This is my 100th blog post! To celebrate this milestone, I thought I’d kick off this new decade by sharing my top 10 animals. It was quite a challenge coming up with this list but I think I’ve managed it. I’ve tried to include a diverse selection of animals, considering them based on their adaptations, their uniqueness, their conservation status my personal experiences and just generally how they make me feel. I’d love to hear your top 10 animals too!
10) The Giant Manta Ray
Kicking the list off at number 10 is the giant manta ray (Mobula birostris), the world’s largest ray. My 4th blog post was actually about the giant manta ray and I was inspired to write about them due to their elegance and colossal size. On top of this, seeing one in the wild when I visited Tobago has made them my favourite fish species.
9) The Common Octopus
Coming in at number 9 is the common octopus (Octopus vulgaris). A creature with a range of unique adaptations, I am fascinated by the common octopus for a variety of reasons. Firstly, they are one of the most intelligent invertebrates in the the world. Secondly, they possess arguably the best camouflage in the animal kingdom, being able to blend in perfectly with their environment. Also, they can release a powerful ink, allowing them to flee from an attacker. For these reasons, and many others, the common octopus deserves a place in my top 10 list.
8) The Harpy Eagle
There is something sinister yet majestic about the harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) that captivates me. That’s partly due to their size – they are one of the world’s largest eagles. I think their sinister side comes from their impressive, grey plumage and dark, threatening eyes. The harpy eagle is also a formidable predator in the rainforests of South America, capable of taking down monkeys and sloths. Incredibly, their talons are as long as a grizzly bear’s claws; the largest talons of any eagle. The harpy eagle’s remarkable adaptations to rainforest life have earned it a place in my top 10 list.
7) The Axolotl
At number 7 is my favourite amphibian, the axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum). They have feathery external gills which maximise their rate of gas exchange, making them well-suited to their aquatic environment. Not only are they visually distinct from other amphibians, the axolotl is also physiologically different, being able to regenerate its limbs, spine and even parts of the brain. However, wild axolotls are now critically endangered due to pollution and the introduction of predatory fish to their only surviving home – the Xochimilco Lake in Mexico. Without immediate protection, the axolotl may go extinct in the wild.
6) The Orca
Known as the wolves of the sea, orcas (Orcinus orca) dominate our world’s oceans. Their superb adaptability makes them highly successful apex predators, being able to take down seals, sharks and even other cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises). They are often called ‘killer whales’ but this name is inaccurate since they are dolphins, not whales. This name also vilifies orcas when we should be saluting their marine prowess. I admire their agility through the water, as well as their intelligence. Orcas can be playful, caring and empathetic; their complexity and need for social interaction means that keeping them in captivity is cruel. They are far more impressive when free to roam the oceans undisturbed.
5) The African Elephant
This is the only species on my list that I have yet to make a blog post about, even though elephants are one of my favourite animals. I think it’s because I’d have too much to write about. Elephants are the world’s largest land animals and possess one of the most useful adaptations to have ever evolved in quadrupedal mammals – a trunk. Their trunk is used for drinking, eating, smelling, attacking and even as a snorkel. During my time in South Africa, I managed to see African elephants in the wild, including baby elephants. Their sheer size and power was overwhelming and incredible to watch. However, humans have been slaughtering this intelligent creature for decades, simply for their ivory tusks. I find it impossible to imagine how someone could kill such a magnificent animal.
4) The Okapi
At number 4 is a relative of the giraffe that was unknown to the Western world until the 1900s – the okapi (Okapia johnstoni). An elusive mammal, the okapi has a striking appearance with the ossicones (skin-covered horns) of a giraffe and the stripes of a zebra. What I really admire about the okapi is their uniqueness and ecological niche. Unlike the giraffes of the savanna, the okapi lives in the dense tropical forests of central Africa. Unfortunately, this has caused them to become endangered because their home is rapidly disappearing. Today, they can only be found in a small area in the north of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The okapi is one of the last members of a once widespread and diverse family (Giraffidae) so their conservation is crucial.
3) The Southern Cassowary
Claiming bronze is a primitive bird that is reminiscent of the dinosaurs. With their dagger-like claws, horn-like casque and menacing walk, the southern cassowary is a modern-day velociraptor. Found in Indonesia, New Guinea and Northern Australia, the southern cassowary has the capability of killing a human with its sharp talons and powerful kick. However, they would only resort to this if provoked. The feature most awe-inspiring to me is the cassowary’s coloration. Their vivid, lightning-blue head and neck contrasts their two red wattles and unnerving amber eyes. The southern cassowary only has a small range in Australia, and with the fires currently plaguing the country, this species will lose even more of its home.
2) The Spotted Hyena
Taking a place at number two is an animal that might surprise you – the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta). Many people look down on this species, viewing them as nothing more than lazy and devilish scavengers. However, I think hyenas deserve better. Not only are they proficient hunters, but they are highly intelligent, employing techniques like fake alarm calls to frighten off their competition. Spotted hyenas live in clans with a complex hierarchy, ruled by a matriarch. Their skill as both hunter and scavenger has made them one of the most successful carnivores of Africa. Although, I will admit, their place at number 2 may have been slightly swayed after seeing baby spotted hyenas in South Africa.
1) The Javan Rhinoceros
In first place is the Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus), my favourite animal. The Javan rhinoceros was actually covered in my first blog post but I still can’t quite pinpoint why they are so fascinating to me. I have always thought that rhinos are wonderful creatures. Perhaps it’s because they are so rare now. The rhino family (Rhinocerotidae) first appeared in the late Eocene epoch in Eurasia. They evolved to become a diverse and widespread family which included the woolly rhino and the giant rhino (Elasmotherium). Five species of rhino remain today, all of which are threatened by poaching for their horns, which have no proven medicinal value whatsoever. Our futile persecution of rhinos is a tragedy and crime to our planet. The Javan rhinoceros has suffered the worst. Once the most widespread of Asian rhinos, there are now fewer than 60 individuals, restricted to the Ujung Kulon National Park in Java. They are not my favourite animal because of their looks, adaptations or intelligence, they are my favourite animal because I don’t want to lose them at the hands of humanity.
Thank you for reading!
This will be my last blog post for a while, so I just wanted to say thank you for supporting my blog and allowing me to share my passion for animals. It has taught me a lot too, and the knowledge I have learned will be useful for the future as I hope to dedicate my life to conserving the wonders of wildlife on our planet.