5 Fascinating Animals That Served in the Military

iStock / ilbusca
iStock / ilbusca

We’ve already told you the story of Sir Nils Olav and about 10 other animals that have received military-style honors, but few of those critters actually served in the military. Now it’s time to take a look at some of the bravest and most celebrated critters that have ever served their countries.

1. Judy

A liver and white pointer born in 1937, Judy, became the mascot of the British Royal Navy at a young age. In 1942, her ship was attacked by bombers and forced to beach on a nearby island that had little food and no apparent water sources. Judy disappeared for two days; when she reappeared, she immediately started digging on the coastline and uncovered a fresh water spring—saving the lives of her shipwrecked crewmates.

Eventually, Judy and the rest of the crew were rescued by a Chinese junk and were taken to Sumatra. During their attempt to reach Padang, they were taken as prisoners by the Japanese. The entire crew was sent to the war camp in Medan, making Judy the only dog registered as a Prisoner of War during WWII.

At the camp, Leading Aircraftman Frank Williams adopted Judy and shared his small daily ration of rice with the dog. Judy helped the prisoners by distracting the guards while they were administering punishments and warning her fellow inmates when snakes or scorpions were around. Williams helped save the dog by making an agreement with the camp’s Commandant that he could have one of Judy’s future puppies as long as he told his guards to leave the dog alone.

The men were transferred to Singapore in 1944 and while dogs weren’t allowed on the ship, Williams trained Judy to lay very still and smuggled her onboard in a rice sack. When the ship was torpedoed, he threw her from a portal hoping to save her life, before making his own escape. While Williams was recaptured before he saw Judy, he heard stories from others about a dog that helped rescue drowning men by bringing them pieces of floating debris.

Judy and Williams met again at their new prison camp, where they were forced to clear a path through the jungle to make way for a new railroad. Eventually, the guards sentenced Judy to death, but she managed to hide out in the jungle until hostilities ceased. After the war, Judy and Williams returned to the UK and Judy was given the Dickin Medal (the animal version of a Victoria Cross) in 1946. Williams was given the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals’ (PDSA) White Cross of St. Giles, their highest award possible for his protection of Judy.

2. Bamse

This heroic pup, whose name means “teddy bear” in Norwegian, eventually became a symbol for Norwegian freedom during WWII. Bamse was bought by Captain Erling Hafto in 1937 with the intent of turning her into a ship’s dog. Before the war, she would look after the Captain’s children, but when WWII broke out, Hafto’s ship was drafted into the Royal Norwegian Navy and Bamse went along for the ride.

After the Nazis invaded Norway, Bamse’s ship was one of only 13 Norwegian naval vessels that managed to escape to the UK. The ship was converted into a minesweeper and stationed in Montrose, Scotland for the rest of the war. While Bamse might not have helped search for mines very efficiently, when the ship wound up in battle, she would stand on the front gun tower of the boat wearing her own special metal helmet. More important to the troops, she lifted the spirits of the crew. She also wrangled them up at the end of the day to get them back on the ship before curfew: She rode the bus, with a bus pass attached to her collar, to her crew’s favorite bar, then went in and fetched them. When she couldn’t find her crewmates, she would ride the bus back to base alone.

Bamse wasn’t just loyal. She was also heroic: She once pushed a knife-wielding attacker into the sea, saving the life of a lieutenant commander; on another occasion, she jumped off the boat and dragged a sailor who had fallen overboard back to shore.

Given the Nazi occupation back home, it’s no surprise that Bamse quickly became mascot of all Free Norwegian Forces—they needed something positive and heart-warming to remind them why they kept fighting and couldn’t go home.  The PDSA even made her an official Allied Forces Mascot.

When she died in 1944, Bamse was given full military honors and her funeral was attended by hundreds of people. In 1984, she was posthumously awarded the Norwegian Norges Hundeorden for her war service and the PDSA awarded her their Gold Medal in 2006, making her the only animal from WWII to receive the honor. In 2006, a life-sized bronze statue of Bamse was erected in Montrose. In 2008, a biography about the pup was released, titled Sea Dog Bamse.

3. Theo

Theo was a bomb detection dog in the British Army’s 1st Military Working Dog Regiment. The English Springer Spaniel was born in 2009, trained in his duties and then assigned to his handler, Liam Tasker, in 2010.

The pair was sent to Afghanistan in September 2010 for Theo’s first tour. In March of 2011, Tasker and Theo were on patrol in the Nahri Saraj District when they were attacked by Taliban insurgents. Tasker was shot and killed by a sniper and upon returning to base, Theo suffered from a seizure and died. It is believed his death was caused by the stress he incurred by the attack and Tasker’s death.

Amazingly, while the duo was only in service together for about six months, they had already set a new record for bomb finds for their period of deployment and were considered the most successful working dog team in Afghanistan. As a result, Theo was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal in 2012.

