In so many ways, the world is a wild and peculiar place. I passed a news stand in the grocery store just this morning, and saw at least four different headlines that made me wonder just what in heckola is happening. Life in 2018 is a wacky rollercoaster of joy, sorrow, annoyance and exasperation, isn’t it?
Humankind is difficult enough to understand in and of itself, and that’s just the beginning. We’re nothing compared to some of the other amazing creatures that the animal kingdom’s cooked up.
We’ve all seen enough viral videos of dogs skateboarding and cats playing piano. We know how extraordinary the natural world can be. We’ve seen elephants expressing emotion, even mourning the loss of their own. As David Attenborough enthusiastically tells us in his trademark whispery voice, there are wonders all around us.
As the great man also tells us, some of them are critically endangered. Some drew the short end of the stick in that regard, being endemic to only a tiny portion of this vast world of ours. Which is super sad for all sorts of obvious reasons, not least of which this one: some of these species are just far too adorable to even contemplate losing.
Have you ever met the tree kangaroos of Papua New Guinea? Or the micro chameleons of Madagascar, which can fit on the head of a matchstick? You’re about to. Buckle up for 20 adorable species that can be found in only one country on the planet.
20 Dude, Where’s My Tail?
Now, granted, the Manx cat has gone forth and multiplied a little since the early days. Nevertheless, it was originally a native of the Isle of Mann, a small isle between Great Britain and Ireland in the Irish Sea. A natural genetic mutation caused the local cats to develop distinctive ‘stub’ tails, or no tails at all. It may look like they’ve been involved in a bit of a brawl, but trust me, owners find it endearing.
These curious cats are so iconic, they were actually named after the English dialect spoken on the island. They’re renowned hunters, and were popular as ship’s cats in time past.
19 Shuffling Around In Their Shells For A Century
Is there any more iconic endemic animal that the giant tortoises of the Galápagos? These noble, lumbering creatures have two main claims to fame. First, there’s their sheer outrageous size (some have reached over 6ft long and in excess of 900 lbs, certainly ‘giant’ tortoises by anyone’s standards)
Secondly, their impossible longevity. Adwaita, a specimen who sadly left us in 2006, reached an estimated age of 255! These fascinating creatures have always been incredibly significant to the islands. In fact, when they were first discovered, the Galápagos Islands were named Insulale de los Galopegos (Islands of the Tortoises) after their famous residents.
18 The Mischievous Madagascans
Our next stop on this world tour of exclusive animals is Madagascar. This island country off the eastern coast of Africa is the home of the lemur, favourite of zoos everywhere and one of the most adorable little creatures you ever saw.
Beloved for their distinctive looks and teeny stature, the lemur is also known for being full of personality. They’re hugely expressive and active. The most popular species is probably the ring-tailed lemur, but there are now almost one hundred different known species. These little guys and gals are excellent time-wasters; it’s fantastic just to watch them going abot their business in zoos.
17 The Super-Cute Kiwi
I guess, on the surface, there isn’t anything too extraordinary about the kiwi. It’s a small (roughly chicken-sized) flightless bird, native to New Zealand. Considering that the island was also once home to the moa, four species of ostrich-like birds which reached a monstrous 12ft tall (if you met one of those guys in a dark alley, you’d certainly consider it memorable), there’s nothing too notable about these little guys.
The Kiwi is more than just a not-chicken, though. It’s a national icon. So much so, the people of New Zealand are actually nicknamed Kiwis in the bird’s honour. How about that?
16 Paradise (Not Yet) Lost
Next, we’re crossing over to the Waigeo and Batanta islands of West Papua, Indonesia. This beautiful, sun-kissed part of the world is the exclusive home of Wilson’s bird-of-paradise. Like most such species, it’s characterised by its glorious and exuberant colouring. In this bird’s case, the blue skin on its crown is bright enough to be seen even at night!
Wilson’s bird-of-paradise first shot to stardom in 1996, when Sir David Attenborough captured the first ever footage of it in his documentary Attenborough In Paradise. On the show, he spread some leaves on the forest floor, which irritated the bird into coming down to tidy them up.
15 The Peculiar And Puzzling Platypus
Now, granted, it’s easy to dispute the cuteness of the duck-billed platypus. It’s easy to dispute the cuteness of anything that looks like it was bolted together by Doctor Frankenstein in a shady lab somewhere. Let’s not be superficial, though. Let’s appreciate the inner beauty of this extraordinary animal.
