Animals — whether they’re acting bravely, behaving recklessly, or just being themselves — helped shape the history of the world. Dogs have boldly gone forth to do whatever their humans ask, whether it was journeying into outer space or occupying the battlefields of war. Other animals have taken up paintbrushes and acted on the silver screen. However, they can also be destructive, as some animals have had notorious roles in historical and political events — sometimes with catastrophic results. From the minute in size to the more massive, here are some of the animals that, for better or worse, have changed the world.
12. Laika the Space Dog
Laika was a little stray dog scooped up off the streets of Moscow as a potential canine to go into outer space on the Russian Sputnik spacecraft. Her participation helped paved the way for humans to go into orbit and return safely to earth. Laika was celebrated on posters, postcards, and stamps. Sadly, the mission was intended to be a one-way trip for her, as the Russians intended to euthanize Laika while she was in space. It was later revealed that she died shortly after her launch due to overheating.
11. Congo the Artist
When Picasso likes someone else’s paintings well enough to show them in his studio, the artist must really be talented. That’s what happened to some of the paintings produced by Congo, the chimpanzee. He was a prolific painter, turning out over 400 pieces by the time he was four years old. His work roused deeper human interest in exploring the intelligence of chimpanzees, their artistic capabilities, and their ability to apply simple logic to solving problems.
10. The Rats and Fleas Responsible for the Black Plague
Far worse than the little mischief-makers you sometimes see on your dog, the fleas that spread the Black Death in the Middle Ages decimated at least a third of the population of Europe. While up to 25 million people were dying, panic gripped the continent, as no one knew that the disease came from fleas biting the rats that carried it. Even though scientists now know the cause, the plague still occasionally pops up around the world, even in America.
9. Keiko the Orca Whale
The “Free Willy” movies of the 1990s helped bring widespread attention to animal welfare issues. For Keiko, the orca whale who starred in “Free Willy,” the story closely aligned with the events of his own life. The whale was originally captured in 1979. When Keiko was discovered in a Mexico City aquarium, he was in poor health. The release of “Free Willy” in 1993 engendered an outcry and a project to free him. After being nursed back to health in Oregon, Keiko was taken to Iceland in 1998. The orca was freed four years later, though after being released, Keiko continued to seek human contact. He passed away due to suffering from pneumonia in 2003.
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