The Journeys of 11 Amazing Animals
War heroes. Tough travelers. These animals covered long distances in their lifetimes, even traveling to outer space.
Bobbie, a Collie dog, walked 2,500 miles across the U.S. He was on a road trip with his family in 1923, and while they were traveling through Indiana, he became separated from them. They searched for him everywhere, but were forced to give up and return home, brokenhearted. And home was not next door. They lived in Silverton, Oregon. Six months later there was a scratching on the front door. A mangy dog with feet worn to the bone was on the doorstep. Bobbie!
Before humans dared leave Earth’s atmosphere, they sent a “guinea pig.” And by guinea pig, I mean a chimpanzee. In the U.S., the job was given to Ham, NASA’s first astronaut. He was trained for two years at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Using electric lights and sounds, Ham knew what tasks to do when. Ham’s journey, if successful, would pave the way for the first American human in space. And it was! On January 31, 1961, Ham was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. He entered suborbital flight, and splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean 16 minutes later. Ham quietly lived the rest of his life in the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
Christian the Lion: Back to the Wild
Photo credit: The Guardian
Once upon a time, two men walked into the exotic animal department at Harrod’s and saw a lion cub in a cage. (As recently as the 1960s, one could buy a lion from a department store!) It was love at first sight for John Rendall and Ace Berg. They named him Christian. The two worked at a furniture store in Chelsea, where they brought him up. Fast forward one year: the cat went from 35 pounds to 185, and he was still growing! Raising a lion in the city was difficult. His food was expensive (a lot of raw meat!), he needed more space and was a tad intimidating when walking down the street. Ace and John decided to reintroduce him to the wild. And so they went to Africa.
If there was ever a beloved ship’s cat, Trim was certainly one. Has any other captain written an essay about his cat? Captain Matthew Flinders adopted Trim in 1799, who was born aboard a ship, and thus instantly accustomed to the motion of the sea. So accustomed that, on occasion he fell into the water, and seemingly unfazed, swam back to the ship and climbed back aboard. Trim sailed around the world – perched in sailor’s hats and playing on the rigging – and is known for being the first cat to circumnavigate Australia. His only flaw, according to Flinders? Vanity. (He is a cat! What did you expect?)
Lin Wang was the oldest elephant to ever live. He was born in Asia in 1917. His early years were spent in military service during the Sino-Japanese War, which became a part of World War II. First, he served with the Japanese, but was captured by the Chinese in 1943. He and 12 other elephants were used to transport Chinese supplies. When the war ended in 1945, he and his elephant friends were marched back to China via Burma Road. It was a difficult journey. 6 elephants died. The remaining elephants continued their service, even performing in a circus to raise funds for famine relief. Eventually the group was dispersed, and Lin Wang ended up at the Taipei Zoo, where he lived until 2003. The average elephant lives to 60 years of age, but Lin Wang was 86.
Remember Balto? He’s the sled dog who made the heroic run to Nome, Alaska, where an outbreak of diphtheria was raging in January of 1925. Relays of 6 sled teams handed off the medicine that would save the town. Balto made the final leg of the journey, but he’s not the one who took the brunt of the trip. Togo guided his team for 250 miles (Balto ran 55), through temperatures as low as -50F, white-out blizzards and across the dangerous Norton Sound. As they crossed the Sound, the ice began to break, but Togo skillfully and swiftly navigated team and driver ashore. While Balto became the face of the “Great Race of Mercy,” sled drivers consider Togo to be the true hero.
No one knows what sent this hippo on her famous journey – searching for a lost mate, escaping the violence that killed her parents, or the call of her ancestral land – but it didn’t really matter. What fascinated people was that she kept going and going, from the St. Lucia Estuary to King William’s Town. Her journey was well-documented, from swimming at a Durban beach to bathing in a monastery pond to taking a little snooze on train tracks, she was a symbol of hope in a time of depression. Huberta started her trek in 1928 and traveled over a thousand miles, until 1931, when was shot to death by four farmers. Because she was protected wildlife and the public was so outraged, the farmers were put on trial. The verdict? Guilty! 25 pounds each, please. Huberta’s body was taxidermied and is now on view at the Amathole Museum.
“Flying rat” or “war hero”? The story of Cher Ami will make you think twice about pigeons. Cher Ami was a homing pigeon, trained for use in World War I. On October 3, 1918, 500 American soldiers were trapped. They were surrounded by the Germans and their only hope was to get word to the allies. One pigeon was sent with a message. It was instantly shot down. The next bird was also stricl. The last, Cher Ami, took off with yet another note attached: “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.” Initially, she successfully maneuvered through the rain of bullets, but was then hit hard. Somehow, she took flight again and arrived at her destination, 25 miles away in 60 minutes. She had been shot through the breast, blinded in one eye and lost one of her legs, but she saved the lives of 194 survivors. Pay your respects to her taxidermied body at the National Museum of American History.
Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 expedition to the South Pole was a miraculous disaster – a disaster because the ship became stuck in the ice; miraculous because they all survived. A carpenter named Harry McNish was hired for the journey, and with him came his cat, Mrs. Chippy. “Chippy” was the nickname for a British carpenter, and so McNish’s cat became known as Mrs. Chippy. (One month into the trip, they discovered that the cat was actually a male, but by then the name had stuck.) The crew found him an impressive feline, walking the inch-wide rails with ease and bold in his friendliness. But after disaster struck, Shackleton told the men to be ruthless about what they took with them. He ordered Mrs. Chippy shot. McNish never forgave Shackleton. If you visit McNish’s New Zealand grave, on it you will find a statue of Mrs. Chippy.
Rienzi was the horse of General Philip Sheridan. Without the aid of Rienzi, President Lincoln may not have been re-elected, then assassinated and the course of our country would have been drastically different! You see, morale was low among Sheridan’s troops at Shenandoah Valley, and Sheridan wasn’t there to rally them. On his way back from a meeting in Washington D.C., he caught wind of the impending loss and gave Rienzi a good kick. It is a testament to Rienzi’s endurance and strength that Sheridan got to his men in time. He successfully rallied them into a counterattack and the battle was won.
Stubby was a stray, who happened to wander onto a military training field, dramatically altering the course of his canine life. A certain Corporal Robert Conroy secretly adopted the mutt, and hid him aboard the troop ship headed for Europe. When Conroy’s commanding officer discovered the stowaway, Stubby saluted him. And thus he was inducted. Stubby served in the trenches of France. Stubby was able to warn the men of poison gas attacks, located wounded soldiers in no man’s land, and because of his acute hearing, he could hear artillery shells coming before his fellow soldiers could. When Stubby came home in 1918, he was a celebrity.