Top National Animals That Aren’t Really Real – #TravelTuesday

Imagine a world where dragons, double-headed eagles and flying horses are the national symbols of countries. Yeah, like Game of Thrones, I hear you thinking. But no, my friends. In this day and right on Planet Earth, there are many countries with a national animal straight out of fantasy stories. Case in point: Scotland. National animal: The Unicorn. And wait till you see North Korea’s official noble beast….

Without further ado, here’s my list of most awesome national animals that aren’t real animals:

1) North Korea – Chollima

Chollima Horse, national animal of North Korea
Chollima Horse, national animal of North Korea

Flag of North Korea
North Korea

Seems like North Korean leaders are more poetic than we realized: The national animal of North Korea is the flying horse Chollima (which is similar to Pegasus, the horse with wings). The Chollima Statue symbolizes heroism, the dauntless fighting spirit of the Korean people (well, THAT’s accurate), and the innovations that advance so quickly. It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Chollima.

Source: North Korea Tourism Office

2) Bhutan – Druk (The Thunder Dragon)

Druk or "Thunder Dragon", national animal of Bhutan
Druk or “Thunder Dragon”, national animal of Bhutan

Flag of Bhutan

Many countries have a dragon as their national symbol. What makes Bhutan my favorite is how badass The Druk (“Thunder Dragon”) is. In the national language of Bhutan, the name of the country is Druk Yul, or Land of Druk, and Bhutanese leaders are called Druk Gyalpo, Dragon Kings. The dragon signifies the purity of the country while the jewels in its jeweled claws stand for the wealth and perfection of the country.

Source: Tourism Council of Bhutan

3) Greece – Phoenix

Phoenix, national animal of Greece
Phoenix, national animal of Greece

Flag of Greece

For a country with such a rich history, it is not surprising that Greece picked the phoenix as its national animal. In Greek mythology, a phoenix is a bird that can come back to life, regenerating itself from its own ashes.  Let’s hope Greece can come back to life (yet again!) after its latest financial crisis. Six thousand years of history has to set some kind of precedence, right?

Source: Greek Tourism Organization

4) Indonesia – Garuda

Garuda, national animal of Indonesia
Garuda, national animal of Indonesia

Flag of Indonesia

Indoensia’s national animal is a true oddity. The Garuda is a chimera, having the wings, beak, and feet of the golden eagle, but a man’s arms and trunk. Mind you, the Greek chimera was a monstrous fire-breathing female and male creature, made of the parts of three animals — a lion, a snake and a goat. Indonesia’s chimera is actually common to both Hindu and Buddhist mythology and it invokes the pre-colonial Hindu kingdoms that spanned across the archipelago, from which the present-day Republic of Indonesia is understood to be descended. To me, this looks like a superhero-bird with a lot of bling.

Source:  Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, Republic of Indonesia

5) Russia – Double Headed Eagle

Double Headed Eagle, national animal of Russia
Double Headed Eagle, national animal of Russia

Flag of Russia

Similar to dragons, quite a few countries have double-headed eagles as their national animal. The double-headed eagle is usually linked with the Byzantine Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, the Russian Empire and their successor states. In Russia, this “animal” was adopted by Ivan III after his marriage with the Byzantine princess Sophia Paleologo, whose uncle Constantine was the last Byzantine Emperor.  This seems like a promise of marriage equality between the two royals, but maybe I’m being naive?

Source: The Russia Federal Agency for Tourism

6) Scotland – Unicorn

Unicorn, National Animal of Scotland
Unicorn, National Animal of Scotland

Flag of Scotland

So you thought the unicorn was a King Arthur thing?  Neigh!  Er, no.  The unicorn has been a Scottish symbol since the 12th century, when it was used on the coat of arms by William I.  In Celtic Mythology the Unicorn of Scotland symbolized innocence and purity, healing powers, joy and even life itself.  According to Scottish folklore, a free unicorn was a dangerous beast.

Source:  Scotland’s National Tourism Organization

7)  Wales – Welsh Dragon

Welsh Dragon, National animal of Wales
Welsh Dragon, National animal of Wales

Flag of Wales

As I mentioned earlier, many countries used the dragon as their national symbol. The majority of those countries are in Asia, but Wales is an exception. The Welsh Dragon is often seen as symbolizing all things Welsh, and is used by many public and private institutions. And never bring up that St. George dragon-slaying myth to a Welsh person! The red dragon in the Welsh flag dates back a century before the St. George tale. “The Welsh flag in its current format – with “a red ffyry dragon peyntid upon white and greene sarcenet” (“a red fiery dragon painted upon white and green silk”) – first saw the light of day on  August 22, 1485, at the battle of Bosworth Field, when Henry Tudor defeated Richard III.”

Source: Wales Online, and  Wales Tourist Board


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