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When it comes to the global populace, the world holds far more than humankind. Different parts of the world have inhabitants you wouldn’t necessarily expect, from strange creatures to inanimate lifeforms. Here are 15 places around the world with the most unusual populations.
Ōkunoshima (Rabbit Island), Japan
Located off the coast of Hiroshima, Rabbit Island is home to over 1,000 wild rabbits who hop throughout the island’s forest and fields. In Japanese culture, rabbits are associated with fertility, abundance, and prosperity, which means an island filled with rabbits is considered auspicious. Many of the island’s visitors are hopeful couples who would like to expand their family or people seeking good fortune from the island’s abundant rabbit population.
Rabbit Island can easily be accessed by taking a 15-minute ferry ride from the mainland. To make a weekend out of it, Ōkunoshima is home to a hotel that features a restaurant and offers complimentary bicycles to explore the island’s circuitous bike path. Since visitors are allowed to feed the bunnies, bringing your own food — such as greens, hay, or rabbit pellets — is essential.
Lasqueti Island, British Columbia, Canada
Tucked into Vancouver Bay in British Columbia is Lasqueti, a small island that is home to a large population of Saint Bernards. The large dogs are allowed to roam the entirety of the 11-mile-long island. For this reason, it’s a good thing that Lasqueti is so remote and that it lacks paved roads or public transportation. The resident gentle giants are bred by Tikki Smith, a breeder who doesn’t believe in kenneling dogs and allows her Saint Bernards to run free.
The rest of the island is home to around 400 people who live and work in a self-sustaining manner and don’t seem to mind the denizens of extra-large puppies. Although Lasqueti Island is not a tourist destination, Smith occasionally allows appointments and puts puppies up for adoption through the Lasqeti Saint Bernard website.
Assateague Island, Maryland/Virginia, U.S.
Situated off the Atlantic coastline, Assateague Island has a resident population of wild horses. Since the horses are not native to the area, historians have long speculated as to how they arrived on the 37-mile-long barrier island. Although the most popular belief is that the horses washed ashore from a shipwreck in the 17th century, a more practical theory is that the horses were brought to the island to avoid the mainland’s rules and regulations for livestock. Regardless of how they got there, the horses of Assateague Island are beautiful creatures that live in an unspoiled place.
Since the island is divided by a fence at the state line, the horses belong to two main herds, with Virginia’s referred to as the Chincoteague Ponies. Both sides of the island are open to visitors to kayak, sightsee, and bird watch, but the Maryland half is the only place where you can camp on the national seashore.
Ilha da Queimada Grande (Snake Island), Brazil
Ilha da Queimada Grande is located off the coast of Brazil but is off-limits to tourists. Nicknamed “Snake Island,” the locale is overrun by an estimated population of 2,000 to 4,000 golden lancehead vipers, which are some of the deadliest snakes in the world. The venom of one of these vipers can stop a human heart in under an hour. For this reason, visiting the island is strictly controlled by the government — if a sanctioned trip occurs, a doctor must be present.
Despite the regulations, Ilha de Queimada Grande has spawned many terrifying stories, from ill-fated humans whose ships washed ashore the island to the death of a lighthouse keeper in the early 20th century. Although rumor has it that pirates left the snakes on the island to protect their cache of gold, the truth is that the influx of snakes is merely a byproduct of evolution.
Aoshima (Cat Island), Japan
With eight cats for every human resident, Aoshima or Ao Island has earned the moniker “Cat Island.” The small island is located in Ehime Prefecture and is accessible via a ferry that departs Nagahama Port twice a day. With over 100 cats in residence, the feline population is excessive for the island’s size, which is around one mile in length. At first, the cats were brought to Aoshima to limit the rodent population, which posed a significant problem for the island’s fishermen.
After the cats reproduced at a fast rate, Aoshima became more of a tourist destination, with visitors wishing to see the island’s four-legged inhabitants. Although the cats are somewhat feral, they are accustomed to humans and enjoy being fed in the designated area near the island’s community center.
Beer Can Island, Florida, U.S.
Although the northern tip of Longboat Key is affectionately referred to as “Beer Can Island,” this exotic locale is technically a hooked spit, not an island. And while its name would make you think otherwise, the sandbar’s attraction has nothing to do with beer. Instead, Beer Can Island is known for its abundance of driftwood, most of which was formed from massive trunks of Australian pine trees that washed ashore.
With the driftwood littering the white sand shoreline and the nearby grove of gnarled mangrove trees, Beer Can Island feels otherworldly, although it’s only a short day trip from Sarasota. The hooked spit is the perfect place to spend a day, with many visitors bringing their own hammocks to hang between the trees. Beer Can Island can be accessed by boat or on foot when the tide is low, so timing is key when visiting this destination.
Nagoro (Valley of the Dolls), Japan
Before the region’s agriculture industry dried up, Nagoro was a thriving Japanese village in Iya Valley. But when one-time resident Tsukimi Ayano decided to move back to her hometown, she discovered a near-empty village. In need of a scarecrow to protect her garden, Ayano crafted a doll out of straw that resembled her father who had passed. As a way to cure her loneliness, she continued to make straw dolls that represented former occupants of her village, crafting each one to resemble a person who had died or moved away.
Today, the doll village is home to 350 dolls, each strategically placed to represent the habits and customs of Nagoro’s past inhabitants. There are dolls working in gardens, sitting in abandoned classrooms, fishing on the local river, and waiting at bus stops. Nicknamed the “Valley of the Dolls,” Nagoro also hosts a Scarecrow Festival on the first Sunday of October to encourage people to visit the town.
