11 Animal Islands You Should Explore Before They Disappear
Prefer the company of cats, cute little bunnies, horses, or birds and reptiles, to humans? Pick your favourite creature and we bet there’s an island for that!
By Rashmi Deshpande
Sick of cities crammed full of people and traffic? Get out of your concrete jungle and visit these 11 islands where the wild things are. You’ll find more animals and birds here, than people. We promise!
Animal Island #1
Seal Island, Cape Town, South Africa
Ever heard of the ‘ring of death’? Nothing to do with popular fiction, the ‘ring of death’ is the deadly circle that great white sharks form around Seal Island to hunt their vulnerable prey. The little island, which is more a granite outcrop, is home to colonies of Cape fur seals—the great white’s favourite prey. At certain times of the year, the great whites create a circle around the island, turning it into a feeding ground where they pick off any seals that enter the water. The sharks perform amazing aerial feats—leaping out of the water with the seals in their mouth—before they come crashing back down into the waves. The sight is spectacular! Not to mention terrifying for the seals.
Animal Island #2
Tashirojima Cat Island, Japan
Tashirojima is every cat lover’s ultimate pilgrimage! With a cat shrine in the centre of the island, feral felines here, outnumber humans by almost 4 to one. Also known as Manga Island, after the Manga-themed camping resort, you can stay in cottages shaped like cats, with cat-themed artwork by famous Manga artists. Off the coast of Ishinomaki in Japan, the resort is open for tourists from April to October. People bearing cat treats are most welcome. And while dogs are prohibited on the island, we strongly advise the mice to stay away.
Animal Island #3
The Swimming Pigs Of Big Major Cay, Bahamas
Water so clear, you can see your fatigue slip away… And as with every other island that’s as scenic, the Big Major Cay has been taken over by residents who love the peace, quiet and tranquility. Only here, it’s the pigs. You heard us right, pigs! The Big Major Cay in Exuma, is uninhabited by humans, but is home to a large population of swimming pigs. The story goes that sailors passing by, left the pigs here so they could make a meal of them on their next visit. But they never came back. Others suggest that the pigs are shipwreck survivors. Whatever the case, these swimming hogs are more than happy with their beautiful home. And given a choice, we’d totally exchange places with them!
Animal Island #4
The Wild Horses Of Sable Island, Canada
A passing ship. Abandoned Shetland ponies. No human interference for hundreds of years. And you have the perfect recipe for a protected home for more than 400 wild horses. Sable Island is a crescent-shaped sliver of a sandbar in the middle of the ocean, where harbor and grey seals, and a unique species of sponge, coexist alongside the feral ponies. Unlike a similar island in Maryland, USA, where ponies are routinely corralled and auctioned, wild horses couldn’t drag the Canadian Government from allowing anything to disturb the precious residents of this protected island.
Animal Island #5
The Fluffy Bunnies Of Okunoshima Island, Japan
Does an overdose of cuteness coming from a secret, World War II chemical gas factory, sound scary? The only thing to be afraid of on Okunoshima Island, is falling in love with a fluffy little bunny. The secret site of a mustard gas factory between 1929 and 1945, Okunoshima is now overrun by thousands of feral rabbits. Rumoured to be related to the lab bunnies brought here to test the poison gas, another theory suggests they were released when Okunoshima was turned into a World War II park. While the former gas chamber is now a museum about a very dark chapter in world history, the bunnies play the part of an antidote to perfection!
Animal Island #6
The Quokkas of Rottnest Island, Australia
Don’t know what a quokka is? Neither did we, till someone told us about this little piece of sunshine. Found in pockets of Western Australia, quokkas thrive on Rottnest Island where they number almost 12,000. One of the first Australian mammals to be discovered by Europeans, a Dutch sea captain mistook them for giant rats, and christened the island ‘rotte nest’ or ‘rat’s nest’. But the quokka is nothing like a rat. For one, this nocturnal herbivore, with a smile on its face, is as cute as a button, and isn’t afraid to approach humans, especially on Rottnest. But don’t let their smiling faces lure you into touching them—doing so can attract a heavy penalty of almost A$300!
No matter how adorable and cuddle-worthy they look DO NOT TOUCH THEM
Animal Island #7
The Komodo Dragons Of Komodo Island, Indonesia
Forked tongue: check
Scaly body: check
Fiery breath: well, almost
The Komodo dragon may not breathe fire, but one bite, and you’re as good as gone! With saliva that contains lethal bacteria, this dragon breathes fire of a different kind. At up to three metres long, with a body and tail that is all muscle, the Komodo dragon is the largest species of lizard on earth. And though the dragons have a slow and cumbersome walk, they are capable of running pretty fast in attack or hunt mode. Excited enough to visit? Make sure you hire a ranger or a guide to explore Komodo Island. It’s mandatory.
Animal Island #8
Snake Island, Ilha de Queimada Grande, Brazil
This is probably one island you DO NOT want to visit. In fact, you’d be expressly prohibited from doing so by the Brazilian navy. And for good reason too. Queimada Grande, also known as Snake Island, is the exclusive home to thousands of golden lancehead pit vipers. These vipers grow to about two feet and prey on the birds that come to rest here. Small as they are, their venom packs a mighty punch! Their lethal and fast-acting poison can melt the flesh around bites. And with a density of between 1 and 5 snakes per square meter, death is always just a few feet away.
Animal Island #9
The Crabs Of Christmas Island, Australia
Every year, around October-November, Christmas Island turns scarlet. Not from the leaves turning in autumn, but from the 10 crore (100 million) scarlet-red, crabs that make a mad dash from the forest to the sea and back. These unique forest-dwelling crabs swarm all over the island, covering the roads, crawling through houses and schools, getting under everyone’s feet, and covering every surface on the island. All to ensure that their young ones are born in the ocean. A few weeks later, the hatchlings begin the journey to the forest. At 1,00,000 hatchlings per female, the sheer volume of tiny crablets crawling over every exposed surface of the island (and whatever crosses their path), is unimaginable, and quite a sight! But hurry, if you wish to see this mind-boggling migration. The accidental introduction of the predatory ‘yellow crazy ant’ is decimating the red crab population alarmingly.
Animal Island #10
The Animals & Birds Of The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Animals and birds that walk up to tourists out of curiosity—that’s how unaccustomed to humans, the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands, is. From the giant Galapagos tortoise to the marine iguana, this group of 19 volcanic islands—only some of which are inhabited—contain the world’s most unique, scientifically important, and biologically outstanding areas on earth. Visit here, and you can proudly claim to have seen an important part of our Earth’s evolution!
Animal Island #11
The Protected Birds Of Ursula Island, Puerto Princesa, Philippines
Think of the Philippines and pristine, white-sand beaches come to mind. But nothing can beat Ursula Island, which is free from resorts. Protected home to rare birds, the island only allows visitors on the beach, leaving the wooded centre of the island untouched. Wish to visit? Get your permit from the Provincial Environment & Natural Resources Office (PENRO) of Palawan.
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If ever there was a career that involved the study of sleeping cats, Rashmi Deshpande would probably be in it. But for now, she is in an industry she loves--the travel industry. Rashmi has worked with Femina as an Assistant Manager, and freelanced for several online and offline publications such as Lonely Planet India magazine and Nat Geo Traveller India. She currently works as the online content manager with Cox & Kings.View more articles