Like people, not all animals are the same. Some have gone on to make a name for themselves in this world, and considering the name of this list you can probably gather what we’re going to talk about today. Whether intentional or not (probably not, though), these animals have reached international recognition for one reason or another, and we are here to retell their stories.
10. Pablo EskoBear – The Coked-up Bear of Kentucky
Hearing about a bear that got high on cocaine isn’t a story that one comes across on a regular basis. Pablo EskoBear’s fame began in 1985 in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest. That’s when the infamous Andrew Carter Thornton II, aka the “Cocaine Cowboy” – a former narcotics officer who later went on to become a drug smuggler – dropped 40 packages of cocaine over the area, and then jumped out of the plane himself. Unfortunately for him, however, he got tangled in his parachute and plummeted to his death in someone’s yard in in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Anyway, in December that same year, police scouring the area came across the 40 packages. The only problem was that they were all opened and empty. Close by, they also found the body of a 175-pound black bear. The poor beast apparently engorged itself on the entire load and succumbed to an overdose. “Its stomach was literally packed to the brim with cocaine. There isn’t a mammal on the planet that could survive that,” said the doctor who examined him. He also went on to say that, “cerebral hemorrhaging, respiratory failure, hyperthermia, renal failure, heart failure, stroke. You name it, that bear had it.”
Its taxidermied body went from being on display in the national forest’s visitor center, to a warehouse, to a mansion owned by another Andrew Thornton – this one a hustler from Las Vegas. The Cocaine Bear, as it was known back then, stayed with him until 2009, when Thornton died. After, it was purchased by a Chinese gentleman living in Reno, and in 2012, his wife donated EskoBear’s body to the Kentucky Fun Mall, in Lexington, where it is today, on display in the lobby.
9. Miracle Mike – the Headless Chicken
Back in 1945, Lloyd Olsen, a Colorado farmer, went out to the yard to bring back a chicken to have for dinner. The chicken he chose was Mike – a decision that would forever change the course of that farmer’s life, as well as Mike’s. When the axe hit the block, Lloyd realized that his aim wasn’t spot on, missing the jugular vein, one of Mike’s ears, and the entire brain stem. To everyone’s surprise, Mike survived. He was still able to walk, preen, peck for food, and even crow – to a certain degree, of course.
Instead of killing him, Lloyd decided to take care of Mike by feeding him a mixture of milk and water with an eyedropper, and gave him small corn kernels. Soon after the failed beheading incident, Miracle Mike reached national fame, touring the country as part of a sideshow and even getting his picture taken by Time and Life magazines. At the height of his career, Mike was valued at somewhere over $100,000 in today’s money, earning his owner roughly $4,500 per month (roughly $50,000 today). His career was short-lived, however; given the circumstances, that’s something of an understatement. Roughly 18 months after his story began, Mike died during the night in a motel room after choking on a kernel he somehow picked off on the floor. A star’s death, by most accounts.
8. Bobbie the Wonder Dog – a Story of Long-Distance Loyalty
Sometime in August 1923, the Brazier family from Silverton, Oregon took a trip to visit their family in Wolcott, Indiana. Bobbie, their 2-year-old Scotch Collie/English Shepherd mix, accompanied them. While there, however, Bobbie was attacked by three other dogs and chased away. The Braziers looked for him everywhere but couldn’t find him. Heartbroken, they eventually left for home.
To their complete astonishment, about six months later in February 1924, Bobbie returned to Silverton. All mangy, dirty, scrawny, and with his nails worn down to the bone, the Collie walked at least 2,551 miles through scorching deserts, flat plains, crossing rivers and mountains to reunite with his family. Averaging approximately 14 miles per day, Bobbi saw a meteoric rise to fame, drawing national attention and appearing in newspapers across the country.
Numerous letters began pouring in from people who encountered Bobbie on his arduous journey home. He was also featured in a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! article, several books, and films. He even played himself in the 1924 silent film The Call of the West. His story of loyalty is still told to this day, as part of the annual children’s pet parade in Silverton.