Endemic to eastern Australia/Tasmania, the platypus resembles a cross between a duck and a beaver. Early British settlers referred to it as ‘duckmole,’ which sounds pretty apt to me. It’s a complex creature all around (it’s one of very few egg-laying mammals, for instance), but it has an incredible unique charm.
14 When Other Iguanas Just Aren’t Fabulous Enough
So, as we all know, the Galápagos Islands are home to some very big, very old, very special tortoises. That wasn’t news to anybody, but did you also know about an even more distinctive, even more exclusive species that lives there?
The pink land iguana (or Galápagos rosy iguana) is found only on Wolf Volcano, Isabela island, in the north of the Galápagos. A magnificent habitat for a magnificent creature. While its unique sense of style is definitely something to admire, it’s in some real trouble here. Sadly, there are estimated to be less than 100 individuals of this critically endangered species left.
13 DANG, That’s A Teeny Chameleon
As if the adorable and super cheeky lemurs of Madagascar weren’t enough, allow me to present the Brookesia micra. This chameleon species is only known to be found on Madagascar’s uninhabited Nosy Hara island, and I have no idea how in heckola they found this thing at all.
Adults can grow up to 1.1 inches long.
Now, if I have to come right out and say it, I’ve never really been a lizard sort of guy, but this little thing? If I could have one, you’d better believe I’d be picking out teeny little holiday hats for it to wear.
12 A ‘Tree Kangaroo?’ I’m Sold!
Back over in the Papua New Guinea area, let’s hop over (yep, that pun was intentional, thanks for noticing) to the Huon Peninsula, where something very special waits in the trees. Regular old kangaroos are totally endearing and fascinating at the best of times, but these things are something else.
The forests here are the exclusive home of the Matschie’s tree-kangaroo. This unique and rare creature is known for its magnificent golden brown colouring, and its typically kangaroo-esque manner of nursing its young. Matschie’s is one of a variety of tree-kangaroo species, which are found only in these tropical rainforests and parts of Queensland.
11 The Glorious Grass-Grazing Gelada
Now, I’ve always had a soft spot for baboons. We’ve already touched on lemurs and their hilarious and mischievous personalities, and that’s something that I think a lot of primates pull off a little too well. They’re fascinating and hilarious to watch. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something about them I find irresistible.
The gelada is another intriguing and exclusive species. It’s found only in Ethiopia, with the biggest populations up in the highlands and the Semiens mountains. These leisurely beasts spend most of their days eating grass. They’re known for the distinctive red pattern on their chests, hence the nickname of bleeding-heart monkey.
10 The Curious Case Of The Quokka
Now back to Australia, that world-renowned home of the deadly, the adorable and the just plain odd. When it comes to marsupials, our knowledge is often limited to kangaroos and wallabies (unless video game star Crash Bandicoot counts), but there’s a lot more variety than that out there.
The Quokka is endemic to south west Australia. It’s a super friendly and inquisitive little thing, which has taken up residence in a nature reserve for endangered species. It wasn’t invited there, sure, but it all worked out in the end. It now lives right alongside the Gilbert’s potoroo, another threatened Australian species.
9 Those Mischievous Marmots
Here in the UK, where I live, we see squirrels aplenty. The little rodents are super finicky, and wary of people, but I love to watch them scurrying around.
Marmots are much larger members of the squirrel family, and Vancouver Island, British Columbia, is home to some very special ones. The Vancouver Island marmot is critically endangered, but conservation efforts and breeding programs are gradually helping to increase numbers.
This is something to be thankful for, because many of us can empathise with these exhausted souls (they spend over 200 days of the year hibernating). If you’ve ever required nothing less than a small duvet fire to get out of bed, this is the spirit animal for you.
8 The Most Adorable Monsters In Town
Now, you’d think that the terms ‘demon’ and ‘super cute’ would be mutually exclusive. You definitely would. You’d better get out of here with your snap judgments, though, because the Thorny Devil may just surprise you.
Just look at the little guy. It’s trying desperately hard to look menacing, with those spikes and all, but it’s far too small and cute to fool anybody. It’s like dressing a poodle in an intimidating biker jacket and sticking a false beard to it.
