National flags and anthems eulogize the histories, traditions and values of the peoples in the nations. Animals are sometimes chosen as representatives of countries and even portrayed on the national emblems. What does it take for an animal to become the "national animal"?.
Symbol of Authority
The lion may be the most popular national symbol. It appears on the emblem of many countries in the world, including Kenya, Finland, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Singapore, India, England and Myanmar. The modern name of Singapore is actually derived from the native language literally meaning the Lion City.
Lion, often depicted as powerful, fearless and mighty and regarded as the king of the animal kingdom, is no surprise as the outstanding "national animal" for so many countries!
Apart from lion on the land, raptors are also time-honoured symbols of nations. Soaring high in the sky, keeping an eye over the expansive land, plus their incredible hunting skills, the raptors are celebrated as the ideal symbols for many nations.
The bald eagle of America, golden eagle of Egypt, the fabled white eagle of Poland, the black eagle of Germany, the golden black eagle of Iraq, and the legendary "Garuda" of Indonesia are all examples of "national birds". If it is hard to pick from the lion and the raptor, you may put the two together in the emblem, as did the Philippines and the Czech Republic!
Ties with the Nations
In choosing the "national animal", some countries would consider the special relationship between the animal and the nation, instead of the omnipotent image. For example, in Thailand, the elephants have enjoyed supreme reverence since ancient time. The rare white elephant was even esteemed as the symbol of the royal family. In the past, Thailand relied on the timber industry as its primary economy, which in turn employed elephants in hauling the wood. The elephants, with their sheer size and strength, were even trained and sent to the frontlines for battles. The elephant was naturally selected as the "national animal" of Thailand.
Kazakhstan, with its long nomadic tradition, is closely associated with the horses. Horsemanship is part of the heritage of its people, no matter whether men or women, who are often named "people on the horseback". Horses are the most important assets in Kazakhstan which provide milk and meat for the people, and are essential carriers of trade on the grasslands. The horse is without doubt the "national animal" of Kazakhstan.
Embodiment of Values and Spirit
When we talk about Australia, we often think of kangaroos. On Australia's emblem, there is yet another animal standing beside the kangaroo—emu, the large "ostrich" of Australia". Apart from being endemic to Australia, emu stands for the forward-looking and courageous spirit of Australian people, because of its unique body structure that allows it to only go forward and not backwards.
Kiwi, a wingless, nocturnal and odd-looking bird, is the prominent icon of New Zealand. For a long time, Kiwi has been used to refer to New Zealanders themselves.
There is a legend about the kiwi among the native Maori people. The story goes like this: once upon in a time, the forest was threatened by pest invasion, and the tribe nominated a few bird species to help clear the pest. In the end, only the kiwi was willing to take up the task. The bird even sacrificed its wings to stay on ground in order to save the trees. All future kiwis hence became flightless, without the wings! The story is indeed manifestation of the virtues of New Zealanders who dedicate their lives to protect the homeland.