The world is filled with so many wonderful, magical places. Not least of which are fox villages, deer who will exchange a bow with you, and whale sharks who don’t mind if you swim by their side. If these aren’t on your bucket list you should really reconsider! Or consider sharing your animal lover destination in the comments below.
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- Zao Fox Village, JAPAN
Just a heads up, many of the places on this list are on Japan. There’s something about that country that turns animals into Disney characters.
Zao Fox Village is actually a preserve where visitors can go to wander freely amongst foxes, who have no issue at all with approaching you to say hello (and beg for any food you might be hoarding). Of course, you can’t feed them by hand. These handsome devils may seem tame but they’re still wild. To avoid a potential nip you’ll have to toss your offerings gently instead. But if you’re dying to pet a fox, the first portion of the preserve actually has a petting zoo attached.
Within the preserve itself, there is also a shrine with several Inari statues (a Shinto fox deity of rice and prosperity), and red torris. A little reminiscent of the famous Fushimi Inari-taisha. Unfortunately, getting here can be a little difficult. But if you’re spending any length of time in Northern Japan this site is a place you’ll never forget.
She had prime property in her plant box, and was very pregnant.
- Cat Village, TAIWAN
I’ve written about my experience here in the past, but Houtong (otherwise known as the Cat Village) is one of those sights you never hear about. Which is such a shame! This cute little village, which had once been a mining town, is populated by perhaps two hundred cats (in the first two hours that I was there I was able to count 97).
This village was on the brink of death before a cat-loving resident started to take in abandoned cats. Eventually, her efforts drew in dozens of feline strays, so that they began to overrun the village. I’m sure her neighbors weren’t pleased… But over time this became a huge draw and the entire town treats them very kindly, creating little cat houses for them and keeping them fed and watered. All the shops are, as you might expect, cat themed and have individual mascots. You can tell which cat is a mascot because they’re often snoozing on top of the wares (usually the one you want), wearing bandanas.
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- Pig Island, BAHAMAS
Now, here’s one you probably haven’t heard of yet. Islands seem to host all sorts of strange animal colonies. This island in the Bahamas, affectionately known as Pig Island, has all sorts of pigs running around. But no worries! No boars have been sighted. If you’re curious as to how these pigs have gotten here, it’s worthwhile to note that pigs can swim. But many people believe that the first generation of pigs were dropped off here by pirates who intended to come back and eat them. Thankfully, they were forgotten about and continue to live a happy piggy existence.
So not only can you enjoy a beautiful island paradise you can swim with little pigs as well! They’re more than happy to have you as company, so long as you don’t mind sharing your food, too.
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- Cat Islands (Aoshima and Tashirojima), JAPAN
There are actually two famous cat islands in Japan alone, though I can think of several others.
On Aoshima Island, cats outnumber people, cars, and stores.The first generation actually came on sailing boats, where they’d been used to catch vermin among the wares. But once that ship landed on Aoshima, well, things really got out of hand. There are now at least 120 cats, so six cats for every human resident. But that’s not such a huge surprise: Aoshima Island is actually very small (and a fantastic place to see more traditional architecture), and only a handful of people stay here are permanently. This makes Aoshima a little bit difficult on tourists, as there’s no place to stay, or eat, or even pick up a few snacks… So come prepared!
On Tashirojima, cats are considered good fortune because of their role in helping the Tashirojima people protect their silk worm cocoons from pests so many years ago. The symbiotic relationship became so significant that the people of this island actually erected a statue of a cat in their town square. Now, there are hundreds of cats sustained by the local people, who welcome tourists. There are cat decorations all around the island and even little cabins shaped like cats that you can stay in.
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- Dolphin Cove, JAMAICA
Dolphin Cove , Jamaica is a natural cove surrounded by rain forest and holds within it a myriad of animals. Inclding, oddly, camels. But visitors come primarily to swim with dolphins. These dolphins aren’t really “wild”, the whole thing is a bit like a mix between a preserve and an amusement park. But if you always wanted to try swimming and playing with a dolphin, and then return to your beautiful resort a few hours later, then this might be the place for you.
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- Deer Park, JAPAN
Like the foxes of Zao Fox Village, deers hold strong symbolism in Japan as well. They ere once considered the sacred messengers of the Gods, so perhaps it’s no surprise at all that there’s a whole park where nearly 1,200 deer are allowed to roam freely amongst the myriad of visitors who come to visit each day. The park is so treasured by the city that it’s become a symbol of the city.
If you visit, there are plenty of deer crackers that can be bought around the park but be wary. While some of the deer will bow in exchange for a cracker, other deer are somewhat aggressive if they know you have food. More than one person has been bit! But if you think a “love bite” is well worth the visit, then the park is very accessible using Kyoto’s subway station.
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- Monkey Hot Springs, JAPAN
In the snow capped mountains of Jigokudani Yaen-koen, Japanese macaques (also known as snow monkeys) have discovered a technique to stay warm no matter how cold the weather. According to lore, a young macquae once fell into an onsen attached to a small inn. And thus came an amazing revelation that would lead to a mass migration of macaques every winter to enjoy man-made hot springs made especially for them.
Some monkeys will even go to other outdoor baths at other inns, joining travelers in their soaks. But these are wild animals! Don’t try to pet them or feed them.
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- Rabbit Island, JAPAN
Rabbit Island, otherwise known as Okunoshima, has a somewhat sad backstory despite the overwhelming cuteness that exists there today. The island was actually used in WWII as the host for chemical weapon factories. Rabbits were brought here to test the effects…
Some say that the bunnies that popular the island today can trace their lineage back to those test rabbits. But others believe that they came from eight school pet rabbits, who released them unwittingly on the island. Either way, without natural predators (or even dogs and cats) the rabbits population has been growing exponentially and they’re all very tame. There are hundreds of videos online with people being swarmed by bunnies. I can think of no better way to die.
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- Donsol Bay, PHILIPPINES
Maybe I’m biased. I’m half-Filipina and I adore the Philippines. So whenever I have to recommend a place to go swim with whale sharks my mind immediately skips some great spots in Central and South America and goes straight to Donsol Bay, Philippines! I almost got married at the resort here, purely because of the whale sharks and the amazing volcano.
Donsol Bay is said to have the largest annual congregation of whale sharks, you’ll have a slightly more exclusive experience than if you’d gone to Central and South America. Of course, while you can swim with these gentle giant (they’re massive! ranging from 4 – 12 meters in length) it’s best not to touch or otherwise harass them. You might scare them off! And please be kind to the environment. Whale sharks are a vulnerable species and the Philippines is still struggling with its conservation efforts.
Still, if you’re in SEA it’s worth while to SEE the SEA and visit the whale sharks! (Every pun intended).