6 Famous Animals That Changed History
Not all cultural pioneers walk on two legs. These famous animals have played an important role in our history and pop culture.
Dolly the Sheep Proved Cloning Was Possible
On July 5, 1996, this fuzzy little bundle of joy emerged from the belly of one of her three mothers, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell. Dolly’s birth proved that a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer, a technique in which the cell nucleus from an adult cell is transferred into an unfertilized egg, blasted with electricity, then implanted into a surrogate, could work. Dolly died of a lung disease at age six, but the cloning technique used to produce her was later employed on other larges mammals, including pigs, deer, horses, and bulls.
Cher Ami the Pigeon Saved Hundreds of American Troops
During World War I, this homing pigeon lived up to her name and was a “dear friend” to the American troops. Cher Ami delivered 12 messages during her service to the U.S. Army Signal Corps in France, but none was more important than the missive she delivered in early October 1918. On that day, Major Charles White Whittlesey and more than 500 men were trapped behind enemy lines without food or ammunition. Afraid that his battalion would be killed by friendly fire, Whittlesey attempted to send messages to his compatriots via pigeon. The first two birds were shot down, but Cher Ami successfully navigated a barrage of fire to deliver this message: “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.” The shelling stopped and the troops were saved. Cher Ami received the Croix de Guerre medal for bravery. Upon her death in 1919, her body was preserved and placed on display at the Smithsonian Institute.
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David Greybeard Revealed Chimpanzees’s True Intelligence
Until 1960, scientists believed that humans alone possessed the ability to make and use tools. But on November 4 of that year, Jane Goodall observed a chimpanzee she had named David Greybeard using a grass stalk to extract termites from a termite hill. Later, Goodall observed David Greybeard and another chimp constructing fishing tools by stripping the leaves off twigs. “[David] was the first chimpanzee who let me come close, who lost his fear,” Goodall told Bill Moyers in 2011. “He helped introduce me to this magic world out in the forest.”
Elsa the Lioness Inspired Wildlife Conservation
In 1956, George Adamson, a game warden in Kenya, and his wife Joy adopted a small lion cub they named Elsa. For years, the Adamsons raised and cared for Elsa at their home in Africa, teaching her to hunt on her own and develop the abilities to survive in the wild. Eventually the couple released Elsa and, surprisingly, she survived. In 1960, Joy wrote a non-fiction book, Born Free, about the experience of raising Elsa. Six years later, a movie based on the the book was released to wide acclaim, and credited with promoting wildlife conservation with the general public.
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Balto the Dog Delivered Life-Saving Serum
In 1925, doctors in Alaska faced a deadly dilemma. A diptheria epidemic was poised to sweep through Nome, Alaska, a city on the state’s far west coast, and the only serum that could save them was in Seattle. Unable to deliver the medicine by plane, officials devised a long-shot alternative: They would use multiple dog sled teams to transport the antitoxin to the village. The team assigned the final leg was lead by Balto, a black and white Siberian husky, who ran through a blizzard in the dead of night to deliver the serum. Upon reaching the town in the early morning of February 2, 1925, Balto’s owner Gunter Kaasen uttered a mere three words: “Damn fine dog.”
Jim the Horse Impressed an American President
In the late 19th and early 20th century, the variety show performed by Beautiful Jim Key and his trainer/owner Dr. William Key, was seen by an estimated ten million Americans and written about in every major newspaper. Not bad for a sickly quarter horse and a former slave. Through Bill’s humane training techniques, Beautiful Jim Key “learned” to read, write, spell, add, tell time, sort mail, and use a cash register and telephone—skills he performed in front of delighted audiences across the country. At a time when African-Americans and whites rarely interacted, Beautiful Jim Key’s shows brought them together. When President William McKinley saw one of the Keys’ performances at an exposition in Tennessee, he declared, “This is the most astonishing and entertaining exhibition I have ever witnessed.”
As these pet stories show, the bond between humans and animals knows no bounds.