40 Animals that Changed History
40 Animals that Changed History

40 Animals that Changed History

Tim Flight - November 5, 2019

40 Animals that Changed History
Echo (left) and her family. Pinterest

7. Echo the elephant became a celebrity in the late 20th century, and her story has protected elephants ever since

Like David Greybeard, Echo the elephant transformed how we view her species. Scientists began studying Echo, an African Bush Elephant (the largest living land mammal), in 1973. They studied Echo for the next 33 years, garnering pioneering insights into elephant behavior. Echo’s most startling contribution to history, however, came from her celebrity. Many documentary crews filmed her with the herd she led, and altered permanently how ordinary people viewed elephants. Echo’s celebrity gave crucial momentum to the elephant conservation movement. Unwittingly, Echo’s life secured the future of her species in Africa and improved the welfare of captive elephants.

40 Animals that Changed History
Why on earth would anyone eat lampreys?! Britannica

6. King Henry I of England died after eating ‘a surfeit of Lampreys’, causing a civil war

After Henry I’s male heir died in 1120, he spent many years trying to have another. When success looked increasingly unlikely, he made the controversial move of naming his daughter, Matilda, as his heir. He got all his barons to swear loyalty to her and thought the matter settled. In November 1135, Henry followed a day’s hunting with a hearty dinner. But after gorging himself on lampreys, an eel-like fish, he died. The official cause of death: ‘a surfeit of lampreys’. Perhaps inevitably, many barons broke their promise to support Matilda, and a long and brutal civil war erupted.

40 Animals that Changed History
Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David, France, 1801. Wikimedia Commons

5. A Newfoundland dog saved Napoleon from drowning in 1815

In 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, was in exile on Elba, off the coast of Italy. He’d been sent there in 1814 as part of the Treaty of Fontainbleau, brokered with Revolutionary France’s many enemies. But he couldn’t stay away from France for long, and escaped Elba within a year. Sailing over rough seas on the Inconstant, Napoleon fell overboard. Luckily for him, a Newfoundland dog jumped in after him, and saved his life. The dog’s intervention meant Napoleon seized control of France once more, albeit for a brief few months. Defeat at Waterloo that June forced his abdication.

40 Animals that Changed History
Fidel Castro with one of the handy doves, 1959. IB Times

4. Two doves helped Fidel Castro consolidate power in 1959

The bloody Cuban revolution ended early on New Year’s Day 1959. A week later, the revolutionaries’ leader, Fidel Castro, made his first speech in Havana. He faced the hard task of inspiring Cubans weary after years of civil war. Just as he promised to solve all of Cuba’s problems without shedding a drop of blood, a miracle happened. Two white doves, international symbols of peace, landed on him and the podium! To superstitious Cubans, this seemed a divine sign. Historians are skeptical about how ‘accidental’ this really was. Either way, Castro became Prime Minister soon afterward, and led Cuba until 2008.

40 Animals that Changed History
The Uffington White Horse, a chalk figure dating to between 1740 and 210 BC. National Trust

3. The domestication of the horse led to the spread of civilization

Humans first domesticated the horse 5,000 years ago on the Russian Steppes. Things have never been the same. The speed and strength of the horse effectively shrunk the world, making long journeys possible. Produce could be carried long distances and sold. Increased mobility brought different peoples into contact, and with this came war and expansion. Culture spread this way, and riding horses itself became a cultural activity. Hunting and herding became far easier on a horse’s back. Although we have cheaper and more efficient transport today, where would we be without 5,000 years of horsepower?

40 Animals that Changed History
King Philip of France is killed by a pig, Paris, c.1332-1350. British Library

2. A pig killed King Philip of France, and his successor launched the disastrous Second Crusade

King Philip (1116-31) ruled France with his father, Louis the Fat (c.1081-1137). Like many teenagers, he refused to listen to his dad, or anyone else, really. One day, as he rode his horse along the River Seine in Paris, a little black pig ran out from a dung heap. Philip’s horse tripped over it and crashed to the ground. Philip hit his head, and never regained consciousness. Louis VII succeeded Philip and helped launch the Second Crusade, in which many thousands of people died horribly. If only that ruddy pig had stayed put in the dung heap…

40 Animals that Changed History
Asian Honey Bees swarm around a tree. DAF

1. The Asian Honey Bee helped the Vietcong fight off the US invasion in the Vietnam War

The Asian Honey Bee is the stuff of nightmares. Measuring up to 2cm long, they are notoriously aggressive. As well as having a painful sting, they can also cause bowel gangrene and even death. During the Vietnam War, US soldiers found them a menace that only compounded the horrific conditions in the jungle. Bee attacks were so common rumors spread that the Vietcong were moving hives to routes taken by US infantry. Whether they did or not, the bees in their own way helped to fight the war, lowering US morale and making life even tougher for the beleaguered troops.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Chaline, Eric. Fifty Animals That Changed the Course of History. Richmond, ON: Firefly, 2011.

Coren, Stanley. The Pawprints of History: Dogs and the Course of Human Events. New York: Free Press, 2002.

Hambler, Clive. Conservation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Lee, Mackenzi. The History of the World in Fifty Dogs. New York: Abrams Image, 2019.

Lemish, Michael G. War Dogs: Canines in Combat. London: Brassey’s, 1996.

Lockwood, Jeffrey A. Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Roberts, Alice M. Tamed: Ten Species that Changed our World. London: Hutchinson, 2017.