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Toni Barros via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

6 Animals Who Made History and Where to See Them

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Toni Barros via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Animals have always been entwined with human history—helping us make leaps in science, send vital messages in war, and lay the groundwork for space travel, among many other contributions. Some of these historic animals, or at least their remains, can still be found around the world. Here’s where to see six of the most interesting:

1. DOLLY, THE WORLD’S FIRST CLONED SHEEP

Dolly the sheep (named after the fabulous Dolly Parton) was the first animal to be cloned from an adult cell, making her the most famous cloned animal in the world. Before Dolly, a number of other animals had been cloned from the DNA of embryo cells; Dolly was special because she was cloned from an adult cell, proving that whole clones could be created from a single adult cell that had one particular function—a huge leap for science.

Dolly was born in 1996 and lived out a lovely existence at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She gave birth to a number of lambs, proving that clones can reproduce naturally. Unfortunately, the cloning process slightly shortens the chromosomes, and since Dolly was cloned from a 6-year-old sheep her lifespan was somewhat shortened. She was put to sleep in 2003 after suffering from arthritis and lung problems. Since Dolly, many more clones have been created (horses, cows, mice, donkeys and even cats), as the process becomes better understood.

Where to see Dolly: After Dolly died she was stuffed and is now on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

2. CHER AMI, HERO OF WORLD WAR I

Cher Ami was a brave carrier pigeon who delivered messages for the U.S. Army Signal Corps in France during World War I. One of 600 Black Check carrier pigeons working for the Signal Corps, Cher Ami delivered 12 vital messages across the battlefields of Verdun, France. On her last mission, on October 4, 1918, the plucky pigeon was hit by enemy fire and suffered an injury to her breast and leg, but still she flew on, returning to her loft and delivering the crucial message that brought rescue and relief to 194 soldiers from the 77th Infantry Division who had become isolated from their comrades without food or ammunition and were under friendly fire. Cher Ami was sent back to Fort Monmouth in America but died in 1919 from her injuries. For her brave service she was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with palm.

Where to see Cher Ami: The stuffed body of Cher Ami (replete with her damaged leg) can be seen at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington D. C.

3. HAM, THE FIRST CHIMPANZEE IN SPACE

NASA via Wikimedia // Public domain

On January 31, 1961 Ham the Chimpanzee became the first hominid to go into space when he blasted off from Cape Canaveral. Ham had been captured in Cameroon and was one of 40 chimps taken to the Holloman Air Force Base for training and selection. Ham was trained to pull a lever when he saw a flashing light, a task which he successfully carried out during his 16-minute, 39-second-long flight. After his pioneering spaceflight, Ham went to live out the rest of his 17 years at the National Zoo in Washington D.C.

Where to see Ham: Ham’s grave is at the International Space Hall of Fame in New Mexico.

4. DODO, A STORY OF EXTINCTION

The sad story of the dodo is one of the most famous of all extinctions. The large flightless birds were endemic to the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Discovered by Europeans in 1598, they were at first hunted for their meat, but since they were not very tasty, their decline was probably more likely caused by the cats, dogs, and rats that the Europeans also introduced to the island. By 1680 the poor dodo was extinct. Specimens of the bird were much in demand in Europe, tempting collectors to bring dodo remains back home with them.

One of the most famous specimens was the dodo of celebrated 17th century collector John Tradescant. It was first displayed in his London museum before becoming part of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, where the mummified head and foot are still on display today, providing the only soft tissue specimen (crucial for DNA research) in the world.

Where to see dodo bones: No complete dodo specimen exists, but a dodo skeleton can be seen at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

5. THE BEAR WHO INSPIRED POOH

Royal College of Surgeons in London

There once was a Canadian black bear named Winnipeg who lived at London Zoo—and one day a man named A. A. Milne brought his young son, Christopher Robin, to see it. The boy was enchanted and fed the little bear honey, then named his own teddy bear Winnie in her honor. This encounter inspired A. A. Milne to create the now-beloved character of Winnie the Pooh, a bear who captured the hearts of many since the first story in which he featured was published in 1926. The real Winnipeg (originally named for the Canadian city) remained a favorite with Londoners and was treated with honey and sweets by her many admirers (a fact proven by the bear’s skull, which shows evidence of serious dental decay) until she died in 1934.

Where to see the real Winnie the Pooh: Winnipeg’s skull was recently rediscovered and is now on display to the public at the Hunterian Museum in London.

6.  MARENGO, NAPOLEON'S HORSE AT WATERLOO 

Nick-D via Wikimedia //CC BY-SA 3.0

Back in the days when battles were fought on horseback, a reliable steed was key to victory. Napoleon is said to have used 130 horses over 14 years, but his most famous was Marengo, the horse he is thought to have ridden into the Battle of Waterloo (among other earlier battles). Marengo was captured by the British after Napoleon surrendered. He lived about 16 years after the battle, and his skeleton was preserved after his death; you can now see it in London. 

Marengo is not the only one of Napoleon’s horses on display—the Musée de l'Armée in Paris displays the taxidermied remains of Vizir, the Arabian stallion that accompanied Napoleon to Saint Helena.

Where to see Marengo: He is now on display at the National Army Museum in London.

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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