Animals have an important role in known history. From being cattle for their meat, to horses as a main form of transport (in ye olden times), animals provide aid and convenience to humans till this day. We tend to learn a lot about what people did in the past during history lessons, instead of the stories involving individual animals whose achievements are arguably just as impressive. Here are some animals that have truly earned their place in the history books.
It’s likely you’ve heard of Moby-Dick, the classic by American writer Herman Melville. Melville was inspired by the Essex whaling ship tragedy (the events of which were featured in the movie “In the Heart of the Sea”) to write his novel. Moby-Dick, the whale in the novel, is a large albino sperm whale who was being hunted because of his aggressive nature. Did you know that Moby-Dick was partially inspired by Mocha Dick, who was known for his herculean strength and his attacks on whalers?
Mocha Dick was first spotted near the Mocha island in Chile (hence his name). He was a towering albino sperm whale who roamed the Pacific Ocean waters in the early 19th century. Besides being renowned for his lack of pigmentation, his head was described to be covered with barnacles. While his fellow species spouted with considerable panache, Mocha Dick’s spouting was reported to sound like a “continuous roar”. His peculiar appearance and way of spouting made him popular among the whalers of the region.
He was known to be mild and passive when unprovoked. However, once agitated, Mocha Dick would retaliate with aggressive and cunning attacks on the assaulters. There were claims that Mocha Dick escaped and survived over 100 encounters with whalers, even quashing some of the whaling ships that came after him. This could perhaps partially explain the reason why he had many harpoons in his body.
Mocha Dick was finally killed by whalers in 1839. An account of his death was written, titled “Mocha Dick: Or the White Whale of the Pacific”. According to the writer Jeremiah N. Reynold, whalers had killed a calf and fatally wounded the mother whale before she could attack the ship. Upon observing this, Mocha Dick attacked said whaling ship. Although he managed to destroy one of the whaling boats, he was injured by a harpoon launched by one of the whalers. Eventually, he lost all strength, ultimately perishing at the hands of the aforementioned whalers.
In March 1898, workers were busy constructing a railway bridge commissioned by the British over the Tsavo River in Kenya. This was when the Tsavo Man-Eaters struck. The Tsavo Man-Eaters were two male lions who started preying on the construction workers at night. Only one of the lions would enter the camp at a time, dragging the workers from their tents before devouring them mercilessly. As time elapsed, both lions would eventually enter the camp at the same time to subjugate their prey. In an attempt to combat these vicious predators, the workers built campfires and thorn fences to deter the lions. Still, the lions remain unfazed, leaping over or crawling under the thorn fences with ease.
Fear swept through the camp. The construction work was halted when many of the workers fled from the camp, unwilling to stay in the place where the man-eaters ran rampant. In response to this, British officer Lieutenant-Colonel John Patterson decided to take matters in his own hands. He set traps to ensnare the lions to no avail. After multiple failed attempts to shoot them from a tree, Patterson finally managed to kill both lions in December 1898.
It was estimated at the time that the exact number of killings conducted by the man-eaters was 135. However, a chemical composition study of both the lions’ hair and bones yielded an estimation of approximately 35 killings each that could possibly reach up to 72. The reasons behind the lions’ peculiar taste for men’s flesh are also widely speculated until this day, although severe shortages of prey due to the cattle plague in addition to the dead bodies found in the Tsavo River due to slave caravans passing by were largely popular theories. A study found that the lion who consumed more humans suffered from severe dental injuries, whilst the other lion had less dire injuries in conjunction with its reduced consumption of human flesh. The dental injuries could have hindered the lions’ ability to hunt their usual prey, which included larger herbivores like buffalos. Eating humans may have just been the easier choice for them.
The Tsavo Man-Eaters have been depicted in various films, the most popular of which appears to be 1996’s The Ghost and the Darkness.
Many animals were trained for different purposes in wars of the past, including dogs, elephants, pigeons and so on. It is not common however, for animals to be enlisted as soldiers complete with their own rank, serial number, and even paybook.
Wojtek (meaning “happy warrior” and pronounced “Voytek”), was an orphaned brown bear enlisted in the Polish II Corps during the Second World War. He was adopted in 1942 by Polish soldiers in Iran and soon became an unofficial mascot for the company. While Wojtek was with the soldiers, he drank coffee, beer, and ate cigarettes (as he could not smoke them).
When Wojtek was getting ready to travel to Italy with the Polish II Corps, pets and mascots were not allowed to board the British transport ship. Wojtek was then enlisted as a soldier with the rank of private. He helped carry heavy ammunition such as artillery shells, guarded the army’s trucks from theft, and even helped the army on the frontlines. Hence, it wasn’t surprising when his contributions and popularity led to the creation of an emblem for the 22nd Artillery Supply Company, depicting him carrying an empty artillery shell. Other than his duties, Wojtek enjoyed play-fighting with his fellow soldiers, bringing joy into the soldiers’ anxiety-riddled lives.
After the war, Wojtek and his fellow soldiers moved to Scotland, where he eventually ended up in the Edinburgh Zoo. His friends, the ex-colleagues from the army, frequently visited him and threw him cigarettes, which he liked to eat. Unfortunately, his cigarette consumption habits damaged his oesophagus, which had a hand in causing his death in 1963.
With that being said, Wojtek was more of a mascot or a pet rather than a soldier. He was a companion and a comrade to the Polish soldiers who fought valiantly in the war. Deservingly so, there are monuments of him in different locations in the world, including in places such as Scotland and Poland. There is also a documentary about him, titled “Wojtek: The Bear That Went to War.”
