Ten Unusual National Animals That Rival the Unicorn

Scotland doesn’t have the market cornered on exotic national symbols—check out the mouflon, the takin and the xoloitzcuintli

A shop sells nostalgic souvenirs, including a UK coat of arms, at the Portobello Road market in London. (Jon Bower/Loop Images/Corbis)

Even though Scotland voted last week to remain a part of the United Kingdom and not become an independent country, one symbol of Scottish pride holds strong: the national animal, the unicorn.

While selecting a mythical animal as your patriotic mascot may seem odd, the choice has historic context. The unicorn has been used in Scottish heraldic symbols since the 12th century, and it was combined with the English lion on the royal coat of arms when the two kingdoms merged. According to the CIA World Factbook, there are no strict rules for choosing a national animal—it can be any creature “that over time has come to be closely identified with a country or entity”. Not all nations have official animals, and some have multiple options, including a few countries that have mythical beasts in addition to real ones.

That got us wondering: What other unusual animals are dutifully representing countries around the world? Here are a few favorites:

Komodo dragon (Indonesia)

While China and Vietnam have mystical dragons among their national emblems, only Indonesia can say it has the real deal. The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is the world’s largest living lizard. Adults can grow to nearly 10 feet long and can weigh more than 360 pounds. They don’t breathe fire, but they do have a venomous bite that causes their prey to rapidly go into shock.

About Victoria Jaggard

Victoria Jaggard is the science editor for Smithsonian.com. Her writing has appeared in Chemical & Engineering News, National Geographic, New Scientist and elsewhere.

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