If you’re an animal lover like I am, then I’m sure you love and treat your pets like family, but let’s face it: I’m sure you don’t expect them to carry out any extraordinary feat and save the world. However, you’d be surprised to know that many animals have actually saved lives for real! Here’s a list of 24 real-life animal heroes who’ve left their mark in history, most by saving other people’s lives and some by even bringing down empires!
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#23. Geese Prevented The Fall Of The Roman Empire
While the Roman Empire fell in 476 A.D., it was nearly defeated a few centuries before, had it not been for the help of a flock of geese. It was 300 B.C. when the Romans were still building their powerful Empire when the Gauls launched a secret attack against the Roman capital during nighttime.
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As crazy as it sounds, as the Gauls secretly climbed up the hill to attack the Roman capital, neither the sentries nor their dogs heard the attackers. But can you guess who did hear them? That’s right, the geese did! The geese began honking and woke the Romans up, just in time for them to get armed and defend themselves from the Gauls.
#22. A Newfoundland Dog Saved Napoleon
Let’s take a trip down memory lane and go back to the time when the Allied forces defeated Napoleon and seized Paris. Napoleon was exiled to Paris, but allegedly, he tried to escape on a boat. Can you guess what happened next?
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Due to rough weather and strong winds, the emperor’s boat overturned and he nearly drowned to death. However, a local fisherman was sailing nearby, and his Newfoundland dog jumped into the water and helped keep Napoleon afloat until help arrived.
#21. Dolly The Sheep Was The First Cloned Mammal
Dolly the sheep will always be remembered as the first mammal to ever be cloned from an adult cell. Not only was this one of the most memorable scientific breakthroughs in history, but it also paved the way for future stem cell research and gave hopes for the revival of extinct species.
Photo: Courtesy of Britannica
Now enough science talk; you’re probably wondering why she was named Dolly in the first place! She was named after country singer Dolly Parton, and as a scientist of the time said, “Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn’t think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton’s“. Yeah, that’s as bizarre as it gets.
#20. The Greeks Lost A War Because Of A Monkey
Back in 1917 and in the middle of World War I, pro-German King Constantine I of Greece was overthrown and sent to exile, only to be replaced by his son Alexander. Unlike his father, the new King supported the Allied forces, thus guaranteeing French and British support for Greece in its conflict against Turkey.
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However, Alexander’s reign lasted for only 3 years, since he passed away from an infection after his pet monkey bit him. Constantine was crowned as King once again, so France and Great Britain withdrew their support. Without the support of the Allies, Greece was defeated by Turkey.
#19. A Pig Caused The Second Crusade
OK, the title may be an overstatement, but here’s what happened. It was the 12th century when King Philip of France was horseback riding on his farm when a black pig got on his way. He tripped over, fractured his limbs, and died the following day. His younger brother, Louis VII, inherited the throne. Does King Louis VII ring a bell?
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Well, Louis VII was a devout Catholic and led the Second Crusade against the Muslim population. The Crusade ended in the defeat of the French Army in 1148 when the Muslims gained control of Jerusalem.
#18. A Goat Saved 3 Soldiers In World War I
Ever heard of a goat named Sergeant Bill? A squad of Canadian soldiers smuggled this fuzzy creature into France in the middle of World War I. But why, you may wonder? Well, Sergeant Bill was their mascot and they took him everywhere.
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It is said that Sergeant Bill saved three soldiers’ lives by ramming them into a trench seconds before a shell exploded. The goat was awarded several medals and received various military decorations in honor of his service.
#17. A Horse Became Staff Sergeant During The Korean War
A horse known by the name Staff Seargeant Reckless is one of the most famous animals in the history of the U.S. Can you believe that this horse held official rank in the American military thanks to its contributions to the Korean War? Believe or burst!
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Sergeant reckless was actually a Mongolian mare who was bought by the Army for $250 from a South Korean stableboy. Reckless was trained to be a packhorse by the Anti-Tank Company and rose to fame after making 51 trips to the front lines, sending supplies and brining back wounded soldiers. No wonder she was promoted to staff sergeant!
