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Meeting a majestic animal like an albino moose in its native habitat is such a rare experience that the indigenous Mi'kmaq people of Nova Scotia consider these animals sacred. A trio of hunters, however, apparently didn't realize that they had encountered what is considered a spirit animal when they killed the moose and posted pictures on Facebook of themselves smiling alongside its carcus.
Although they were within their legal rights to kill the moose, the incident has sparked outrage, leading the hunters to hand over the animal's hide, which will be used in a traditional Mi'kmaq ceremony. According to Mi'kmaq lore, killing a white moose is said to bring bad luck.
The albino moose isn't the only spirit animal in the wild. In this slideshow, explore other creatures held sacred by cultural and religious traditions the world over.
Perhaps the most well-known sacred animal is the cow, an animal revered by the world's 900 million Hindus. The cow's status may trace back to Lord Krishna, who first appeared 5,000 years ago as a cow herd.
As a result of their stature in religious society, cows enjoy a number of perks in Hindu communities. They are allowed to roam as they please. Cows play an important role in major religious ceremonies. Feeding them snacks is thought to bring good luck, and some states in India even ban the slaughter of cattle. (India is, however, the number one exporter of beef in the world.)
Like the albino moose, a white buffalo is rare animal and considered sacred by some Native American tribes. An estimated one in 10 million buffalo is born with the rare genetic trait.
Last year, two white buffalo were born, one at a ranch in Connecticut and another in Minnesota. Although the Minnesota calf died as a result of an injury, the calf in Connecticut survived and participated in a sacred ceremony where he was given the name Yellow Medicine Dancing Boy.
When foul play occurs in the death of one of these animals, it makes the news. In 2011, the mysterious death of a Texas white buffalo known as Lightning Medicine Cloud, in which the calf was brutally killed and skinned, sparked a months-long search for answers. Although foul play was initially suspected, a bacterial infection proved to be the cause of death.
Whales are considered sacred in some parts of Vietnam, so when one dies either offshore or by beaching itself, the event turns into a religious experience.
In 2010, when a 15-ton, 52-foot-long whale was spotted floating 26 miles offshore at southern Bac Lieu province in Vietnam, dozens of fishermen manning 10 boats hauled the animals ashore. The whale received a funeral ceremony fitting for a creature called only "Your Excellency" by those who found it. Ten thousand people showed up to bury the whale, and plans were later put in place to construct a temple on the burial site.
This photo shows the bones of two whales at a whale worshiping Tan temple on Ly Son island.
In the town of Paga in northern Ghana along the border with Burkina Faso, crocodiles and humans live side by side.
Residents tend to a community of some 110 of these reptiles at a pond that serves as a crocodile sanctuary. Believing the crocodiles to contain the spirits of their ancestors, the townspeople live and play right alongside and with the animals.
The crocodiles appear to be unusually docile, and no reports have ever emerged of attacks on villagers. Killing or harming a crocodile is strictly forbidden.
A blessing in theory but a burden in reality, a white elephant is considered sacred and a sign of peace and prosperity in parts of Southeast Asia.
Buddhist lore suggests the Buddha's mother had a dream of a white elephant handing her a lotus blossom while she was pregnant. The vision symbolized wisdom and purity.
Given that the animals were sacred, they weren't allowed to be used to perform work. The king of Siam used to bequeath white elephants as a gift as a symbol of generosity, but caring for the animal proved to be more of a hardship, given that the animal could never compensate its owner for its expensive upkeep.
The Karni Mata temple in India is home to thousands and thousands of rats. Far from being considered vermin, they are instead cared for and allowed to roam freely.
Considered the reincarnations of once living humans, the rats are sacred to the temple and its patrons. The temple is dedicated to Karni Mata, a 14th-century mystic who was believed to be the incarnation of Durga, the goddess of victory.
The unusual temple attract both tourists and pilgrims alike.
Within Ubud, Bali stretches a 27-acre forest and temple complex that's home to a population of around 500 monkeys. Known as the Monkey Forest, the primates attract tens of thousands of tourists every year, and are cared for by Hindu practitioners, who view the animals as the sacred incarnations of monkey gods.
Three different temples are located within the forest, Pura Puseh (temples of origin), Pura Desa (village temple), and a Pura Dalem, or temple of the dead, according to Atlas Obscura.