15 Places With Adorable Animal Ambassadors

A certain location can bring to mind any number of things — a particular monument, a beach, a person, an attitude. Even animals have the power to evoke a country or destination. Here are 15 creatures that are inextricably linked to a place.
By: Hannah Prince

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Rabbits on Okunoshima, Japan

During World War II, Japan used the island of Okunoshima for producing chemical weapons. Now, it’s a much happier place that’s better known as Rabbit Island, because it is home to hundreds of wild bunnies. The adorable inhabitants of this popular tourist destination hop up to visitors in search of scratches and snacks.

Pigs on Big Major Cay, Bahamas

Bet you never thought of swimming with pigs as an adventure on your next vacation in the Bahamas. But that’s just what visitors can do on Big Major Cay, aka Pig Beach, in the Exuma archipelago. There are several theories on how the growing colony of 20 or so pigs landed on the island, but with 1 snort from those adorable sandy snouts, you won’t even care.

Lemurs in Madagascar

There are about 100 species and subspecies of these primates, and all of them are native only to the African island of Madagascar, one of the most biodiverse destinations in the world. Some are as small as a mouse; others can be the size of a big house cat. Conservation efforts have continued to grow, as many of the lemur populations are in danger of extinction.

6-Toed Cats in Key West

The official term is polydactyl, meaning "many digits," but they’re also called Hemingway cats. That’s because a ship captain gave Ernest Hemingway a cat with this genetic abnormality. The author was fascinated and began collecting and breeding others. Forty or 50 cats — about half of them polydactyl — still live at the Hemingway Home in Key West, and the small island has a higher-than-normal percentage of 6-toed felines.

Red Crabs on Christmas Island

Tens of millions of red crabs live on the 52 square miles of Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean. Every year at the beginning of the rainy season, usually in November or December, they migrate from the forests to the coast to breed, creating a bright red parade that shuts down roads on the island.

Giant Pandas in China

A symbol of the country, these critically endangered bears are now found only in a small section of mountain forests in central China; by last count, there were fewer than 2,000 left in the wild. Beyond that, almost all of the pandas in captivity elsewhere in the world still technically belong to China and are being "leased" to other countries.

Giant Tortoises on the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

The islands made famous by Charles Darwin’s study of evolution have a number of unique animal species, but the 1 that most often comes to mind is the giant tortoise. In fact, its official name is the Galapagos tortoise. These vertebrates live to be an average of at least 100 years old in the wild and can grow to be more than 600 pounds.

Wild Ponies on Assateague Island, MD/VA

More than 300 wild horses live on the Assateague Island National Seashore, half in Virginia and half in Maryland. Visitors who take a boat ride along the inland waterway can often see groups of the animals grazing among the grasses of the salt marsh. Every July, thousands of spectators gather on neighboring Chincoteague Island to watch the traditional Pony Swim.

Cape Fur Seals on Seal Island, South Africa

There are 60,000 seals living (and lounging) on this island in False Bay. Oddly enough, the destination may be just as famous for the great white sharks that patrol the surrounding waters and feed on the island’s namesake inhabitants. Visitors can catch one of many boats from the mainland in hopes of witnessing the unbelievable sight of a predator jumping out of the water to devour its prey.

Corgis in England

Even though these short-legged dogs are a Welsh breed, they’re most often associated with England, thanks to Queen Elizabeth II, who has owned more than 30 of them. London even used one in an adorable promotional campaign. The queen declared in 2015 that she wouldn’t be getting any more new corgis, but luckily, you can see them outside the United Kingdom, too!

Koalas in Australia

Sure, Australia has a number of endemic species, including kangaroos and emus. But no trip Down Under is complete without getting your photo taken with a fuzzy little koala. Because of habitat destruction, these marsupials (they’re not bears!) are now found in the wild only in eastern Australia.

Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda

The estimated 800 remaining mountain gorillas actually live in 3 countries in central Africa, but the population in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is the most famous, thanks to Dian Fossey, who studied it for nearly 20 years and wrote about her experiences in Gorillas in the Mist. Even Breaking Borders hosts Michael Voltaggio and Mariana van Zeller stopped for a glimpse of these giant primates, which live in groups led by a dominant male called a silverback.

Bengal Tigers in India

Bengal tigers are the most common kind of tiger — relatively speaking, of course, considering that all 6 of the remaining tiger subspecies are endangered. The biggest population lives in India, whose Ranthambore National Park is known as the best place to still see these majestic cats in the wild.

Penguins in Antarctica

Penguins crowded on a barren, white expanse of snow and ice — that’s what many people imagine Antarctica to look like. About a third of penguin species live and/or breed on the southernmost continent, including the largest, emperor penguins. The flightless birds’ waterproof coats, fatty insulation and amazing swimming skills come in handy in this harsh environment.

Komodo Dragons in Indonesia

They may not be as cute as koalas or lemurs, but Komodo dragons, which are found only on a few Indonesian islands, are just as fascinating. Weighing as much as 300 pounds or more, they are the largest living lizards. Their size, combined with an acute sense of smell, powerful claws, serrated teeth and a venomous bite, makes them ferocious predators.