7. Unsinkable Sam – The Cat That Put Its Nine Lives to Good Use
A black and white cat by the name of Oskar, and later known as Unsinkable Sam, started its ‘career’ in Nazi Kriegsmarine and ended up in the Royal Navy during WWII. But as its byname would suggest, the story doesn’t end here. He belonged to a crewman onboard the Bismarck, the Nazi flagship. After a fierce naval battle in the Atlantic, the Bismarck was sunk, leaving behind only 114 survivors and Oskar. They were picked up by the HMS Cossack where Oskar would live for the next several months. On November 14, 1941, a torpedo hit the Cossack, sinking it some 30 miles off the coast Gibraltar. The cat survived this encounter as well, reaching shore alongside the other survivors.
Now known as Unsinkable Sam, Oskar was soon transferred to the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, which, alongside the HMS Cossack, was part of the battle that took down the Bismarck in the first place. Unfortunately, however, the Ark Royal was also torpedoed a bit later… and again, Unsinkable Sam survived. He was found clinging to a floating plank, “angry but quite unharmed.” This was the end of Oskar’s seafaring life as he found his way to the offices of the Governor of Gibraltar and, later, in a seaman’s home in Belfast. A portrait of him, titled Oscar, the Bismarck’s Cat, adorns the walls of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
6. Lonesome George – The Rarest Creature in the World
Born sometime around 1910, Lonesome George was discovered back in 1971 on Pinta Island in the Galapagos. As a male Pinta Island tortoise, George was the last known individual of his species and was considered by many to be the rarest creature in the world. After his island was introduced to feral goats, the island went through a severe transformation that resulted in the endemic Pinta Island tortoises disappearing… except for one individual: Lonesome George. Shortly after he was discovered, the lonely tortoise was relocated to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island. Here he spent the remainder of his days, with the caretakers hoping that another member of his species would be found – either on Pinta Island or in one the world’s zoos.
Unfortunately, however, that never happened and all attempts at pairing him with females from other, closely-related subspecies failed. Eggs were produced with each batch but none were viable – meaning that the Pinta Island tortoises were separated for too long, geographically and genetically, from all other similar species to be able to breed successfully. In 2012, he passed away and his body was frozen and shipped to the American Museum of Natural History in New York to be preserved by taxidermists. Today, he can be found at the Charles Darwin Research Station, as part of an exhibit that is completely dedicated to him. After his death, researchers have confirmed the existence of at least 17 other individual hybrid tortoises that are partial descendants from Lonesome George’s unique species. This leads scientist to hope that there may still be other pure-blood members alive somewhere.
On the information panel outside George’s enclosure, it said the following: “Whatever happens to this single animal, let him always remind us that the fate of all living things on Earth is in human hands.”
5. Wojtek – The Soldier Bear
The name Wojtek is the diminutive of Wojciech, which translates to “Happy Warrior,” an old Slavic name that’s still popular in Poland today. This name was also given to a bear cub picked up by Polish POWs who left Soviet labor camps in Siberia and were relocated to Iran to form a new Polish army there during WWII. On their way to Tehran, they came across a small shepherd boy who had Wojtek in a sack, after the cub’s mother was shot and killed by hunters in the north of the country. The bear cub was raised by the newly-formed 22nd Transport Company, Artillery Division, Polish 2nd Corp, becoming brothers in arms for the following several years.
While growing up, Wojtek liked play-fighting and boxing with his colleagues, drinking beer, and even smoking on occasion. But what Wojtek did best of all was to keep up the troops’ morale. Alongside the 22nd Company, he traveled from Iran to Iraq, through Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, before being deployed over the Mediterranean in order to take part in the Italian campaign. To get him on the transport ship, however, Wojtek had to be officially drafted into the Polish Army as a Private, with his own pay book, rank and serial number. Though he didn’t receive any money, he was, however, granted double rations.
During the infamous and bloody battle at Monte Cassino, Private Wojtek was seen hauling 100-pound ammunition crates containing artillery shells. In recognition for his service, the 22nd Company approved its official emblem as a bear carrying an artillery shell. After the war, Wojtek, now a retired Corporal, found a home in the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland, where he spent the remainder of his days. Over the following years until his death in 1963, he received frequent visits from his old fighting comrades. Many memorials and statues were raised in his honor, both in England and Poland. In 2011, BBC made a documentary film about him entitled Wojtek: The Bear That Went to War.
4. Cecil the Lion – One Life to Save Thousands More
Named after Cecil John Rhodes, a British businessman, mining magnate, and politician in South Africa who founded Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Cecil the Lion reached international fame after his death at the hands of an American dentist and big-game hunter in 2015. Cecil was best-known animal in the Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, famous for his black-fringed mane and being under continuous observation by the University of Oxford since 2008. The Minnesota dentist, who shot him with an arrow, reportedly paid $50,000 for the privilege.
