Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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The World is In a Fantasy Novel: cool mammal edition

Sometimes you run across a critter that really ought not exist in any reasonable world.

Sometimes those creatures have names that make it clear they’re really fantasy animals. The spotted quoll? I ask you. Can there really be an animal with that name? Of course not. Especially not one that looks like this:

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It was seeing a picture of a baby spotted quoll on Twitter that made me think about animals that are plainly fantasy creations instead of real. There are actually quite a few, obviously. Here are a handful that strike me as particularly fantastical:

Cacomistle:

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Who in the world names an animal a “cacomistle”? Especially an utterly adorable little fluffy thing with big eyes and that lovely tail. Don’t tell me these really exist. This is an animal your protagonist should encounter in an enchanted forest. They’re probably telepathic, though possibly not as friendly as they look. You may find out they have a hidden civilization in the canopy of the forest.

Here’s another, better known, I think. They tend to appear on all kinds of “strange animal” lists:

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This is a gerenuk. I’ve always liked the name. Gerenuk. They belong in dream sequences where everything is elongated and delicate and moving in slow motion.

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I’ve seen plenty of gerenuk. They breed easily in zoos. But even though I’ve seen them, I don’t really believe in them.

Now, we all must be familiar with this next one:

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Even so . . . isn’t your reaction a kind of “Yeah, right,” incredulity? If not, let’s put this animal in motion and take another look:

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Give me a break! You know that is too cute and too awkward and just too peculiar to be real. Where would you actually find okapis? I’ll tell you: in a haunted jungle setting in a fantasy novel, that’s where. People probably ride them.

In that world, you’d probably also get eland centaurs, like this fabulous drawing from DeviantArt:

And sable antelope for war beasts — I know, those horns would get in the way if you tried to ride them. This warrior would get skewered the first time the animal tossed its head back. But sable antelope would look spectacular in front of a chariot, wouldn’t they?

And I’m sure only the nobility would get to ride okapis. I’m not the only one who thinks okapis would make fabulous riding animals, either.

I know eland and sable antelope and okapis are all from different ecosystems. Shut up. It’s my fantasy novel. The kingdom encompasses a wide region, okay?

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7 Comments The World is In a Fantasy Novel: cool mammal edition

  1. SarahZ

    If you’re ever in San Diego, you have to do the zoo’s VIP experience. When you set it up they interview you about your favorite animals so that they can customize the whole day for you. Then, when you get there a zookeeper takes you behind the scenes at all the enclosures. They know which animals had babies recently, and any other scoops about what’s going on that day. We got to pet okapis & wombats & capybaras. :)

    Btw, wombats have armored butts.

  2. Rachel

    Oh, I definitely have to do that when/if I’m in San Diego! I wonder if they have *my* favorites — maned wolves, African hunting dogs, clouded leopards, snow leopards, caracals? Pygmy marmosets are the most totally adorable primates. I do really like cacomistles and the other procyanids — kinkajous, coatis.

    Also okapis and I wouldn’t say no to petting a wombat…

  3. Craig

    And of course the duck-billed platypus isn’t even *high* fantasy like dragons and griffins, it’s just sloppy world-building like owlbears.

  4. Allan

    Wombats are actually quite antisocial animals. We got to pet one in Australia that we were told was reasonably sociable having been raised by humans, but that that was the exception.

    It’s not actually true that everything in Australia wants to kill you, but it’s generally perfectly happy to tromp over / poison / bite you at the drop of a eucalyptus leaf…

  5. Rachel

    Blue-ring octopus! Taipan! Funnel-web spiders! Yeah, Australia is a good place not to pat the wildlife. I hear those cute koalas will try to rip you up with those claws, too.

    It’s definitely an experience, setting foot in the tropics when you’ve been used to northern wildlife. I know I had to train myself not to touch anything without thinking first when I spent a summer in Venezuela. And there aren’t nearly as many poisonous things there as in Australia.

  6. Allan

    When we were last in Australia (which was many years ago now), they were having a problem with overpopulation of koalas. Normally that would result in a culling program, but tourism is a huge business in Australia, and they didn’t want to have pictures of cute koalas being killed on the seven o’clock news. So instead they had medical teams going around in vans, using tranquilizer darts on the koalas, and then giving them vasectomies! No joke! (Well, it’s funny, but it’s a true story.)

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