9 Important Facts About Animals in the Cook Islands

IslandAwe - 9 Important Facts about Animals in the Cook Islands

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When going on a journey abroad, a fundamental part of travel preparation is to find out about the specialties of a foreign country. Among other things, it is helpful to get details about the local wildlife.

There are 9 important facts about animals in the Cook Islands that you should know if you plan to go there, relating to dogs, chicken, pigs, geckos, coconut crabs, pearl oysters, birdlife, wasps, and turtles. Because this wildlife can impact your stay or is essential to the country’s culture.

Get your free 9 Important Facts About Animals in the Cook Islands infographic at the end of this article.


1. Loyal and Loud Dogs of Rarotonga



There are a couple of things to tell you about the dogs, which puts them on the list of important facts about animals in the Cook Islands.


Dogs Are Only Found On Rarotonga

Dogs live only on Rarotonga, and you do not find them on any other island of the Cook Islands.

Dogs are not native to the Cook Islands, and over the years, their population got a bit out of hand on Raro. To avoid this situation on the other islands, they are forbidden elsewhere. 

PS: The first dogs came to the Cook Islands 700 years ago. They arrived with migrants from other Polynesian countries including New Zealand.

A Dog Population of Several Thousand

Estimated 4000 dogs call Rarotonga their home. The majority moves around freely, which makes Raro a paradise for them. But as a result, they reproduce quickly, and only regular sterilization campaigns of the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and vets are slowing down this process.

Friendly Beach Dogs

It’s easy make friends with dogs on Raro. They just drop by if you are on the beach, sitting by your side on your towel and go for a swim with you. They protect you (from other dogs and chicken or similar) even they don’t know you at all.

The dogs are generally friendly. Still, do not feed them because you will not get rid of them again. And actually…

All Dogs Have a Home 

Even if they are out all day, each dog has a home. Otherwise, the SPCA takes care of them in a shelter at Papua/ Wigmore’s Waterfall. The SPCA finds new owners for homeless dogs. Two dogs per family are allowed on Raro.

Medium-Sized Brownish Dogs

If you look around, all dogs look pretty much the same. Of course, there are a few exceptions. Especially those dogs who came to the island as part of an ex-pat family. But most of them resemble a mix of border collie and different types of settlers, and are basically brown-colored.

Dogs Bark All Time, Robbing Your Sleep

The downside of the dogs is their loudness. They tend to bark if they come across other dogs or if they defend a property – which happens all the time. And unfortunately that also keeps you awake at night.

So, avoid staying in places with lots of dogs around.

Do Not Feed Them Because They Will Move In With You

When you feed dogs, they will follow you for food. Also, they tend move in with you, make themselves comfortable in your garden and on your doorstep. They feel homely there and bring rubbish – and more dogs.

Rarely Known Fact: Three-Legged Dogs Are a Genetic Defect

You will come across quite some three-legged dogs on the island. We were concerned when we moved to Raro in 2016 and saw them. So many dogs with three legs, which we thought are casualties of accidents. But they are not. In fact, it is a gene defect. 



2. Noisy Wild Roosters & Chicken

IslandAwe - Wild Roosters and chicken
Important Facts about Animals in the Cook Islands – Noisy Wild Roosters & Chicken

It is probably the most annoying part of wildlife in the country, and thus they have qualified as one of the important facts about animals in the Cook Islands.

They Are Everywhere

We never came across a country with so many wild chicken and roosters. They are everywhere. In the gardens, in the streets, on the beaches, in the mountains – around small guesthouses and the big resorts. And they live on all the islands of the Cook Islands.

Roosters and chicken roam free, taking care of themselves. Preferably they sleep on trees, and it is pretty interesting to see how they make it up there, with a run-up and a few flight moments.

People in the Cook Islands usually do eat these animals. They do not taste good, and nobody knows what they actually feed on.

Noisy, Noisy, and Noisy

All of them, roosters, hens, and their offspring are simply noisy.

Roosters are well-known for continuous cock-a-doodle-doo. Especially at night they keep people awake by crowing at any time for no reason. They cause sleep deprivation and annoyed vacationers. But also chickens and chicks chat loudly and without a break while they are looking around for food.

Rarely Known Fact: Chicken Eat Centipedes

Chickens are at least good for something. They eat the centipedes. A centipede can be a hazard, and there are heaps around on Rarotonga. To read more about the trouble this insect brings, have a look at our post about dangerous animals on the Cook Islands.