Pig Beach, The Bahamas
With 700 islands and 2,400 cays in the Bahamas, Big Major Cay has one of the country’s most distinct populations. That’s because Exuma Cay is home to a family of swimming pigs. These pigs can be found on the aptly named Pig Beach, where they have made themselves a happy home in paradise. There is no clear explanation as to how the pigs originally arrived in the Bahamas, although local residents tell stories of how the pigs swam over after surviving a shipwreck.
Others believe the pigs were left behind by sailors, and in their absence, the pigs repopulated the remote location. Currently, 20 pigs and piglets reside on Pig Beach, making it an increasingly popular tourist attraction for visitors who want to take selfies with the swimming pigs.
Miyajima (Deer Island), Japan
With a resident population of over 1,000 deer, the island of Miyajima in Hiroshima Bay has earned the nickname Deer Island. Home to an abundance of Sika deer, a species native to East Asia, the island’s does, fawns, bucks, and stags are all known to be very friendly to humans. In fact, these deer do not run from humans at all, and often allow visitors to pet and feed them at their leisure.
In addition to being particularly tame, the deer of Miyajima are treated as national treasures. In the Shinto religion, deer were considered to be messengers from the gods, and up until 1657, killing a deer was punishable by execution. The island is also home to the famous Floating Torii Gate known as Itsukushima Shrine, which stands in the bay and can often be photographed with the island’s polite deer milling in the foreground.
Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls), Mexico
Just south of Mexico City, Isla de las Muñecas — which translates to “Island of the Dolls” in Spanish — is a spine-chilling destination with a strange background. Containing an assemblage of dolls, the collection was amassed and arranged by local resident Don Juliána Santa Barrera. As the story goes, Barrera was unable to save a girl from drowning and later found her doll floating nearby.
Either consumed with guilt or haunted by the girl’s spirit, Barrera began collecting derelict dolls, filling the island with a multitude of headless figures with missing limbs. The result is a rather eerie destination, especially since local legend claims that the dolls will open their eyes, move, or whisper to one another. Whether or not you believe the lore, Isla de las Muñecas is a unique place to visit.
Sable Island, Nova Scotia, Canada
Sable Island in Nova Scotia is another spot in North America where horses run free. At some point in the mid-18th century, a Boston merchant transported the horses to the 27-mile-long sandbar to breed them for profit. The horses had been seized from the Indigenous population when the British expelled the Acadians in 1755. Centuries later, the horses still thrive on the far-flung island, although they have to dig deep holes in the sand to find freshwater.
In addition to being home to wild horses, Sable Island contains an impressive naval history. Invisible in high seas, the sand bar has historically been deadly to sailors, with 350 recorded shipwrecks since 1583. As a result, the island houses the remains of shipwrecks, with shipboard names and buried timbers occasionally found in the sand.
Christmas Island (Crab Island), Australia
With the first rainfall of the monsoon season, Christmas Island transforms into “Crab Island,” with millions of red crabs migrating toward the ocean. After waiting for the rain to fall, the crabs depart their homes to mate and then spawn in the sea. The spawning always occurs during the moon’s last quarter on an ebb current, with the female crabs releasing their eggs and returning to the forest.
Impressively, the crabs know the exact time to carry out their duties under the correct tide and lunar cycle. When the baby crabs hatch, they also instinctively know what to do — hordes of tiny crabs can be found marching into the island’s inner plateau to hide in the rocks and forest. Altogether, the migration on Crab Island is considered to be an incredible natural phenomenon to witness in person.
Socotra Island, Yemen
Governed by Yemen, Socotra is a secluded archipelago in the Gulf of Aden, 60 miles off the coast of Africa. Not only is Socotra unique in its isolation, but it also has some of the most distinctive plant life in the world. An astonishing 37% of the plant species on the islands are endemic, which means they do not flourish anywhere else on Earth. Of all of the strange plants found on Socotra, the most famous is the dragon’s blood tree.
Almost extraterrestrial in its appearance, the dragon’s blood tree is known for its strange shape and close-knit branches. The tree earned its name from the resin that bleeds from its trunk — a crimson-red substance that resembles real blood. Local legend says the tree sprouted from the spilled blood of brothers; others say it grew from the blood of a dragon who was injured by an elephant. Either way, witnessing these mysterious trees on the horizon makes Socotra feel out of this world.
Westman Islands, Iceland
The Westman Islands are a volcanic archipelago located near the southern coast of Iceland. They're commonly believed to have the world’s largest colony of Atlantic puffins. With 15 islands and 30 additional rocks and landforms, roughly 1 million Atlantic puffins nest annually in this remote outpost. To see the adorable birds from a closer vantage point, visitors can explore the islands by land or by sea. On land, visitors can hike the coasts of Heimaey, where the puffins are known to nest — a great way to spot the birds in their natural habitat.
The southern tip of Stórhöfði is also an excellent viewing spot, with plenty of hiking trails. Boat tours will typically circumnavigate Heimaey, which is stunning to see from the water, with its steep, jagged cliffs and magnificent green summit. To reach the Westman Islands, a ferry must be taken from Landeyjahöfn, although day tours from Reykjavík are also common.
Zaō Fox Village, Japan
Just a short train ride from Tokyo in Miyagi Prefecture, Zaō Fox Village is the perfect place to spend time with these adorable mammals. The village is actually a sanctuary for foxes, who roam the open-air grounds and play with visitors under employee supervision. The Fox Village is home to six different types of foxes, including silver foxes (which are extremely rare) and the more ubiquitous red foxes.
Although foxes are commonly thought of as sly tricksters that are not to be trusted, in the Shinto religion they are messengers of Inari Okami, the deity of fertility, prosperity, and rice. As a result, the village is home to a shrine to Inari, which is flanked by two fox statues and oftentimes houses a real-life fox or two.