The Peculiar and Wonderful World of Tiki Animals

Illustration by Macrovector

Many animals have come to be associated with tiki over the years, and here are some of the most prominent ones, how they became part of tiki culture, and a look at some of Hawaii’s most interesting animals.

The Toucan

When we think of the Toucan bird, we think of Tiki. In fact, these birds are symbolic of all things Tiki. The word comes from the Brazilian word “Tucano,” and the Toucan bird symbolizes sharing wisdom. When you walk into a Tiki decorated establishment, you usually find more than one toucan bird. Toucans are large, colorful birds with enormous beaks. The beaks have different and bright colors on them as well. And, even though we associate toucans with the tropical islands, toucans live in South America (and do not naturally live in Hawaii) and gravitate to the rain forests. They have been labeled the loudest birds in the world.

Keel-billed Toucan | Ondrej Prosicky


Sharks are other animals associated with Tiki. There are approximately 40 species of sharks near Hawaii, compared to roughly 380 known shark species around the world. The most aggressive shark near Hawaii is the Tiger Shark. In Polynesian legend, sharks also represent the god of the Polynesian people.

Tiger Shark | Yoshinori


This is not a Hawaiian or Polynesian symbol, but rather an American Tiki symbol. A monkey with a fez hat is supposed to symbolize relaxation and whimsy. How this transferred from the traditional Greek setting to the Tiki setting is somewhat a mystery. But the best guessers say that this may just be because the monkey is a symbol of fun. Monkeys were some of the colorful plastic characters that ended up on the straws in the Tiki drinks. And the longer the monkey lingered in the Tiki bars in California, the more the monkey became a lasting symbol of Tiki.

White-headed Capuchin | Ondrej Prosicky

Animals Actually Located in Hawaii


Animals residing in Hawaii should begin with the Nene. The Nene is the Hawaiian state bird. The Nene or the Hawaiian goose (Branta sandvicensis) is found exclusively on the Hawaiian Islands of Maui, Molokai, Hawaii, Oahu, and Kauaʻi. This species is believed to have evolved about 500,000 years ago from the Canada goose which might have migrated to the Hawaiian Islands during that time.

Hawaii’s State Bird – Nene

Forest Birds

There are forest birds in Hawaii. Not the Toucan, but rather the black-billed ‘apapane, salmon-billed i’iwi, the white and brown ‘elepaio, and the yellow-green colored ‘amakihi are some of the forest birds of Hawaii that can still be spotted in these forests. Much of the forests that are left in Hawaii, are not disturbed by humans, so these birds are not seen often. They live in the higher elevations of the hills.

The ʻiʻiwi (Drepanis coccinea, pronounced /iːˈiːviː/, ee-EE-vee), or scarlet honeycreeper is a “hummingbird-niched” species of Hawaiian honeycreeper | Thomas Chlebecek

Hawksbill Sea Turtle

The hawksbill sea turtle is a critically endangered sea turtle and lives in the waters off the coast of Hawaii. They feed on sea sponges and make their homes in the coral reefs. Their colorful shells have made the hawksbill sea turtle a target for poachers, especially when they wander away from the coasts of the Hawaiian Islands.

Hawksbiil Sea Turtle | Andrey Armyagov

Axis Deer

This deer was first introduced in Hawaii when Hong Kong gifted one to King Kamehameha V, the ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii (1863 to 1872). Today, the Hawaiian island of Lanai houses a large population of the axis deer.

Axis Deer Baby – Island of Lana’i – Hawaii | Joe West


People often confuse the wallaby with the kangaroo. They are native to Australia and New Guinea. In Hawaii, humans introduced these wallabies as exhibits in a Hawaiian zoo. In 1916, a small population of brush-tailed rock-wallaby managed to escape the zoo. Today, these wild wallabies can be found in Oahu Island’s Kalihi Valley living on their own.

We don’t think of kangaroo-like animals living in Hawaii, but they do. A wallaby would have been a fun Tiki symbol. Now, why wasn’t a colorful plastic wallaby ever used on a straw or as an addition to a Tiki drink?

The red-necked wallaby or Bennett’s wallaby | Michal Pesata