It says a lot about a country when they think a lion is the best animal to represent them. Especially when they’re European.
National animals are a wonderful quirk, falling somewhere between a sincere appreciation for the bountiful wildlife a country offers and sheer, brash arrogance as to how they should be perceived.
Some animals make more sense than others, being creatures of notoriety in that nation. Canadian beavers, Indian Bengal tigers, Spanish bulls, Australian kangaroos and New Zealand-ish kiwis are synonymous with their country and engrained in their culture.
However, the people of El Salvador would probably forgive you if you’d never heard of the Turquoise-Browed Motmot, and though adorable, not many among us would naturally associate the Fennec Fox with Algeria.
Let us introduce you to Every Country’s National Animal, and take you on a tour of some of the cutest, quirkiest, and occasionally most made-up creatures the world has to offer. Click the map below to discover a larger version!
Mammals are officially the go-to creature of choice, with 120 of the 185 countries with a definitive national animal adopting a mammal. They range from domesticated puppers like Mexico’s xoloitzcuintli, to sea puppers like the Cape Verdean manatee - and just about everything in between.
Birds make up the majority of the remainder, with 52 winged creatures hovering among the elite. That includes the perhaps appropriately intimidating German black eagle, the fabulously unintimidating Bahamian flamingo and the straight-up strikingly bright Guatemalan quetzal.
The Indonesian komodo dragon is a solid representative of the three reptiles, while major props to the Barbadian mahi-mahi and the Maldivian yellowfin tuna for showing that, whilst there may be plenty more fish in the sea, only two of them have been adopted as a country's national animal.
The lone amphibian? The Panamanian golden frog.
An inventive seven countries went off-script and chose a mythological creature, including North Korea’s chollima and the proud Welsh dragon - because obviously there aren’t enough cool real animals in the world to choose from.
Speaking of dominant mammals, the lion is the national animal of 19 different countries, including England, Belgium, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic - alongside the likes of Cameroon and Liberia (y’know, where you might actually find a lion).
There are, in fact, only 22 national animals that aren’t indigenous to their host country, some more obvious than others given their mythological nature.
… so no, there aren’t any wild unicorns in bonny wee Scotland, no matter how bonny and wee it may be.
Some national animals, once extinct in their country, have encouragingly been reintroduced in recent years - Jordan’s Arabian Oryx was reintroduced in 2007, for example, and populations are increasing.
Sadly, being endangered is not uncommon among the world’s national animals.
Of 168 wild national animals, 38 are ‘threatened’ in some way and three are already ‘extinct’ - Mauritius adopted the dodo, while the Moldovan Auroch expired hundreds of years ago and the Moroccan Barbary lion has been extinct in the wild since the 1940s.
A further 48 animals have a conservation status of ‘vulnerable’, meaning, in total, over half of the world’s national animals aren’t having the best time of it - despite being handpicked as a nation’s representative from the animal kingdom, we aren’t trying too hard to look after them.
Among the nine ‘critically endangered’ creatures are the leopards of Benin and Mali, the Cambodian kouprey, Lesotho’s black rhino and even, sadly, the Panamanian golden tree frog (that’s its name - it has “Panamanian” in its actual, factual name).
You can see the full insight into every country’s national animal below, including the animal name, the animal class, whether it’s indigenous and whether it’s dying out - alongside some unique insights as to how they got there.
You can also discover all the image assets below: