History books are full of amazing human exploits that have shaped the course of world events, but fame isn’t just the domain of mankind. Animals, too, have left tracks on human history.

Animals for the History Books

Here are the tales of a few notable animals:

Laika the dog

The 3rd of November, 1957 marked the day that Laika climbed on the Soviet spacecraft called Sputnik 2 (launched just a months after the famed trailblazing Russian satellite Sputnik I). Unfortunately, Laika died a few hours after blast off due to stress and extreme heat.

Cher Ami the pigeon

Cher Ami, a homing pigeon, was given by the British to U.S. forces in France during WWI. In October of 1918, Major Charles Whittlesey and his “Lost Battalion” of the 77th Infantry Division were boxed in on a hillside during the Battle of Argonne. Not only were the soldiers trying to protect themselves against enemy fire but also the friendly fire of fellow soldiers who did not know their location. Whittlesey dispatched messages with two different pigeons to try to summon help for their desperate situation. Both were shot down, leaving Cher Ami as the only hope of the beleaguered unit. Cher Ami, too, was shot but took flight again, successfully delivering her message and saving nearly 200 lives. When she returned to her post, medics were able to save her life, though she had been shot through the chest, blinded in one eye, and eventually lost her leg (replaced by medics with a wooden version). Upon her death, Cher Ami was preserved by taxidermists and acquired by the Smithsonian Institution.

Cairo the dog

This Belgian Malinois gained popularity in recent history by accompanying the U.S. Navy SEALs that tracked down Osama Bin Laden. According to reporters, Cairo helped SEALS secure the perimeter of Bin Laden’s compound and kept an eye out to alert and attack enemies.

The monkey who killed Alexander of Greece

In October of 1920, King Alexander of Greece was walking the grounds of his estate and found his dog in a scuffle with a monkey. While he was trying to break up the fight, another monkey attacked the king, biting him multiple times. The king’s wounds were cleaned but not cauterized as he did not consider them to be serious. Only a short time later, though, the wounds became infected and the king died of sepsis. A power vacuum accompanied by civil unrest followed Alexander’s death. King Constantine I (Alexander’s father) ultimately returned from exile to assume the throne. The Greeks lost the ongoing war with Turkey and many of the military advantages they had gained under Alexander. Winston Churchill summed up the scope of the bloodshed that followed Alexander’s death by calling the monkey’s aggression “a bite that caused the death of those 250,000 people.”

Rats and Fleas in the Middle Ages of Europe

Rats and fleas have been identified as the source of the Black Death pandemic. Rats were infected by a bacteria known as Yersinia pestis which was then transferred to humans by fleas. It’s estimated that the Black Death decimated 30 to 60 percent of Europe’s total population and influenced subsequent political and religious upheavals in Europe.

The history lesson: Don’t underestimate the ability of animals to tilt the world’s stage!