Think all of Earth is ruled by humans? Guess again! These fascinating island ecosystems hold adorable animal populations that are absolutely thriving. From the volunteer-run stray dog sanctuary in Costa Rica to the hundreds of cows who leisurely hang on the beaches of Goa, India, these animals have claimed these islands for their very own.
Dogs — Heredia, Costa Rica
Dog lovers, do we have the place for you. Sure, Costa Rica may have gorgeous beaches and enviable surf, but we’re more obsessed with this dog sanctuary. Known as Territorio de Zaguates (meaning the Land of the Strays), this volunteer-run stray dog sanctuary is home to more than 900 pups.
The no-kill sanctuary strictly forbids euthanasia for animals and neuters the dogs it takes in to control the animal population. It also runs an adoption program so these cuties can find forever homes. If you’d like to visit, the Land of Strays is open to the public and visitors can stop by to cuddle and play with the happy dogs or take one home.
Don’t worry cat lovers, your turn is coming up later!
Rabbits — Ōkunoshima, Japan
Ōkunoshima, or Rabbit Island, is a small island located in the Inland Sea of Japan. Guest can take a short ferry ride to the island and enjoy campsites, walking trails, historical landmarks, and bunnies—lots and lots of bunnies.
It is a bit of a mystery as to how all of these rabbits ended up on Ōkunoshima, but there are a few hunches. Some believe eight rabbits were released by a group of school children in 1971. With no predators to worry about, the fast-breeding animals quickly multiplied to upwards of 1,000. Today, the island draws visitors from all over the world. Since the rabbits are feral, they freely roam the island aren’t afraid to approach humans. Don’t worry though! These cuties are very tame.
Pigs — Big Major Cay, The Bahamas
Big Major Cay, also known as Pig Beach or Pig Island is a pig lover’s dream. The uninhabited island located in Exuma, Bahamas is populated by a colony of feral pigs that spend their days playing in the crystal-clear waters.
These cuties are believed to have been dropped off on the island by a group of sailors who intended to return and cook them. Luckily, the sailors never came back and the pigs were able to survive on food dumped from passing ships. Today, there are about 20 pigs and piglets on the island, as well as a few stray cats and goats.
Sheep — New Zealand
Ewe rang? Did you know for every person in New Zealand, there are around 20 sheep? That means there are approximately 74 million sheep down under and upwards of 20 different breeds! Crazy, right?
New Zealand’s huge sheep population is no freak accident either. The sheep were first dropped off by the British explorer James Cook back in the 1770s. As a result, sheep farming became the main agricultural industry in the country for the next 130 years and still it today.
Cats — Tonawanda Island, New York
Just north of Buffalo, New York is an 85-acre chunk of land that is a cat lover’s paradise. Tonawanda Island is inhabited by hundreds of cats, who freely roam the town.
Despite how absolutely adorable the kitties are, they have created problems for homeowners on the island. Luckily, there has been a lot of effort made to spay and neuter the cats in recent years. Thanks to a fundraising campaign called Operation: Island Cats, many have been put up for adoption and now happily have forever homes!
New York isn’t the only place with an island of cute kittens…
More Cats — Tashirojima, Japan
Japan is home to more than one animal island! In addition to Rabbit Island, Tashirojima is home to a large stray cat population. Appropriately known as Cat Island, Tashirojima is home to just under 100 human residents, but the cat population seriously outweighs them. Locals believe that feeding the cats will bring them wealth and good fortune so it’s not surprising that these cute creatures have thrived throughout the years.
But how did the cats come to be? In the late 1800s, much of the island of Tashirojima raised silk-worms for their textiles. To help keep mice away from the silk-worms, the residents kept cats. Over time, the cat population doubled, then tripled and so on. Today, there are approximately six cats for every resident! Meow.
Deer — Miyajima Island, Japan
Japan doesn’t just have an island bunnies and an island of cats either. On the small island of Miyajima in Hiroshima Bay lies a glorious haven for deer. Hundreds of sika deer roam the island and lounge leisurely in the streets lettings tourists feed them. While deer are always a beautiful sight to see, in most places, they are hard to approach and often run away at the sight of humans. Not these deer though! The deer on Miyajima Island are very friendly and aren’t afraid of humans. They even walk right up to visitors and roam freely alongside them!
Wallabies — Lambay Island, Ireland
Lambay Island is four kilometers off the coast of north Dublin. But what makes Lambay Island so special is that it is home to a colony of wallabies. Wallabies are native to Australia and are not typically found on the western edge of Europe, but the marsupials were introduced to the island by Rupert Baring in the 1950s and began rearing the very first joeys. Rupert and his father Cecil were lovers of natural history and island ecologies so they attempted to introduce all sorts of extraordinary species onto the island—but none were as successful as the wallabies. Today, there are more than 100 of the curious and timid creatures on the island.
The next location is undoubtedly one of the cutest spots, but it also might be one of the smelliest!
Seals — Seal Island, South Africa
Located just 3.5 miles off the northern beaches of False Bay near Cape Town, South Africa lies Seal Island. Seal Island is home to—you guessed it—seals. Lots and lots of them!
Seal Island is just five acres large but the small space is home to more than 64,000 seals. The island is made entirely of Cape granite and rises no more than four to six meters above sea level, with no vegetation or sandy beaches, making it the perfect environment for the massive amount of seals who call the island home.
Puffins — Runde Island, Norway
Out in the ocean in Herøy Municipality lies the beautiful bird island, Runde. Also known as the bird cliffs, Runde is the southernmost point in Norway and also happens to hold the widest variety of seabird species in Scandinavia.
While only 150 permanent residents live on the island, Runde is home to more than 500,000 seabirds including 100,000 pairs of puffins! During the summer, visitors can take a guided boat trip around Runde and experience the seabirds in their bustling activities and may even have the opportunity to see the colonies of puffins up close and personal on a hike along one of the marked paths.