4. Lin Wang

Think dogs are the only animals that can be useful during wars? Think again.

Lin Wang was an Asian elephant that served with the Chinese Expeditionary Force in WWII. He originally served the Japanese army by transporting supplies, but was captured by the Chinese in 1943 along with 12 other elephants. The Chinese used the elephants in a similar manner until they were recalled back to China in 1945.

After the war, Lin Wang continued to help the military by aiding in the building of war monuments and by performing a circus to help raise money for famine relief. Eventually, he was transferred to an army base in Kaohsiung, where he helped transport logs and perform other simple tasks.

In 1952, Lin Wang was given to the Taipei Zoo, where he met his lifelong mate, Malan. The elephant eventually became the most famous animal in Taiwan and in 1983, the zoo threw him a birthday party for what would approximately be his 66th birthday. His birthday was celebrated every year after that on the last Sunday of October. Lin Wang survived until 2003, making him around 86 years old (typically Asian elephants live to around 70 years).

While he may not have made a huge difference in the war, he was still a major celebrity in Taipei. His memorial service lasted several weeks and was attended by tens of thousands of people. In honor of his memory, Lin Wang was posthumously awarded the title of “Honorary Taipei Citizen” by the mayor.

5. Tirpitz

In WWI, Tirpiz started out in the Germany Navy—who kept the pig on hand as a source of fresh meat. He was onboard the SMS Dresden when it sank off the coast of South America in 1915. The German soldiers fled, but the poor pig was left on board to sink. Fortunately, Tirpiz was able to make its way to the top deck and swim clear of the ship. He immediately started heading straight for the Royal Navy ships and was eventually rescued and pulled onboard the HMS Glasgow.

The ship’s crew quickly adopted the pig, naming him after Alfred von Tirpitz, the German Admiral and Secretary of State of the Imperial Naval Office. The pig stayed on the ship for a year and was then placed in quarantine until he was adopted by the man who first saw him swimming to their boat. Tirpitz was then transferred to Whale Island Gunnery School for the rest of his career.

Unfortunately, the fact that Tirpitz was still just a pig eventually caught up to him and after the war ended, he was auctioned off as pork for charity, helping the British Red Cross raise 1,785 pounds. Later on, his stuffed head was donated to the Imperial War Museum.

There are thousands of animals who have served in the military, and this is only a small selection of the heroic critters worth reading about. If you feel like one particular military animal was egregiously left out of this list though, let us know in the comments. Who knows, maybe we will cover more military animals in a future article.

10 Colorful Facts About Cassowaries

iStock/BirdImages
iStock/BirdImages

All birds are living dinosaurs, but the dagger-clawed cassowary especially looks the part. Even wildlife biologists call cassowaries the world's most dangerous bird—and yes, it has been known to kill people. Here’s everything you need to know about the majestic and terrifying beast.

1. The southern cassowary is Earth's second-heaviest bird.

Scientists recognize three living species of cassowary—all of which live in New Guinea, northeastern Australia, and nearby islands. The dwarf cassowary is the smallest, with an average height of around 3 feet. The northern cassowary, an orange-throated behemoth, can stand nearly 5 feet tall. The southern cassowary is bigger than both at 5 foot 6 inches tall. The only two birds that grow taller are ostriches and emus. Adult southern cassowary females can weigh up to 157 pounds, and males 121 pounds, making them the second-heaviest birds on the planet behind ostriches.

2. Cassowaries have dangerous feet.

In the southern cassowary's Australian range, you might come across warning signs that read “Be Cass-o-wary.” Heed this advice. Normally, cassowaries are shy and reclusive, but they can become aggressive when threatened and strike back with powerful head-butts and pecks. Their most dangerous weapon is the razor-sharp claw on the middle toe of each foot, which, in southern cassowaries, grows to be 5 inches long. The birds deliver a series of downward kicks that have been known to break bones and cause fatal lacerations. 

3. Rearing cassowary chicks is the father's job.

Female cassowaries breed with several partners. After laying her eggs, she abandons them, at which point the males take over and incubates the eggs for at least 50 days. The fathers never leave the nest, not even to eat or drink. Once the eggs hatch, males spend the next nine months raising and defending the chicks. Males also teach the chicks how to forage so they can fend for themselves.

4. Cassowaries are surprisingly good jumpers.

What’s scarier than a 150-pound modern dinosaur with killer claws? One that can leap 7 feet off the ground. To get the most out of those toe daggers, cassowaries will sometimes jump feet-first at an attacker, with the claws slashing downward in midair. They’re also great swimmers and sprinters with a top running speed of 30 miles per hour.

5. Cassowaries have a spike hidden on each wing.

Cassowaries are closely related to emus and more distantly related to ostriches, rheas, and kiwis. All of these birds, known as ratites, are flightless. Cassowaries have small vestigial wings tipped with a small claw that probably serves no purpose.