You may have probably heard the saying ‘as loyal as a dog’. History, in its vast entirety, does tend to commemorate the loyalty of numerous significant figures; one of them happens to be another very special dog.
Known as “Japan’s most loyal dog”, Hachiko was a Shiba Inu born in 1923. He began his life on a farm, but after being adopted by his owner Hidesaburo Ueno, the pair formed a routine that went something like this: First, they would briskly walk to the Shibuya train station. Next, Ueno would lean forward and his farewell to his beloved dog would take the form of a gentle pat. Lastly, Ueno boards the train and Hachiko waits all day long at the station for his owner’s return.
In the mind of this faithful dog, no harm could ever befall his owner. No, not one passing thought of abandonment nor any possible disruption to their routine was ever accounted for. Hachiko waited, as he always did.
One dreadful day, Hidesaburo Ueno met his inevitable end. Death swooped down and swiftly ended his life. He had left for work as usual, remembering to give his pet a final headpat in lieu of a goodbye, and boarded the train. Hachiko waited. As the day blurred into night and the final passengers stepped off the train, Hachiko was a silhouette amongst many others, searching for the one he loved.
Unfortunately, his owner never returned.
Still, Hachiko waited. Was he compelled to persevere with this routine by some fond memory, or was it perhaps simply a ritualistic habit he could not shake? Most likely though, it was an incredible display of his undying loyalty and love towards his owner. More than nine years had passed after his master’s untimely demise, but Hachiko persisted. Every day, he arrived at the station and waited, letting the phantom imprints of his owner’s last pat remain fresh in his mind. Then he began the long, arduous task of waiting for his long-lost owner to one day return home.
On March 8, 1935, Hachiko died of natural causes. Surrounded by Ueno’s wife, the staff members of the station, and all who had grown fond of the loyal dog, he was photographed and his body was preserved. It seemed that nothing but death could tear apart the unshakeable bond between dog and man.
Hachiko’s body was displayed in the National Science Museum of Japan, and a monument of Hachiko rests beside his owner’s tomb, symbolising the reunion of the pair once more. A bronze statue of this special dog was assembled outside the Shibuya station to represent his faithfulness to the very end. Despite his death, such tales of enduring loyalty remain inscribed into the history books, eternally immortalized in the minds of those who remember.
A doggo well-known for his loyalty besides the more famous Hachiko is Greyfriars Bobby in Scotland. The story goes like this: Bobby was adopted by constable John Gray. He accompanied Gray on his nightly patrols. When Gray passed away in 1858, Bobby sat by Gray’s grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard for 14 years before dying in 1872. He was buried near Gray in the same graveyard.
Portraits portraying Bobby and the Edinburgh City Council meeting minutes revealed that there were two versions of Bobby. The first and original Bobby was a stray mongrel who passed away in 1867. The second Bobby was a purebred Skye Terrier who served as a replacement before Bobby’s official recorded death in 1872. Bobby and his daily habits made him and the graveyard a popular tourist attraction, which highly benefited the shop owners nearby. It is possible that Bobby’s replacement was in the interests of the townsfolk to ensure that the tourists kept coming.
While the version most people are familiar with implies that Bobby was a faithful dog who grieved the passing of his owner by guarding his grave for the rest of his life, historian Dr Jan Bondeson claimed that Bobby often wandered through the graveyard and visited other households. Being well-fed by the locals, “he was not a mourning dog at all — he was a happy little dog”. This view of Bobby contrasts greatly with the stoic dog that is depicted in the most famous version of the story that remains part of Edinburgh’s history.
Whether true or false, the story of a loyal dog guarding his master’s grave for 14 years is still a heartwarming one. Even the possible truth behind Bobby’s story does not leave a bitter aftertaste (besides the part where the locals replaced Bobby because “a dead Bobby was no good for business”). Even so, knowing that even after his owner’s death, Bobby was still a cared-for, happy dog who provided just as much comfort to our hearts.
You have probably heard of Dolly in your Biology class or have seen her in a textbook. In any case, Dolly is the first ever animal to be cloned from an adult cell. She was a Finn Dorset sheep who was cloned by British developmental biologists from the Roslin Institute in Scotland. An adult Finn Dorset ewe provided the mammary gland cell for Dolly’s cloning.
While many incredibly scientific steps took place after the provision of the mammary gland cell, the end result was that multiple embryos were successfully reconstructed. This cloning technique was later on called the somatic cell nuclear transfer, and they were later transferred to thirteen surrogates. Only one of the ewes became pregnant and eventually gave birth to Dolly.
Dolly appeared to be a very normal sheep. Her body and organs were fully functional and she lived a normal life, even giving birth to six lambs. As she grew older however, not all went swimmingly in her life. She developed arthritis and was euthanised in 2003 as she was suffering from lung cancer known as Jaagsiekte. It is intriguing to note that no connections between Dolly being a clone and the diseases were found.
Dolly’s body was taxidermied and displayed at the National Museum of Scotland. While there were initially no plans to clone Dolly at the time, that was changed as Dolly’s identical “sisters” Debbie, Denise, Dianna and Daisy were cloned from Dolly later on.
Throughout her life, Dolly was known to be a friendly sheep who enjoyed attention. Her status being the first successful cloned animal meant that she was a sensation worldwide. Her existence had proved that cloning for mammals was possible, which led to more developments in the science of cloning after her death.
So, these are just some interesting animals throughout history. There is a whole world and history full of these fascinating animals and what they have done. Some of them may even be lost to time, which is unfortunate. Still, it makes one wonder at how fascinating the world is.
By: Jia Xuan and Isabel