No explanation needed, but in my relatively new category “My Top 10”, my list of favourite animals is up next. And it happily coincides with World Wildlife Day! Some of the animals that missed the top 10 by a whisker include the lion, wolf, kangaroo, otter and butterfly. Check out those that did make the list below:
Thought to have lived as long as 250 million years ago and therefore older than crocodiles and snakes, turtles and tortoises have intrigued us all since their discovery. Slow and steady has won them the game of evolution and race to survival. What I like about them – particularly the tortoise – is their nonchalant approach to life with few except the most fearsome and adaptable predators who even then rarely prey on them. Turtles’ adaptability to spend extended amounts of time in water make them exciting animals to watch – we’ve all seen videos of newly hatched turtles digging their way out of the burrows in the sand and racing to the open sea with our hearts in our mouths as birds swoop down to try and catch them.
Sleek, muscular and hardy, horses are majestic beings that represent beauty, speed and stamina. It’s not hard to be in awe of the black beauty of the horse in Lloyds TV adverts as it gallops along beaches and open plains, every ripple in its smooth coat showing how well-built for running they are. I’m always curious when watching TV shows and films that use horses, especially in warfare scenes, by how well-trained they are. And you can see why some people show more respect to police horses than the actual police – they may appear to be calm and non-threatening but you wouldn’t want to try and outrun a horse or get in the way of their legs.
The epitome of a silent hunter, owls are truly remarkable birds. Everything about their entire anatomy, from their 270 degree-turning head to their excellent eyesight, from their hidden but powerful ears and hearing to their specialised feathers to enable silent flying, makes them beautiful but formidable predators. It’s also no surprise why owls are so positively portrayed in TV and films for their perceived wisdom and their extraordinary abilities that make them stand out from other birds of prey.
7) Giant Panda
An icon of Chinese culture, the panda is a creature that has baffled scientists for years. Feeding almost exclusively on bamboo has made it a fascinating creature to study because it is technically still a carnivore. Extensive conservation work to increase giant panda numbers over recent years has been very successful and what can hopefully be applied to the efforts to rescue other endangered animals such as tigers, particularly in China where numbers are extremely low. With its mostly docile nature, very cuddly appearance and sometimes funny clumsiness, it’s not hard to see why the panda has become such a beloved favourite animal for many people.
Funny and cute (notably the fluffy chicks), penguins are much-loved animals by many. The perilous lives many of them live, especially in Arctic conditions, has viewers of shows sat in awe and anticipation on the edge of their seats. We smile and chuckle at their waddling but then are amazed at their swimming abilities. And thanks to Happy Feet, we fell in love them all over again whilst also continuing to recognise the dangers they face because of human interference. A show called Penguins: Meet the Family, available on BBC iPlayer, takes us on a journey around the world to learn more about the 18 different subspecies most of us never knew existed.
“Humans of the sea” are what some people call dolphins. Because of their extremely high intelligence and advanced social interactions, dolphins intrigue and excite everyone. What I find fascinating about dolphins is the social groups they forms and their communication with each other, which are still being studied to find more about to this day. Whales and porpoises also exhibit these behaviours but because dolphins are smaller and known to be less wary of humans than whales and porpoises are not as popular or well known, they are more relatable and loveable. And just with the way horses have been trained for TV and film, dolphins have shown great trainability to an extent that is more amazing because they are not naturally tame or domesticated animals.
Another very intelligent mammal, the elephant is a mighty beast. Their range of emotions, senses and their memory that have been studied are astonishing – for example, the grief they feel and the knowledge they have when they come across fellow dead elephants is a heartstring pulling moment to witness. If no danger is posed to them they are gentle giants but seeing how fearsome they can be is both intimidating and awe-striking; one minute they can have an air of grace, the next an air of superiority as they know no animal will challenge them. And of course baby elephants have to be some of the cutest baby animals out there for their boisterousness and sheer adorability when they are learning to navigate their way through elephant life, especially when it comes to mud baths and flexing their trunks.
The most specialised of all cats, the cheetah stands out from its feline cousins for its speed and agility. I’ve always loved the cheetah because of its incredible skill yet at the same time felt more empathy towards them, being so vulnerable to other predators. Watching them twist, turn and practically fly along the ground during a hunt leaves you astonished at how they don’t hurt themselves more often. And although they mostly try and avoid confrontation or punching above their weight when it comes to hunting, there have been moments of outstanding bravery and even audacity when it comes to standing their ground or going after bigger prey, for example, chasing away a lioness or taking down an ostrich. This proves you shouldn’t always judge a book by its cover.
One of the world’s top apex predators, fully grown tigers have little to fear except other trespassing tigers and humans, but no thanks to us many species are endangered or on the verge of extinction. Tigers got themselves a bit of an unfair rap because of The Jungle Book, but Shere Khan embodied what tigers are – fearless, fearsome, majestic and powerful – adjectives that you can really understand and put into perspective when you watch them hunt as the entire surrounding landscape and the creatures within “scream” and flee. It’s sad to hear that tigers are continuing to face threats across Asia and more so when, in the Chinese Zodiac, it is always feared that by the time the next Year of the Tiger comes around, another species could be gone forever.
What I absolutely love about the leopard and what makes it my favourite animal is how truly cat-like it is, especially compared to other big cats. They are opportunistic hunters that will hunt and eat almost anything from bugs to reptiles, from fish to birds, from rodents to monkeys, and bigger prey that can often be double their size and weight. They are superb silent and nocturnal hunters, expert tree climbers that can even haul heavy carcasses up trees, probably possess the most acute senses of all cats, and are perhaps the most adaptable cat, being able to live in almost any habitat. The snow leopard is a particularly captivating animal because of its mountain dwelling and climbing abilities. But it is the mysterious, enigmatic quality leopards have that make them so interesting to watch – I can only imagine what it’s like when on safari; once you’ve finally managed to spot one casually camouflaged in a tree (if you can), you just can’t and don’t want to take your eyes off them.