3. Valued and Neglected Pigs

Part of the Polynesian Culture

Throughout the Polynesian and Melanesian countries, pig plays a significant cultural role. It once was a status symbol and sign of wealth. And still today, on remote islands, pigs are means of payment. 

Pork is also an essential part of local cuisine: no feast, no family reunion, no official function without pork food. Commonly, the locals cook a whole pig in the famous Umu (= earth oven).

On the Cook Islands, more or less every family has some pigs around the house.

Most Pigs Roam Free

Plenty pigs walks around freely. Not as many as in the past, because they increasingly cause accidents. Especially, when they stroll along the streets and are hit by vehicles. And because pigs can be massive, this has consequences for the driver and the animal.

Pigs are also after food and are pushy to get it. A massive pig on the search for food once attacked me while pulling our dustbin back to the house. I had no chance to go any further and finally left the empty trash can to the pig (and picked it up a few hours later…)

Similarly, pigs stroll through gardens and turn them upside down on their hunt for something to eat.

In contrast, it can end fatally for pigs if their owners lock them somewhere in remote areas because some of them are simply forgotten and not fed.

Rarely Known Fact: Pigs Live on Uninhabited Motus and Swim in the Ocean

In some lagoons of the outer islands, pigs live on tiny lonesome islets which belong to their owners. The locals leave the pigs there with shelter and food and come back by boat regularly.

Pigs wander around there, and you can see them swimming in the ocean too. Like on Motu Rapota on Aitutaki, on the picture above.



4. Iconic but Annoying Geckos

Other important facts about animals in the Cook Islands relate to the geckos.

Iconic Inhabitants of the Cook Island – in a Good and a Bad Way

You find these small lizards in and around every house. They are part of the standard facility. The good news is that they chew up many insects, especially the dangerous Tiger mosquito. 

The bad news is that they shit a lot and everywhere. This fact can end up in massive cleaning exercises. 

Besides, geckos shout. They have a weird shrilling voice which makes them a plague at night time. Our advice: chase them out of your bedroom.

Another tip: don’t leave food standing around openly, especially fruits. Geckos make use of it.

The Cultural Aspect of Geckos

In Maori culture, Geckos represent strengths and power and the spiritual world of renewal and rebirth. And this is what a Polynesian tribal gecko tattoo stands for too. It is trendy for both the native people and visitors to the islands.

Here are many more details if you are interested in the history and designs of traditional Polynesian tattoos.

But to the locals, a gecko is also a mojo and should bring good luck. For a good blessing, Cook Islanders tend to put a gecko in the foundation of their houses.

Rarely Known Fact: Geckos Are Cannibals – The Big Ones Eat the Smaller Ones!

The first time we saw that it was a surprise. Giant geckos chase the little ones, which looks like they are defending their territory. In fact, they try to catch and eliminate the smaller competitors by eating them. It’s crazy because they wipe out their offspring.



5. Coconut Crabs – The World’s Largest Land Crabs

The Largest Land Crab on Earth

This attribute brings it to the list of important facts about animals in the Cook Islands. A coconut crab can reach a size of up to 1 meter/ 3.3 feet, a weight of 5 kilograms, and live more than 50 years. 

On the Cook Islands, you’ll find coconut crabs rather in the rainforest and on uninhabited Motus than around villages. They hide under leaves and roots and in deep holes, which they dig in the earthy ground. Even you can hear them making a scraping noise; you hardly spot them.

To Eat and to Be Eaten

The coconut crab feeds mainly on fruits, nuts, and seeds. As per its name, it cracks coconuts with its claws. But they also use other options to get food. Like other species, they get used to humans. And they know that there is food near human homes. So, you might encounter them as a robbers at night that try to open the rubbish bins outside. Do not interfere with this process as they are defending their prey.

Vice versa, coconut crabs are shy and not interested in interacting with people. In general, they are considered harmless. But if you try to catch them, they will attack you because they see you as a predator. And with those strong claws, they can hurt you. Coconut crabs are commonly hunted throughout the South Pacific, which makes their population decrease continuously.



6. Precious Black-Lipped Pearl Oysters

IslandAwe – Manihiki Black Pearl Oyster

Another of the important facts about animals in the Cook Islands is:

An Entire Industry Relies On the Black-Lipped Pearl Oysters

The Cook Islands are famous for their exquisite black pearls.  

And the Pearl oysters breed this unique jewels.