Horses — Assateague Island, Maryland
Assateague Island is a 37-mile long barrier island located off the eastern coast of Maryland. Visitors can enjoy the beautiful scenery at the Assateague Island National Seashore and State Park or visit the historic lighthouse. But a trip to Assateague Island isn’t complete without admiring a herd of feral horses.
Legend says that the horses of Assateague Island are survivors of a Spanish galleon that shipwrecked along the coast, but it is also believed that the may just have been local colonial horses allowed to run free. Either way, the feral horses make for a beautiful sight.
Foxes — Zao Fox Village, Japan
Japan is home to a bunch of irresistibly cute animal sanctuaries. In addition to Rabbit Island, Cat Island, and Deer Island, the country also boasts Zao Fox Village. Located in Japan’s Miyagi prefecture, Zao Fox Village is nestled in the mountains and is home to over 100 foxes.
Want to visit these cuties yourself? For just 100 yen (that’s about 85 cents) you can visit the village. You’ll also be provided food so you can feed the foxes yourself. Just be sure to watch your back! After all, foxes are considered to be very clever and some even believe they have the ability to shapeshift!
Keep reading to learn about some serious monkey business going down in Puerto Rico.
Monkeys — Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico
Off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico lies Cayo Santiago, also known as Isla de Los Monos. A small island just 38 acres big, Cayo Santiago is home to some 1,000 rhesus macaque monkeys. While these monkeys typically live half a world away in Southeast Asia, 406 of them were shipped to the island in 1938 and thrived.
Today, the monkeys on Cayo Santiago are some of the best-studied primates in the world. The island serves as a research resource that is supported by both the University of Puerto Rico Caribbean Research Center and the Columbia Unversity College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Why did the chicken cross the road? Find out on the next slide.
Chickens — Kauai, Hawaiian Islands
In Kauai, chickens have done more than just crossed the road! They’ve crossed the beaches, the forests, and pretty much everywhere else. Kauai is home to thousands of wild chickens. The chickens, which are descendants of the red junglefowl crossed with domestic chickens, have created their own unique wild form.
Local legends say that many of the chickens on Kauai are descendants of birds that escaped when Hurricanes Iwa and Iniki hit and blew open the chicken coops—while other speculate the large chicken population is due to the fact that mongooses were never released on the island so the chickens weren’t threatened.
Polar Bears — Churchill, Canada
Seeing polar bears in their natural habitat is an amazing sight, yet something few of us will get to do in our lifetimes. If you’re lucky enough to visit Churchill, Canada—known as the polar bear capital of the world—you might just get to!
There are around 1,000 polar bears in Churchill and the Manitoba Conservation and Worldwide Fund for Nature work diligently to ensure sustainability of the area and the polar bears. Polar bear season runs from July through November, and lucky visitors may get to see mothers tending to their cubs while young adults play-fight.
House Mice — Gough Island
Sure, mice are cute and all, but we don’t know how we’d feel about seeing thousands of them scurrying around us all at once! At least we can enjoy pictures of these cute little creatures on Gough Island from the comfort of our laptops and smartphones.
But just how did all of these mice end up on Gough Island anyway? It’s all thanks to a few tiny house mice. In the early 1800s, house mice wandered off a whaling ship onto an isolated island in the South Atlantic. The critters were able to survive on insects and seeds and soon enough, the population grew and grew!
We’re in no rush to visit the next location, but it is really interesting. Proceed with caution!
Snakes — Queimada Grande, Brazil
Ok, so we’re in no hurry to visit this place, but it’s pretty fascinating! Queimida Grand is a small island about 90 miles from the city of São Paulo that just happens to be home to more than 4,000 snakes. Some reports say you can find one snake for every six-square yard—yikes! These aren’t just any snakes either. The island is the only known home of the golden lancehead. This snake is one of the most venomous in the world.
You can thank rising sea levels for the large snake population as this is what caused the island to separate from the original land mass. As a result, the snakes that were stranded on the island multiplied rapidly and their venom grew more potent. We definitely won’t put this place on our bucket list.
Crabs — Christmas Island, Australia
Believe it or not, there are more than 45 million crabs on Christmas Island. While the sight of these sea creatures can be a little eerie, the small island is actually a conservation success story. After the introduction of the yellow crazy ant to the island, the ants killed nearly 15 million crabs. But thanks to conservation efforts, the population is on an upward trend. Now, once a year on Christmas Island, millions of adult crabs migrate from inland forests to the shore so they can breed. From here, the elaborate mating process begins until eventually the shores are absolutely covered with teeny tiny baby crabs.
Just wait until you see how the cows of Goa, India live!
Cows — Gao, India
Moo-ve along, nothing to see here! Oh, except for the cows casually hanging out on the beach. Don’t worry though, this is a completely normal sight on the beaches of Goa in India. Without a doubt, the cows in Goa are the happiest cows on Earth. Not only do they spend their days freely roaming on the beach, but they are considered holy animals meaning they face little danger of being slaughtered.
A typical day for a Goa cow starts by foraging for breakfast. After a meal, they head down to the water. The cows like to hang out in groups of five to 10 and relax in the warm sand while looking out at the Indian Ocean. Not a bad life, right?
Birds — Ursula Island, Philippines
The Philippines is known for its beautiful white sand beaches, but there is more than meets the eye when it comes to these islands. Take Ursula Island for example, which, along with beautiful white sand beaches, is home to a bird sanctuary.
Ursula Island has no resorts in order to protect the rare birds (which are mostly types of pigeons) which live in the marshy woods in the middle of the island. In fact, visitors can only go to Ursula Island with a special permit from the Provincial Environment & Natural Resources.