Though we will not go into everything that followed the incident, the Cecil’s killing sparked international outrage over trophy hunting. Many politicians and celebrities decried the action, leading to the US Fish and Wildlife Service to place Cecil’s subspecies and another one from India on the endangered species list.
3. Cher Ami – The Pigeon Behind Enemy Lines
Cher Ami, French for “dear friend,” was a Black Check hen carrier pigeon who served in the US Army Signal Corps in France during WWI. Cher Ami made a name for herself during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the largest US operation of WWI, where over 1 million American soldiers were deployed. It was also the deadliest campaign in US history, with over 26,000 KIAs (killed in action). On October 3, 1918, the 308th Battalion of the 77th Infantry Division became trapped in a small depression behind enemy lines with no food, ammunition, or easy chance for escape. Surrounded by the Germans, the so-called “Lost Battalion” suffered heavy losses during the first day, and even began receiving friendly fire from the allied artillery who didn’t know their location.
Major Charles White Whittlesey, who was in charge of the battalion, began sending runners and pigeons back to HQ, but all of them were either killed or intercepted. Cher Ami was finally sent with a piece of onionskin paper attached to her leg, with a message saying: “We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake stop it.” When the Germans saw her rising out of a bush, they began firing and after several seconds, she was shot down. Nevertheless, with a bullet wound through the breast, one blinded eye, and her right leg hanging by a tendon, Cher Ami managed to take flight once again and reach the allied HQ, some 25 miles away. All the 194 men who were part of the ‘Lost Battalion’ were saved soon after.
For her services, Cher Ami became the Department of Service’s mascot and received the French Croix de guerre (War Cross), as well as several other decorations. In popular culture, the carrier pigeon appeared in several books, essays, short stories, and films.
2. Sergeant Stubby – The Most Decorated War Dog of WWI
Yes, that animated movie you’ve probably seen commercials for is based on a real dog.
Found wandering the grounds of Yale University while the 102nd Infantry was training there, Stubby was a dog of “uncertain breed,” probably a mix of Boston terrier and something else. One Corporal took him under his care and when it came time to ship out, Stubby went with them. For over 18 months, he served with the 102nd in the trenches in France, warning his comrades about incoming artillery fire, poison gas attacks, and locating wounded soldiers across No Man’s Land. He even singlehandedly captured a German spy, leading to the commander of the 102nd to nominate Stubby to the rank of Sergeant. Stubby also saw his fair share of wounds, being injured in the chest and leg by a grenade.
After the war, he became a celebrity back home, leading many parades across the country. He met with three US presidents and received a gold medal from the Humane Education Society, presented to him by General John J. Pershing. In 1921, Stubby became the mascot for the Georgetown Hoyas athletics teams. After his death in 1926, he received a half-page obituary in the New York Times – considerably longer than the ones made for notable people at the time. Stubby was also the subject of several books and films. There are several memorials erected in his honor as well as a portrait at the West Haven Military Museum in Connecticut.
1. Harambe – 2016’s Meme of the Year
Back in 2016, a 3-year-old boy fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. Harambe, one of the three gorillas in the enclosure, began dragging the boy around, to the utter consternation and panic of the onlookers outside. Afraid for the boy’s wellbeing, the zoo officials decided to shoot the gorilla with one rifle shot. Harambe was killed one day after his 17th birthday. The entire episode was filmed by someone in the crowd and later posted online. The video went viral, sparking international outcry and controversy over what happened. Some people called for the boy’s parents or for the zoo to be held accountable, while others said the right thing was done. Several vigils also took place, with over 3,400 people gathering to mourn Harambe at Hyde Park in London.
Following his death, Harambe became subject to some of the most viral memes of 2016, attracting both progressives and conservatives alike. The Public Policy Polling (PPP) even added the 440-pound gorilla into their polling for the US presidential election. In July, 2016, Harambe had a 5% support, coming ahead of the Green Party’s candidate, Jill Stein. In August, the Cincinnati Zoo even closed its Twitter account as it was constantly receiving messages from internet trolls. One year later, in 2017, a new male gorilla was introduced in the enclosure, alongside the other two females present there. The zoo is also working on a new enclosure where visitors can observe the silverback gorillas from behind safety glass.