30+ Times Human History Secretly Depended on Animals

The domestication of dogs is one of the most important moments in human history

Dogs were first domesticated around 14,000 years ago, after tribespeople threw scraps to wolves in an attempt to prevent them snacking on humans.

Our new companions proved vital to the development of agriculture - arguably the most important leap in human history - as they were able to keep livestock safe from other predators.

Geese saved Rome from Senone Celts

In 390 BC, an invading force of Senone Celts managed to sneak up on Rome during the night, scaling the Capitoline cliffs to gain entry to the sleeping city.

As the Celts climbed, they disturbed geese roosting on the cliffs, and the resultant commotion alerted the Roman guards who quickly raised the alarm.

Laika the dog changed space travel history

Conquering the frontier of space is one of humanity’s greatest achievements, but the first animal to orbit the Earth was actually a dog. 

The interstellar pooch was a Russian stray named Laika, and - while she sadly didn’t survive the trip - she will forever be remembered as a true pioneer.

A horse pioneered a new scientific method

Double-blind tests are now standard in scientific research, but the practice only began in 20th century Germany - and it's all thanks to a horse named Hans.

Hans was seemingly capable of astonishing feats of intelligence, but through the use of the first double-blind test it turned out he was just responding to cues from his master.

A messenger pigeon saved 194 soldiers in WWI

When Major Charles White Whittlesey found himself stranded behind enemy lines while fighting in France during WWI, his only hope of rescue was a messenger pigeon named Cher Ami. 

Astonishingly, Cher Ami managed to deliver Whittlesey's call for help despite getting shot mid-flight, and the Major was rescued along with his 193 men.

A chimp changed the definition of "human"

For a long time, scientists believed that the crucial difference between humans and other primates was our ability to use tools.

Then, in 1960, Jane Goodall documented a chimpanzee using a blade of grass to extract termites from their mound, proving that humans' use of tools wasn't so special after all.

A horse was responsible for the creation of the FDA

Up until 1902, anti-diptheria serum was derived from horses, as they are immune to the disease. Tragically, that year 13 children died after received serum from a horse infected with tetanus. 

The incident sparked a furore, and - in a bid to ensure something like it never happened again - the American government created the Food and Drug Administration.

A Yorkshire terrier helped an Air Force base during WWII

During The Second World War, an American Air Force base in the Philippines lost contact after a telegraph wire inside a pipe was damaged.

No one could fit inside the pipe to lay a new wire, but help was found in the form of Smoky, a Yorkshire terrier belonging to the base's commander.

Australia lost a war against emus

In one of the most farcical episodes of Australian history, the country's military waged a literal war against rampaging emus that were damaging crops. 

Despite sending in troops armed with Lewis guns, the Australians hardly put a dent in the emu population, and they were eventually forced to admit defeat.

A macaque monkey killed the King of Greece

In 1920, while Greece was embroiled in war with Turkey, King Alexander was bitten by a macaque while walking his dog. The bite turned septic, and Alexander was soon pronounced dead.

 When a struggle for succession left Greece in turmoil, Turkey capitalized on its enemy’s distraction to seize a decisive victory in the war.

Wolves temporarily stopped the fighting in WWI

The Eastern Front saw some of The First World War's most brutal fighting, with soldiers forced to contend with bitterly cold conditions in addition to the threat posed by enemies. 

As if that wasn't bad enough, wolves soon started showing up, at one point even bringing the fighting to a temporary halt as both sides fended off the predators.

Bison helped Europeans colonize North America

For thousands of years, huge herds of bison dominated America's Great Plains, and their movements left vast tracks through the vegetation.

These tracks were used by European settlers to build roads, which made it significantly easier for them to colonize North America.

The death of a pigeon sparked a conservationist movement

Passenger pigeons were once commonly found throughout America, but by the early 1900s they had been driven into extinction by hunting and habitat loss. 

Their plight galvanized a conservationist movement that laid the blueprint for all the environmental groups that have come since.

Queen Cleopatra was killed by a snake

One of the most iconic figures in Ancient Egyptian history, Cleopatra committed suicide after her military was defeated by Roman forces.

The Egyptian queen supposedly killed herself by allowing a highly venomous snake to bite her, which - as the kids would say - is pretty metal.

A pigeon's death ruined Nikola Tesla's career

One of the most luminous minds of the 20th century, Nikola Tesla was known to be extremely fond of his pet pigeons.

When his favorite pigeon unexpectedly dropped dead, Tesla was so shaken - believing it was an omen of his own impending demise - that he abandoned his scientific career.

The Galapagos mockingbird  led to the theory of natural selection 

Although Charles Darwin wasn't the first scientist to propose the theory of evolution, he was the first to come up with a convincing mechanism: natural selection.

