Islands offer travelers some of the most beautiful havens in the world. But sun and surf are not the only activities these secluded getaways have to offer. Islands offer ecosystems that are incubators for some of the most unique species on our planet. From lemurs to orangutans to cute koalas, it’s time for you to set out your own personal adventure and view wildlife in its natural habitat. We have collected the best islands to get up close and personal with incredible animals from around this amazing planet of ours.
The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Made famous by Charles Darwin, the 19 islands that make up the Galapagos are in the Pacific Ocean some 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador and surrounded by a marine reserve that has been called the “showcase of evolution.” You won’t find an island on the planet with a bigger melting pot of exotic marine species. Those include giant sea tortoises, the pink land iguana, the marine iguana and a myriad of unique birds like the Galapagos albatross. The Galapagos Islands are a place where lizards swim, birds walk and for once, humans don’t take center stage.
Borneo is the third largest island in the world and is the epicenter of many endemic species of exotic animals. Its rainforest is one of the few remaining natural habitats for the Bornean orangutan and is an important sanctuary for many forest species like the Borneo elephant, Bornean clouded leopard and the Eastern Sumatran rhino. The sad news is that widespread deforestation for increased palm-oil production has reduced the orangutans’ habitats to a fraction of what it once was — they are now listed as endangered.
Madagascar is the world's fourth largest island and is an African nation just off the coast in the Indian Ocean. Madagascar is truly the textbook definition of biodiversity and is home to some of the most unique animals in the world. That’s because the island has been isolated from the African continent for millions of years and the animals have evolved into forms that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet. Leading the list of famous exotic animals on Madagascar is the lemur. You can find 72 types of lemur species living in the trees and hopping across the forest floors. While you are admiring the lemurs, try not to look an aye-aye in the eye. This nocturnal marsupial is believed to be a bad omen to the locals. There are also very colorful creatures roaming the island like the vividly adorned panther chameleon and the aptly named tomato frog.
The island of New Zealand is made up of two landmasses—North Island and South Island, and its ecosystem is just filled with endemic species. In fact, all native species of bats, reptiles and amphibians are found nowhere else on the globe. The most exotic of these animals has become the symbol of the nation and its people—the kiwi. Unfortunately, you won’t find these sweet-looking birds hanging out in the cities and towns you are visiting. The kiwi is nocturnal and elusive and lives mainly in forested areas. Other one-of-a-kind animals making New Zealand their home are the kea (the only alpine parrot in the world), the yellow-eyed penguins, the tuatara (the only surviving reptile species from the dinosaur era) and Hector’s dolphin.
Komodo National Park, Indonesia
When it comes to exotic animals—the bigger, the better. There is an island tucked away from most of the civilized world deep in the Indonesian archipelago that is home the world’s largest lizard—the Komodo dragon. These giant lizards are massive and can grow to ten feet long and weigh in at up to 300 pounds. You can’t find these dino relatives anywhere else in the world. The only way you can get up close and personal with these prehistoric creatures is under the guidance and protection of specially trained park rangers. The landscape of the island has amazing flora and fauna that makes you feel like you have stepped back to the dawn of time. What do these giant lizards eat? Their main prey is the Timor deer, which are also endemic to the islands.
Runde Island, Norway
There is an island on the west coast of Norway that is famous for one of the most exotic looking birds on the planet—the Atlantic puffin. Runde Island is famous for its fjords and steep, snow-clad mountains, and the human to bird ratio is extraordinary. There are only 100 people who live on the island with over 700,000 seabirds calling this part of Norway home. The Atlantic puffin has a very distinct beak and amazing coloring, and it draws tourists from all over the world to marvel at its odd appearance. This special place is home to over 100,000 puffins.