The Thorny Devil is found only in Australia, and is cleverly adapted to its environment. With the ridges on its back, it can pass water around its body via the capillary principle.
7 Palos Verdes’ Beautiful Blue Resident
Butterflies, as we all know, are renowned for sporting a bright and glorious range of colours on their bodies. There are some truly beautiful species, and it’s a shame that one of the most eye-catching is also among the rarest on the planet.
The Palos Verdes blue is found in California, on the Palos Verdes peninsula. It’s so named for its dark and vivid colouring and is critically endangered due to its small range. The peninsula is subject to rototilling and urban development, which is devastating to the food source the species depends on. Breeding programs and other conservation projects are underway, though.
6 Unusual Island, Unusual Inhabitants
Cocos Island is a fascinating place. It’s found 630 miles south of Costa Rica, sporting a super wet climate and oceanic character that is completely at odds with the rest of this part of the world. It’d be a fascinating study, if anyone could study it. Cocos is a National Park, with no inhabitants allowed except for rangers from Costa Rica.
As such, it’s just the place for rare species to thrive. The Cocos finch is endemic to the island, and is a great survivor; making Cocos its own and eating a whole range of the plants and insect life available. It’s known for its distinctive colour differences: the male is all black, while the female is varying shades of brown.
5 The Bongo: Not Musical, But Sure Colourful
Next up, we’re crossing over to the vast and beautiful country of Kenya. The bongo is a species of antelope that thrives in tropical rainforests across central and west Africa. A certain subspecies hasn’t proven so adaptable, sadly, and is exclusive to a much smaller area.
The mountain bongo is characterised by its bright and bold colouring. With that chestnut coat and subtle white striping, they remind me of a glazed cinnamon bun (is it just me?). If that’s not a fantastic selling point for any animal, I’m not sure what is. Numbers have declined rapidly in recent years, and the mountain bongo is now only found in isolated forests in Mount Kenya and the Aberdares.
4 One Of The World’s Rarest Penguins
We’ve already touched on animals like lemurs, and how their unique personalities make them favourites among exotic animal lovers and zoo visitors. The penguin is another example of this, with their lavish enclosures often prominently placed and super popular.
There’s just something uniquely entertaining and endearing about these birds. Which is what makes the sad plight of the yellow-eyed penguin all the more upsetting. These distinctive New Zealand natives are among the most endangered species of penguin in the world, with numbers in rapid decline thanks to infection, pollution and other damning factors.
Yellow-eyed colonies are a popular tourist attraction, with visitors observing them through hides and other shelters.
3 The Smallest And Most Adorable Dolphins On The Planet
Dolphins, again, are some of the most adored and adorable animals on Earth. They’re intelligent, playful, endlessly entertaining to watch. In many ways (fins aside), they’re one of the species most like our own, and there’s a unique charm about that too. We just love these things. What’s one of the most common bucket list entries of all? To swim with dolphins, that’s what.
Back in New Zealand once more, there’s one particular species whose time seems to be running tragically short. The Maui dolphin, the smallest on the planet, is a subspecies of the already-rare Hector’s dolphin. It’s estimated that just sixty or so are left in the wild, where they can sometimes be seen swimming in Port Waikou and the surrounding area.
2 Alabama’s Happy Little Beach Helper
Now over to the USA, where a unique little rodent can be found in Alabama. The Alabama beach mouse is endemic to the state, and was once a common site all along the coastline. Sadly, encroaching building work and other habitat damage has reduced their territory more and more.
Today, it’s found only on certain areas of the Gulf Coast. Like a lot of underappreciated animals, this little guy performs an important role in its native ecosystem, providing seeds that will grow into the plants that are so vital to the dunes. Again, though, there is hope, as protective initiatives are in place.
1 Put On A Happy Face, Arachnophobics
Now, I know what many of you are thinking. I absolutely do. Spiders aren’t always renowned for being super cute, and they certainly have their detractors. I’ve grown up with a mom and a sister who howl like banshees at the first sight of one, and those are just the teeny little spiders we get in the UK.
Even considering all of that, just look at the happy-face spider. Just look at is. This curious species is only found in Hawaii, where it’s known as the nananana makakiʻi. It’s relatively harmless, it’s got a smiley face on its back… what’s not to like?
Resources: Treehugger, Discover Magazine, Popular Mechanics, CBC, Africa Geographic, The Culture Trip, Matador Network