6. Cassowaries are frugivores that also eat their own poop.

Wild cassowaries dine mainly on fruits and berries that fall to the ground in the rainforests they call home. A typical southern cassowary can eat up to 11 pounds of fruit a day, along with plenty of fungi and the occasional dead animal for some extra protein.

Cassowaries also hunt rodents, snails, and lizards. Poop is yet another item on the menu. Cassowary poop usually contains half-digested fruit, which still has plenty of nutritional value, so the birds devour each other’s droppings as well as their own. 

7. The function of their odd crests, or casques, is a mystery. 

Cassowaries sport royal-blue necks and shaggy black feathers, but their most distinctive feature is the helmet-like casque that sits above the eyes. The bony protrusion is covered with a sheath of keratin (the material that makes up your fingernails), and it begins to develop when the bird is around 2 years old. Scientists have long speculated, sometimes wildly, about its purpose. One theory is that casques help cassowaries push aside forest underbrush. The casques might also be used to attract the opposite sex.

A more interesting hypothesis involves how these birds communicate. Cassowaries emit very deep bellows—the lowest bird calls known to humans. Perhaps their casques amplify and broadcast these sounds by acting as a resonance chamber. Certain crested dinosaurs (like Parasaurolophus of Jurassic Park fame) may have produced calls the same way.

8. Cassowaries can live for decades (at least in zoos).

Naturalists don’t know how long a wild cassowary can expect to live. A few southern cassowaries have reached their 40th birthdays in captivity. In zoos, northern cassowaries can top that figure—one reached the age of 48 and another may have been as old as 61. The average lifespan for captive dwarf cassowaries is about 26 years.

9. Cassowaries have strange genitalia.

Both sexes have a pseudo-penis that isn’t connected to any of their internal reproductive organs. When cassowaries mate, the male ejaculates through his cloaca, an orifice at the base of the pseudo-penis. When they aren’t mating, males' pseudo-penis is turned inside out and retracted.

Such peculiar anatomy has given the cassowary a unique place in New Guinean culture and folklore. For example, the native Mianmin people tell stories about a human woman with a penis who somehow transformed into a cassowary. Another indigenous group, the Umeda, put on a regular ceremony called “ida.” A big event that lasts for two days and nights, the ritual involves a fertility dance which calls for two male dancers who represent a pair of cassowaries. Each player is given a heavy mask and is coated with charcoal from head to toe.

10. At least two unfortunate humans have been killed by cassowaries. 

To date, there have been only two verified reports of a cassowary taking human life. In April 1926, a cassowary fatally charged 16-year-old farmer Phillip McLean in north Queensland, Australia. More recently, a 75-year-old Florida man was killed by a cassowary he had kept as a pet at his exotic bird farm.

In 1999, Queensland Parks and Wildlife ranger Christopher P. Kofron analyzed 150 documented cassowary-on-human attacks. Twenty-two percent of attacks resulted from the bird defending itself, its eggs, or its chicks, 5 percent were triggered by somebody getting too close to the cassowary’s food, and 73 percent involved a cassowary that associated people with free meals. Many cassowaries in Australia had lost their natural shyness around humans thanks to people feeding them bananas and watermelon. Today, feeding a wild one is against the law, but the practice continues.

Notre-Dame's Rooftop Bees Survived the Historic Fire

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Following the fire that tore through Notre-Dame in Paris on April 15, fire officials shared that the church's bell towers, stone facade, and many of its precious artifacts had escaped destruction. But the building's centuries-old features weren't the only things threatened by the blaze: The three beehives on the roof of the cathedral were also at risk. Now, CNN reports that the bees of Notre-Dame and their homes have survived the historic fire.

Notre-Dame's beehives are a relatively recent addition to the site: They were placed on the first-floor rooftop over the sacristy and beneath one of the rose windows in 2013. Nicolas Geant, the church's beekeeper, has been in charge of caring for the roughly 180,000 Buckfast bees that make honey used to feed the hungry.

Most people weren't thinking of bees as they watched Notre-Dame burn, but when the fire was put out, Geant immediately searched drone photographs for the hives. While the cathedral's wooden roof and spire were gone, the beehives remained, though there was no way of knowing if the bees had survived without having someone check in person. Geant has since talked to Notre-Dame's spokesperson and learned that bees are flying in and out of the hives, which means that at least some of them are alive.

Because the beehives were kept in a section 100 feet below the main roof where the fire was blazing, they didn't meet the same fate as the church's other wooden structures. The hives were likely polluted with smoke, but this wouldn't have hurt the insects: Bees don't have lungs, so smoke calms them rather than suffocates them.

Notre-Dame's bees may have survived to buzz another day, but some parts of the building weren't so lucky. France has vowed to rebuild it, with over $1 billion donated toward the cause so far.

[h/t CNN]

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