as dangerous and unpredictable as the Looney Tunes character? Heck no. Just look at that face. Tasmania’s most famous inhabitants just need a little understanding.
2 It’s A Pigeon, Jim, But Not As We Know Them
Now, if you’re anything like me, you were probably highly dubious that a pigeon could ever be extraordinary. I mean, in general. We’re not talking about those heroic ones that carried messages up and down the lines in WWI. Those are not pigeons to mess with, in any shape or form.
The Victoria crowned pigeon, however, is not your average pestilential bird. This glorious-looking thing is another Papua New Guinea resident, and its plumage is just incomparable. I mean, look at that quiff. Elvis in his heyday couldn’t top that.
Not only does it look totally stylish, it’s the largest pigeon species on earth (over 30 inches long in some cases).
1 Well, I Think It’s Cute
Okay, here’s what happened. For the last entry in this rundown, I wanted to make things a bit special. Toss a bit of a curveball out there. What say you? Cute or not cute? I’m certainly in the cute camp here.
For the uninitiated, this is the Aye Aye, another curious species exclusive to the island state of Madagascar. It’s a nocturnal primate that is mostly arboreal. It’s very well adapted to that way of life, too, with super-effective eyes and ears to locate prey and large, powerful legs that enable it to keep its balance in trees. Natives consider the Aye Aye unlucky, but I think it’s adorable.
Resources: Mother Nature Network, Discover Wildlife, Animal Wised, World Atlas, WWF Global