A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

12 Amazing Animals Only Found in One Place in the World

Break out your passport, because these amazing animals are only found in one location in the world, often far-flung and exotic locales.

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San Francisco Garter Snake / Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia

San Francisco garter snake

Even those who aren’t reptile fans can’t deny that the stunning reddish-orange and blue stripes are beautiful. San Fransisco garter snakes make their home in San Mateo County and the northern edge of Santa Cruz County. Unfortunately, their habitats have been hit hard for a long time by agricultural, residential, commercial, and recreational development—and they’re also popular with illegal collectors, two factors that landed the snake on the endangered species list in 1967. They like to hang out around vegetated ponds with open hilly areas to take in the sun, eat, or hide in rodent burrows, and pose no threat to humans. They can grow to be 51 inches long and their favorite food is the red-legged frog, also on the endangered species list.

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Courtesy jme Thomas

Blue-footed booby

“There are about 20,000 breeding pairs of blue-footed boobies, the most common type of booby in the Galápagos,” says Fernando Diez, marketing manager at Quasar Expeditions. You can’t miss their pretty blue feet, which come from the carotenoid pigments in the fish they eat. And what about the rest of the name, “booby”? According to Diez, it comes from the Spanish word “bobo,” meaning foolish, because the bird’s waddle is a bit clumsy on land. But when it comes to flying and swimming, well, they can dive from 80 feet above the ocean when hunting prey.

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Courtesy jme Thomas

Galápagos giant tortoise

These ginormous creatures also make their home on the Galápagos Islands, and since they can grow up to 59 inches and weigh 550 pounds, they’re likely not going anywhere else. “The giant tortoise has thick, sturdy legs to carry its weight, but will spend a lot of time lying down to conserve energy,” Diez says. “While their shells may look heavy, they are actually made up of honeycomb structures that enclose small air chambers, making it easier for the tortoise to carry the shell without difficulty.” Perhaps taking things on the slow side and storing up energy is what helps give them a long life—up to 100 years. Find out which other animals have the longest lifespans.

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Courtesy jme Thomas

Galápagos marine iguana

Meet the one and only marine lizard in the world! You can tell this one apart from land iguanas by its flattened, rather square nose, an adaptation for feeding on marine algae, and by the laterally flattened tail, an adaptation for swimming that helps it spend up to an hour underwater at a time, says Diez. It’s also notable for being large and dark with variable coloration. You’ll usually find marine iguanas along the rocky shores or in a tree or cactus soaking up the sun.

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Courtesy jme Thomas

Proboscis monkey

These unique monkeys are endemic to Borneo and are endangered due to rampant deforestation. While most of us may think monkeys hang out in trees, the proboscis monkey loves the riverside too and is quite the swimmer. “We saw two jump into a very wide river and swim across, and not a minute after they landed, a large 15-foot crocodile went out searching for more, hoping there were some stragglers! It was crazy to think they’d take such a risk, but they enjoy splashing around even just for fun,” says jme (pronounced like Jamie) Thomas, Executive Director of Motley Zoo Animal Rescue and animal conservationist.

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Courtesy jme Thomas

Sifaka lemur

The white and brown (and sometimes golden) sifaka lemur resides in Madagascar and is quite happy to be there. They are known as the dancing lemurs because, when they’re not in trees, they are hopping on two legs with their arms in the air. “It is impossible not to laugh while watching this! It is really ridiculous,” says Thomas. She’s observed that the sifaka are shyer than ring-tailed lemurs, so she was pleasantly surprised when one approached her. “They typically tend to stay at least ten to 15 feet away, but I stretched out my arm and one gently took my hand and started to lick it!”

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Courtesy jme Thomas

Pygmy elephant

These are undoubtedly the cutest elephants you’ll ever see, and they’re only in Borneo. “It is believed they evolved from a sultan releasing captive elephants into the jungle in the 18th century, but regardless, they are considered a subspecies that is evolutionarily different from other Asian elephants,” says Thomas. “They are also endangered and have a limited range of habitat in Borneo of around 186 square miles or so.” Find out 11 more animals you never knew were endangered.

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Courtesy jme Thomas

Wild boar

With all that facial hair, it’s easy to see why these swine are nicknamed “Bornean bearded pigs.” But apparently, they didn’t get much hair anywhere else save for their tasseled tails. “These boars are thought to be the descendants of the pigs of Chinese visitors in the early centuries. The visitors would come to harvest birds’ nests for birds’ nest soup. While they were here, their pigs either roamed or escaped,” Thomas shares. “Over time, they have come to be a unique subspecies and live wild today.” They live in groups and have a pack order much like that of dogs. They aren’t aggressive but they are pretty strong for their size. Similarly, these 15 animals may look cuddly but are actually quite dangerous.

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Courtesy jme Thomas

Red leaf monkey

Also known as maroon langurs for their auburn coat, these monkeys are native to Borneo, where they spend most of their time in trees munching on the lush jungle foliage, seeds, and flowers, Thomas says. Their stomachs are actually similar to a cow’s in that they are chambered, allowing them to digest all that fiber they eat. But unlike the stereotypical monkeys of children’s books, these guys can’t eat bananas or other jungle fruit, as the sugars would wreak havoc on the delicate balance of their complex stomachs.

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Courtesy John Altdorfer for the National Aviary

Guam rail bird

The Guam rail bird is extremely good at walking and even running through thick vegetation without making much noise, which is a good thing since it’s not the best flier. That wasn’t a problem, originally, for these seven-ounce birds because there were no natural predators on the island to bother them, says Dan Ashe, president and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. But then, brown snakes were introduced to the island after World War II and the birds didn’t have a way to protect themselves. “Biologists rounded up the remaining 21 birds and began a breeding program in partnerships with zoos,” says Ashe. “Today the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Guam Department of Agriculture are working to bring rail back to its native home.” For now, the Guam rail population is living on the islands of Rota and Cocos. Fans of our feathered friends will get a hoot out of our favorite funny bird photos.

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sumatra tiger portrait close up while looking at you on grass background
Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock

Sumatran tiger

The smallest of the tiger subspecies, the Sumatran tiger is only found in the remaining patches of forest on the island of Sumatra. “They are listed as critically endangered and an estimated 200 to 400 individuals remain in the wild,” states Ashe. The destruction of their habitat by agriculture encroachment and poaching is the greatest threat. For now, outreach and awareness programs like the Wildlife Response Unit are helping protect the tigers by reducing tiger-human conflicts, helping keep livestock safe with tiger-proof pens and with veterinary assistance when the tigers are caught in snares.

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Courtesy Sinclair Miller/Maryland Zoo

African penguin

Talk about rare! The African penguin calls South Africa its home and is the only breeding penguin species on the whole continent. “Breeding takes place in southwest Namibia and western and southern South Africa and occurs at 28 colonies: 24 on islands and four on the mainland,” Ashe says, adding that less than two percent of the population exists in the wild today. Unlike the penguins in Antarctica fending off frigid temps, the African penguin battles heat on the toasty African coastlines. It’s not uncommon to see the penguins sticking out their white chests to minimize the heat absorption when they’re stuck on the shore incubating eggs or tending to newborn chicks. Read on for the strangest animal found in every U.S. state.

Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, Family Handyman and Taste of Home, among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center.