#16. A Pidgeon Saved A Batallion In World War I
In 1918, during World War I, American troops were trapped in German territory that was being bombarded by Allied troops. They sent several messenger pigeons in an attempt to beg the Allied forces to stop the fire, but all of them were shot down by French soldiers. All but one, since a pigeon named Cher Ami escaped and managed to deliver a crucial message to the Allies.
Photo: Courtesy of National Air and Space Museum
The message read “Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake stop it“. She reached her destination injured and blind with the message loosely attached to her right leg. Thanks to the pigeon, the Allied troops halted the offensive and 194 American soldiers were rescued.
#15. A Bear Fought In The Korean War
During the early 1950s, just when the Korean War was at its peak, members of the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team decided they needed a mascot. Therefore, they headed to the zoo and asked for a bear, and were given an Asian black bear named Rocky. At that time, little did they know the furry mammal would become a war hero!
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The Combat Team put the bear into service and trained him to become… a paratrooper! Believe it or not, this giant animal carried out 5 parachute jumps during her time in the army. She retired from the military after being injured from enemy fire and she was then sent to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois.
#14. Rats Killed A Third Of Europe’s Population
As you’ve probably read in your middle school history books, during the mid-14th century, the bubonic plague wiped out over a third of Europe’s population. However, back then, nobody knew what the cause of the plague was.
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People came up with all sorts of explanations, from black cats to God, from planetary alignments to the Jews, and the list goes on. However, hundreds of years later, scientists discovered that what caused this deadly disease was rats. Can you believe such a small animal took 200 million lives?
#13. A Cat’s DNA Helped Solved A Crime
Nowadays, using human DNA to solve crimes is completely common, but what about animal DNA? Well, back in the 90s, DNA testing of animals was something unheard of… until the Canadian Police stepped in and made history.
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In 1994, the police found a jacket soaked in the victim’s blood, but it was also covered in white cat hairs. It happens to be that the parents of the suspect owned a white cat named Snowball, and after performing some DNA tests, the police proved that those hairs found on the crime scene belonged to Snowball. What happened then? The suspect was found guilty and served a 15-year sentence. Ever since then, animal forensics has been a thing.
#12. A Lion Helped Start The Conservation Movement
In 1956, George Adamson, a Kenyan conservationist, and his wife Joy adopted two orphaned lions. While they sent one of them to a zoo, they kept the other one as a pet before releasing her back to the wild. They named her Elsa, and she became one of the most famous pets in history.
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The couple wrote a book about their story, titled Born Free, and in 1960 it was adapted to film. The film was a box office hit and won 2 Academy Awards, which helped raise awareness on the importance of animal conservation. Even though Elsa lived for only 5 years, her legacy left a mark on the history of animal rights and preservation.
#11. A Sled Dog Saved A Whole Town
During the middle of the winter of 1925, a diphtheria epidemy broke out in the village of Nome, Alaska, putting the lives of dozens of children at stake. The problem was that the antidote could only be bought in Anchorage, which was over 500 miles away, and the village’s aircraft was broken. How would they ever make it to Anchorage on time with temperatures of -40 degrees?
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Impossible was nothing for a local named Gunner Kaassen, who with the help of his sled dogs, traveled all the way to Anchorage and came back in only 6 days. The sled dogs were led by a Siberian Husky named Balto, who became famous worldwide and is currently preserved at a museum in Ohio.
#10. Humans Exist Thanks To Worms
If I told you that human beings exist thanks to these slimy invertebrates, would you believe me? Well, believe or burst, because these yucky fellas are the ones responsible for fertilizing our planet’s soil for billions of years, thus creating suitable environmental conditions for us to raise crops.
Photo: Courtesy of BBC Focus
But this is not all! Recent studies have proven that worms might actually be able to do the same to the soil on Mars! So if we ever aim at inhabiting this planet, it’s pretty much up to worms whether we make it or not!
#9. An Elephant Who Contributed Greatly To Science
Echo the elephant is famous for being the most studied animal in the world. She was part of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, known for being the longest-running study of a mammal in history.
Photo: Courtesy of PBS
This research and conservation project was launched in 1973 and ran until 2009. Throughout all those years, Echo helped scientists gain greater knowledge of this amazing species. She was the herd’s matriarch and carried out some pretty amazing feats, such as guiding the herd during a terrible drought and saving one of her babies from a rival herd.
