As Footage Manager I get to watch and catalogue all manner of unusual and varied historical footage, making me well placed to find the right pieces of footage for the right projects. One of our recent (and less specific) requests had me looking for footage of “animals that changed history”.
I’ll admit that I rolled my eyes at first, expecting to find one tenuously relevant clip at most, but I eventually realised that we have more game-changing animals in the archive than I’d originally thought. Here are some of my favourites…
The Stars of Early Motion Picture
Animals featured heavily in the early days of motion picture experimentation such as in Eadweard Muybridge’s pioneering Animal Locomotion series from 1877/8. Boxing animals seemed to be a particular subject of interest in the 1890s, with Edison’s boxing cats and Skladanowsky‘s boxing kangaroo.
Animals probably were hurt during the making of these early films, but their contributions to one of the most important developments in modern history are significant and have been immortalised on film.
Laika was a Soviet space dog who became the first animal to orbit the Earth. A stray dog from the streets of Moscow, she was selected to be the occupant of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 that was launched into outer space on November 3, 1957. She sadly didn’t survive the mission.
Not to be overlooked though, were Belka and Strelka, the cheerful dog duo who would captain the next orbital flight in 1960. They returned safely to a showering of affection and sausages, and remained beloved national celebrities, even eclipsing their human peers.
Animal War Heroes
Countless animals have served, died and survived in wars throughout history, heroically but unsuspectingly going into battle carrying soldiers, detecting mines, delivering messages and providing morale-boosting companionship.
Dogs were even trained to transport wounded soldiers from the battlefront, and guard missiles. They made a vital contribution to every war effort and saved innumerable human lives. From the steeds of the Imperial Camel Corps, to the trusty danger-smelling dogs risking their lives with every sniff…animals of the war: I salute you!
Then there were the animals whose fame was merely a result of being fabulous, unusual, or exotic. “It” animals, if you like, who perhaps didn’t change the course of history, but they certainly made it more interesting. Meet Bobo the Gorilla who in the early 50s was adopted by the Lowman family, when his mother was killed in Africa, and raised as a human.
Queenie the elephant entertained the masses in 1958 with her unlikely water-skiing skills (although one suspects she didn’t have much of a say in this…).
And last but not least, we have Brumas the famous polar bear. Brumas was the first baby polar bear to be successfully reared in the United Kingdom. Raised at Regent’s Park Zoo in London, she became a major celebrity and was largely responsible for the zoo recording its all-time best annual attendance. That’s one po-polar bear!
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