People have been drawn to stories about exotic animals throughout our history. The further you go back in that history, the less likely those stories were accurate. Here is a gorgeous compendium of illustrations showing how people imagined real animals they had only heard about.

Crocodiles from Liber Floridus (Book of Flowers), an encyclopedia by Lambert, Canon of Saint-Omer between 1090 and 1120.

(via Erik Kwakkel)

Animals from the Rochester Bestiary, c. 1225-1250

A crocodile:

Elephants:

Lions and other animals:

A lion:

A colorful panther:

A crocodile from the Northumberland Bestiary, fol. 49v, mid-1250s

An elephant from the 13th century, by Guillaume le Clerc

An elephant from Italy, c. 1440

(via British Library)

Lions from the Ashmole Bestiary (f.10v), 1511

A whale from Adriaen Coenen's Visboek (Fish Book), 1560s

(via Koninklijke Bibliotheek)

An elephant and a giraffe by Noè Bianco, 1568

(via NYPL Digital Library)

The History of Four-Booted Beasts and Serpents, by Edward Topsell, 1658

A beaver:

A dromedary:

(via University of Houston Digital Library)

A history of the Earth and animated nature, by Oliver Goldsmith, 1825

A hippo:

Seals:

Lions:

(via Biodiversity Heritage Library)

A striped hyena, by Aloys Zötl, 1831

Gibbons, by Aloys Zötl, 1833

The Hoolock Gibbons, by Aloys Zötl, 1835

The Cheetah, by Aloys Zötl, 1837

A rhinoceros, by Aloys Zötl, 1861

A sea turtle, by Aloys Zötl, 1867

A walrus, by Aloys Zötl, 1879

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(via Wikimedia Commons 12 and British Library)