#8. A Pig Saved George Clooney
If it weren’t for a potbellied pig named Max, George Clooney wouldn’t be alive. That’s right! In 1994, a deadly earthquake hit Los Angeles early in the morning, taking the lives of 60 people. Hollywood legend Clooney was still in his bed, when this happened.
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Apparently, Max sensed the earthquake was coming and went crazy. According to the actor, his pig was trying to alert him to get out of the building as fast as possible, and so he did. Only a few moments later, the earthquake struck the city and his house was partly damaged.
#7. Bucephalus Fought For The Ancient Greek Empire For 3 Decades
Bucephalus is probably the most famous horse of all time, and here’s why. This massive black-coated creature was believed to be untamed, at least until he met Alexander the Great, the King of the Ancient Greek Empire.
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Legend has it that Alexander was the only one who could ever ride this black beast, and guess what? Bucephalus served his owner in countless battles for nearly 30 years. He tragically died in the Battle of the Hydaspes.
#6. A Chimpanzee Contributed To The Studies On Evolution
Back in the 60s, the world believed that the main difference between humans animals was their ability to use tools to solve problems. However, British scientist Jane Goodall proved this wrong after carrying out some fieldwork in the African rainforest.
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Goodall discovered a chimpanzee who was not only able to use tools, but also to make them. This was a groundbreaking discovery since it proved that humans and animals weren’t so different as science thought. The chimp was named David Greybeard and she helped out in different research projects.
#5. The Murder Of A Pig Triggered An Anglo-American War
Did you know there was once such thing as a Pig War? Back in the 1840s, the British (who were in control of Canada) and the Americans engaged in a diplomatic dispute over the San Juan Islands, which both countries claimed.
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However, tensions escalated when an American farmer was walking through his land and came across a pig that belonged to the British Army. He shot the poor boar, thus triggering the so-called Pig War. Even though this military conflict left no casualties, it took nearly 30 years before the boundary between the U.S. and Canada was finally settled.
#4. A Dog Helped Find Osama Bin Laden
Trained by the U.S. Navy SEALs, this beautiful Belgian Malinois named Cairo was part of the team responsible for tracking down Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Day after day, he would rappel from a helicopter and explore the area in search for traps or suspects.
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The exact moment in which Team Six discovered Bin Laden, Cairo was just a few meters away securing the perimeter. The following day, Cairo became the talk of the town, and even U.S. President Obama claimed he was looking forward to meeting the brave pooch.
#3. The First Animals To Return From Space Alive
In 1957, a Soviet pooch named Laika became the first animal to be sent to space, but sadly, she didn’t make it back alive. Just a few years later, in 1960, the Soviet Union launched the satellite Sputnik 5, which carried 2 dogs named Belka and Strelka.
Photo: Courtesy of Russia Beyond
These two beautiful little pooches became the first animals to be sent to space and come back alive. Their return gave the Soviets confidence to send humans into space too, achieved for the first time in 1961. As regards the dogs, they’re currently preserved in Moscow’s Memorial Museum of Cosmonauts.
#2. A Brown Bear Helped Win A World War II Battle
As crazy as it sounds, Rocky the Bear wasn’t the only war hero of its kind (slide back to #15!). Also in World War II, a Syrian brown bear named Wojtek was adopted by the Polish Army and was trained to become a soldier.
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This is no joke; in fact, Wojtek was even promoted to corporal! Because of his sheer strength, his task was to move crates of ammunition. In the Battle of Monte Cassino, he carried 100-pound crates of artillery shells, and it’s safe to say he was one of the main reasons why the Allies won the battle.
#1. A Dog Served In 17 World War II Battles
Ever heard of Sergeant Stubby? Well, this cute little pooch is the bravest animal in history, and here’s why. Stubby became the most decorated dog of World War II after serving the U.S. Army for one and a half years. Beat that!
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Stubby fought in 17 battles and, thanks to his acute sense of smell, he saved his regiment from surprise mustard gas attacks. He once detected a German spy and held him captive by his pants until American soldiers arrived.