10 Islands Filled With Adorable Animals You Can Visit
Whether you’re a bird nerd or a crazy cat person, there’s a destination with a high concentration of your favorite animal beckoning you to visit. Maybe your newest bucket list addition will be the Instagram-perfect island in Aruba teeming with friendly flamingos making you mourn the passing of Millennial Pink. Perhaps it’ll be the wild horses off the coast of Maryland, compelling you to play the Rolling Stones on repeat.
Whatever animal is your favorite, it’s important to understand the ethics of visiting different populations, and to research ways to do it responsibly. Sure, a penguin selfie might boost your clout on Instagram, but when tourists start to value the photo more than the actual experience, we have a problem. Before you request your days off to see Japan’s island cats up close, be sure to look into the rules about feeding and playing with the animals, and, equally important, ways you can give back so they can continue living their best lives.
There’s no shame in feeling giddy at the very thought of being bombarded by bunnies — it’s just best to supplement that joy with a knowledge of the animals’ behavior and how you can be the perfect guest when you do visit. The relationship between humans and animals is no doubt a delicate one, but you’ll be happiest when you know you’re on the right side of history. Go out there and see the animals of your dreams — just be a good person while doing it.
Here, 10 islands around the world that are home to some of the most adorable animals imaginable. We bet you won’t be able to help but squeal with excitement.
Flamingo Island, Aruba
The turquoise waters and pristine white sands have got nothing on the brightly hued birds that stun on Flamingo Island. The hot spot is privately owned by the Renaissance Hotel, which offers visitors a boat tour of several Caribbean islands, including Flamingo, for a fee. The stick leg creatures don’t seem to mind when eager Instagrammers saunter up close to them for an important photo opp, and they’re often rewarded with food for posing. The Renaissance has developed a whole package around these birds, letting guests participate in a private feeding with a resort expert and photo shoot. Hopefully the birds are getting a cut of the $279/night special.
If Bambi is your favorite childhood movie, perhaps Miyajima (also known as Itsukushima) should be on your bucket list. If you want a glimpse at what’s been nicknamed “Deer Island,” the beautiful destination makes for a great day trip from Hiroshima. More than 1,000 Sika deer — completely unafraid of people — inhabit the island, and they’ve enticed tourists from all over the world, for obvious reasons (one being that they’re really, really cute). The deer roam about the island’s historic shrines and lanterns and even play about the iconic Torii Gate. While they’ll gladly take food from visitors, a law prohibits feeding the deer.
Viral photos of massive huddles of big bunnies seemingly enveloping humans in hugs caused tourism on this Japanese Island to skyrocket. Hundreds of wild rabbits occupy Okunoshima, and though it’s not known how they got their start on the island, officials have banned possible predators like cats and dogs to keep the furry guys safe.
But, like most of these animal stories, the presence of the adorable fuzz balls isn’t necessarily as sweet as it looks. The animals swarm people because they rely on them for food, National Geographic reported, but tourists who haven’t done their research are giving out things that end up being toxic to the bunnies. The rabbits here have shortened lifespans, but the Japanese government is still unsure about how to best handle the impact that human intervention causes on the animals.
Assateague Island, Maryland
Off the coast of Maryland, wild horses galavant on Assateague Island, which is cared for by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Department of Natural Resources. With 37 miles of beach, the island boasts plenty to do, like water activities and viewing the abundant wildlife: more than 300 bird species take up residence here for some of the year. But the strong, majestic horses are one of the biggest attractions. Here, you can sign up for daily cruise or kayaking tours that explore the more remote areas of the beach, where you’ll get to spy on the ponies undisturbed. In July, approximately 40,000 visitors come to watch the Chincoteague Wild Pony Swim and Auction, where, since 1925, people have gathered to watch more than 100 ponies swim across Assateague Channel.
Pig Beach, Bahamas
Most tourists flock to Big Major Cay (aka Pig Beach), one of the 365 islands in Exuma, for the same purpose: to swim with the pigs. About 82 miles south of Nassau, Pig Beach is home to some porky, four-legged expats who delight in being fed by their visitors. The white, sandy beach is only accessible by boat, so travelers will need to either sign up for a guided tour or charter a boat. People are permitted to feed the pigs, but are advised to stick to veggies, pitted fruits and fresh water.
Macquarie Island, Australia
Four different species of penguins breed on Macquarie Island, an Australian Antarctic Territory that’s part of Tasmania. The island houses an estimated 4 million penguins in all. Most people see Macquarie with an organized boat tour, as visitors are required to obtain a permit to catch a glimpse of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Beyond the several types of penguins, you might see seals and whales nearby, if you’re lucky.
Duiker Island, South Africa
While approximately 6,000 cape fur seals populate Duiker Island, a total of zero people live there. Also known as Seal Island, for obvious reasons, the one-acre land mass made mostly of rocks is home to several different species of wildlife, including African penguins. The piles of seals, in particular, are what attract day trips from Hout Bay and, from a distance on a boat, you can watch the massive animals lazily stretch out or swim.
Ainoshima Island, Japan
You could go to a cat cafe to get your feline-fix, or you could go bigger and travel to Japan’s Ainoshima Island to fall in love with its hundreds of free-roaming island cats. Just a 20 minute ferry ride from Shingu Port in Fukuoka, the feral cats run wild among the island’s tiny population. Japan is home to 11 cat islands in all as fisherman brought over the animals to ward off pests, like mice, that preyed on the silkworms needed to make fishing nets.
Lambay Island, Ireland
It’s not the Guinness talking, there are actually large groups of wallabies, marsupials usually seen in Australia, living off the coast of Ireland. The animals have existed on the island since the 1950s when the Barings, a family that has owned the island since the turn of the century, brought them over, according to Smithsonian Magazine. One expert estimates there are around 50 to 60 red-necked wallabies living on Lambay today, but an official count is impossible since the animals are good at hiding and have never been tagged. Still, you can visit Lambay by boat in hopes of spotting one of these interesting creatures. And even if you don’t get lucky, you’ll still enjoy walking the green, rugged terrain and touring the Barings’ house.
Kauai, Hawaiian Islands
You probably have other motivations to visit Kauai, a Hawaiian paradise perfect for any beach lover, but a quirky bonus is the fact that you’re near-guaranteed to spot at least a few feral chickens clucking around. Thousands of these birds, many with bright, eye-catching feathers, have taken over the island, and with no real natural predators, they are seriously thriving. A research team from Michigan State University is studying the birds to understand how they got to the island and are hoping to use their findings to possibly create more sustainable breeds of domestic chickens.