Most Famous Wild Animals of All Time
Certain wild animals have captured the imaginations and hearts of people worldwide, earning them a place in the history books. They have become symbols of conservation, awe, and wonder, and their stories continue to inspire and educate.
From a nearly 200-year old tortoise to a mountain lion living alone in the city of Los Angeles, these famous wild animals have left an indelible mark on our understanding of the natural world and the importance of preserving it.
Jessica the Hippo
Hippos are one of the most dangerous animals on earth, but Jessica is just a member of the family. She became well-known for her relationship with a South African couple, Tony and Shirley Joubert, who found her orphaned and injured in 2000. The couple nursed her back to health and she developed a deep connection with them.
Now, 23, while she does visit with other hippos in the area, she always comes back to the Jouberts, who feed and shelter her. Their home is open for visitors to meet Jessica and give her her favorite drink, rooibos tea.
Harambe the Gorilla
Harambe was a western lowland gorilla who came to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden in 2014 after successfully living at another zoo for 15 years.
He didn't last long there. In 2016, a toddler fell into his enclosure, and Harambe climbed down to investigate. While some people felt he was protecting the child, video also clearly shows him dragging the boy by the leg through a moat. Zookeepers felt they had no choice but to shoot Harambe to save the child's life.
Harbembe became the subject of many of meme as he and the zoo gained notoriety. His death also sparked discussions about the treatment and conservation of gorillas in captivity, as well as debates on parental responsibility at zoos.
The Cincinnati Zoo has since enclosed its gorilla exhibit.
Tilikum the Killer Whale
For better or worse, Tilikum brought attention to the plight of killer whales in captivity.
The male orca gained notoriety due to his involvement in several tragic incidents at marine parks. Tilikum's most notorious incident occurred in 2010 at SeaWorld Orlando when he killed trainer Dawn Brancheau during a live show; however, he had been involved in two deaths prior to Brancheau's.
His life was the subject of the 2013 documentary "Blackfish," which shed light on the physical and mental toll that captivity brings on orcas who may show aggressive and dangerous behavior as a result.
Tilikum returned to performing in 2011. He was never released back into the wild and died in captivity in 2017.
Ham the Chimp
Ham the Chimp was the first first hominid in space. He was trained by NASA as part of its efforts to send living creatures into space and test the effects of space travel on them.
Ham blasted off on January 31, 1961 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. His was a suborbital flight that lasted about 16 minutes. During that time, he was monitored by scientists as he performed simple tasks onboard the spacecraft.
He short time in flight showed NASA that humans could function perfectly well in space. Within a few months of Ham's flight, Alan Shepard made his own suborbital spaceflight.
Ham lived out his life at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and later at the North Carolina Zoo until his death in 1983.
Sure, there are imitators, but there's only one Punxsutawney Phil. The famous groundhog "lives" in a tree stump, Gobbler's Knob, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, a town known for its annual Groundhog Day tradition, which is attended by thousands.
Every year on February 2nd, Phil emerges from his burrow — if he sees his shadow, it means there will be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't, it will be an early spring.
Even if you miss Groundhog Day, you can still visit Phil every other day of the year. The rest of time he lives at "Phil's Burrow," a climate-controlled terrarium built into the Punxsutawney library.
Jonathan the Tortoise
Meet Jonathan, the oldest living land animal. Born sometime around 1832, he lives on the island of Saint Helena, a British Territory in the South Atlantic. He is a Seychelles giant tortoise and has lived over 190 years. His species was brought by sailors from the Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean to Saint Helena as a source of food.
How Jonathan escaped his fate as a sailor's meal is lost to history, but he's lived on the island since the 1880s and is popular tourist attraction. While he does have poor eyesight, he's generally healthy and happy, spending his days grazing on grass or in the company of the island's younger tortoises.
Cher Ami the Pigeon
Cher Ami was one of 600 pigeons who served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps in France during WWI. On his last mission in October 2018, he was shot while delivering a message. He made it back to base without a leg, but the message he carried was still intact.
The Army learned that the "Lost Battalion" of the 77th Infantry Division was alone behind enemy lines and in dire need of help. Nearly 200 hundred soldiers were saved as a result of Cher Ami's bravery. The bird later received the French Croix de Guerre for his heroism.
Cher Ami died as a result of his his wounds at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, on June 13, 1919.
Cecil the Lion
Cecil the Lion gained fame in death, but was well-known and beloved around his home of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe for years. He was a favorite among tourists and photographers due to his striking appearance and friendly demeanor.
In 2015, he was illegally hunted and killed by an American trophy hunter and dentist named Walter Palmer. His death sparked outrage around the world but also led to a discussion and renewed focus on trophy hunting and wildlife conservation.
P-22 the Mountain Lion
Los Angeles has always loved P-22, and the rest of the world got to know him at the end of his life. The famous mountain lion lived alone in the middle of the city in Griffith Park. He initially gained widespread attention because, to get there, he crossed two major freeways to establish his territory.
For years, he lived off deer and smaller animals and would sometimes make his way out of the park and into residential areas, where locals would be thrilled to catch him on camera. However, in his old age, he grew weaker and had failing eyesight. He was hit by a car close to his home of 12 years in December 2022 and eventually had to be euthanized by wildlife officials.
P-22 made impact on his species in life and in death and drew attention to the obstacles facing urban wildlife. His journey inspired the construction of the Wallis Annenberg Crossing, a bridge linking the Santa Monica Mountains to the Simi Hills, which will allow wildlife to avoid highways and have more room to roam.
The movie, "Cocaine Bear" was based on true events. In 1985, a black bear in Kentucky inadvertently ingested massive amounts of cocaine that drug smugglers dropped from a plane.
However, the real bear didn't go on a murderous, drug-fueled rampage as his fictional counterpart did. This bear made it to Georgia, where his body was found in the Chattahoochee National Forest.