Like on Tahiti in the neighboring country French Polynesia, an entire industry is built around it. Besides tourism, these rare pearls are the source of income for many islanders, especially on the northern atoll Manihiki, where most of them originate from.

The locals raise pearls and wrap them in fabulous jewelry, from simple to sophisticated. But not only with the pearl itself, but also the shell makes up for traditional and creative carved earrings, necklaces, and wristbands. All of them are unique pieces of art. 

Nothing Goes to Waste

Still, the oyster is a marine animal and a living creature. And as such, it reacts in different ways. Not every pearl nucleus in an oyster develops into a brilliant black pearl. The oyster can push off the pearl seed and remain a simple oyster, making it a source of delicious food! 



7. Insignificant Birdlife

If you think of animals on the tropical Cook Islands, you would expect a bunch of exotic birds. But this is not the case here. Unbelievable, but one of the important facts about animals in the Cook Islands. Overall, there are just a couple of bird species in the Cook Islands. Except for Atiu…

Special Case Atiu – The Island of the Birds

IslandAwe - Lorikeet

Atiu, one of the southern islands, has the most abundant birdlife. It was once covered with birds, which gave the island its co-name, island of the birds.

But their population decreased, and only a conservation program saved the day, for which the famous Birdman George is in charge. For more than a decade now, Atiu reintroduces lost species, like the colorful Rimatara Lorikeet from French Polynesia. 

IslandAwe - Atiu Anatakitaki Cave - Home of the Kopeka Bird

And then there is an endemic bird, the terrific Kokepa.

It belongs to the swallow family and looks like it. However, it behaves like a bat, lives in the dark, and navigates with sonar. The Anatakitaki Cave in central Atiu is home to the Kopeka.


PS: There are lots of Indian Mynas in the Cook Islands. What we like about them is the fact they eat the yellow-paper wasps.



8. Nasty Yellow-Paper Wasps

IslandAwe - Yellow-paper wasps

Large and Nasty

Good to know – and one more of the important facts about animals in the Cook Islands.

The yellow paper-wasp reaches a size of up to 3 centimeters. Unlike a honey bee that stings once and then dies, this wasp can sting several times – painfully.

The best thing is to stay far away from them because sometimes they sting without a reason when you are just in their way. 


Wasp Season in the Cook Islands Before Winter

There is a time in the year when they occur in tons, from November to March. Just before the colder months start, it is mating time for the Yellow-Paper Wasp, and they are everywhere, where there are opportunities to build a nest. The good news is that they only appear for a few hours per day, from late morning to afternoon.

Your Home Is Their Home

The wasps love to be around the house and use open doors and windows to get inside. They are not just building their nest outside but also look for cosy hidden places inside your home. We found wasp nests behind books on a shelf, inside lampshades, and attached to our suitcases. 



9. Endangered Sea Turtles

Two Endangered Species – Green Turtle and Hawksbill Turtle

The Cook Islands is home to the Green turtle and the critically endangered Hawksbill turtle, named after its pointed beaks, which resembles a Hawk. Both of them are regular guests in the lagoons and around the coral reefs.


Turtles are a keystone species and essential to balance their natural environment. For example, they prey on jellyfish and sponges and keep their numbers at a healthy level. Unfortunately, these turtles’ population decrease worldwide.

The Cultural Meaning of Turtles

Turtles play a crucial role in the Cook Islands. The reptile is one of the most meaningful animals in their culture and their tattooing art. It stands for longevity, health, and fertility, and the locals revere and protect them. They consider them divine because they connect the elements earth & water by moving in the ocean and ashore.
Have a look here for more about the art and meaning of traditional Polynesian tattoos.



Click the image below to download your Free 9 Important Facts About Animals of the Cook Islands Infographic.

9-Important-Fact-About-Animals-in-the-Cook-Islands Infographic

You Might Also Be Interested In …


Having reached the end of our article, we hope that these important facts about animals in the Cook Islands help you plan your time there – and make it a memorable stay.

Beside this, there are a couple of related topics that might be interesting for you regarding wildlife in the Cook Islands. Such as…

Are There Any Dangerous Animals in the Cook Islands?

If you are interested in these facts, look at our post about 10 Dangerous Animals in the Cook Islands.

Which Marine Animals Can I Find in the Cook Islands?

Here are all the details about the Vibrant Marine Life in the Cook Islands.

Are There Sharks in Rarotonga?

We’ll give you an insight into where in Rarotonga you find which types of sharks.


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