Darwin came up with his theory while studying animals in the Galápagos Islands, when he noticed slight physical variations between mockingbirds on different islands.

Native American tribes were wiped out due to demand for beaver skins

When the Europeans began colonizing North America, they quickly began hunting beavers for their skins, which were incredibly valuable back in Europe.

Native Americans also hunted beavers, and the Europeans - worried about the competition - responded by brutally wiping out the wipes.

Fleas spread the Black Death

In just five apocalyptic years, the Black Death claimed around 50 million lives - more than half of Europe's population at the time. 

The terrifying affliction turned out to be bubonic plague, a horrible disease caused by a type of bacteria that is spread by fleas.

Montauciel the sheep was the first mammal to fly

The Montgolfier brothers built the first hot air balloon in 1783, with the invention representing humanity's earliest foray into flight. 

The brothers were reluctant to test their hot balloon themselves, so they launched a sheep named Montauciel into the sky. Montauciel survived, becoming the first creature to take artificial flight.

The Irish duke Robert de Vere was killed by a wild boar

One of Richard II's closest allies, Robert de Vere rode against the king's enemies in 1392, but he was swiftly defeated.

Although Robert escaped the battlefield, he was killed by a rampaging wild boar not long after. Without Robert to back him up, Richard found himself at the mercy of his rivals.

Asian honey bees helped defeat America in Vietnam

In addition to the constant threat of ambushes, booby traps and snipers, American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War also had to contend with another menace: Asian honey bees. 

The notoriously aggressive bees tormented the soldiers, and the effect they had on morale is often cited as one of the reasons the United States was ultimately defeated.

A cat made New Zealanders realize their ecological impact

After David Lyall moved to Stephens Island in 1854, his cat promptly wiped out all the wrens which had previously lived there undisturbed.

When Lyall returned to nearby New Zealand, his experience prompted all the other settlers to consider - and in some cases address - the ecological impact they were having.

A greyhound helped start the English Reformation

In 1530, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey visited Pope Clement VII on behalf of Henry VIII, who wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon. 

Unfortunately, Wolsey's greyhound bit the Pope, who promptly denied the request for divorce. Refusing to take no for an answer, Henry split from the Roman Church, initiating the English Reformation.

Sheep were the cause of the Highland Clearance

One of the darkest moments in Scottish history, the Highland Clearance saw thousands of farmers ruthlessly driven from their ancestral lands.

The reason? Wealthy aristocrats had realized they could make more profits from large herds of sheep, and they needed space for them to graze.

Cats also helped develop agriculture

While dogs kept predators away from livestock, cats made short work of the rodents that came to steal our crops.

In fact, experts believe that this is how cats came to be domesticated in the first place, as they moved in to human settlements.

Man-eating lions stopped a railway from being built

Over the course of several months in 1898, a pair of man-eating lions killed and devoured a total of 29 workers who were building the Kenya-Uganda railway.

Eventually, the remaining workers abandoned the project, and they only returned several months later after the responsible lions had been slain.

Mao Zedong’s disastrous war on sparrows

Believing that sparrows were stealing grain from farmers, Mao Zedong waged an all out war against the tiny birds, which resulted in their numbers plummeting. 

Without one of their main predators, insect populations exploded, causing vast devastation to crops and widespread famine.

Dogs saved the city of Nome from diptheria

In 1925, doctors in the remote Alaskan city of Nome realized that a diptheria breakout was imminent. To make matters worse, the nearest city with anti-diptheria treatments was 500 miles away. 

Volunteers set out with sled dogs, braving the harsh Alaskan winter and returning with the treatment just in time to prevent what would undoubtedly have been a catastrophic breakout. 

A turbot started the Battle of Copenhagen

In 1801, Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson wanted to launch a naval attack on the combined Danish-Norwegian fleet, which was stationed at Copenhagen. 

Admiral Hyde Parker was unwilling to sign off on the operation, until Nelson bribed him with a turbot. Parker ordered the British fleet to attack, and it scored a decisive victory.

William of Orange died after his horse tripped

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 ended with the Dutch prince William of Orange claiming the British throne after he defeated King James II.

William was widely loathed by his new subjects, and there were widespread celebrations when he died after his horse tripped on a molehill.

Roosters saved Greece from Persia

The Battle of Marathon saw the forces of Greece - led by General Themistocles - repel a Persian army of significantly greater numbers. 

Shortly before the battle, Themistocles spotted a pair of fighting roosters, which inspired him to deliver a rousing speech. The Greek soldiers fought furiously, driving the Persians back and securing a stunning victory.

Echo the elephant transformed the fortunes of her species

In 1973, scientists began studying an African bush elephant named Echo, and they carried on working with her for the next 33 years. 

Film crews regularly captured footage of Echo which, in turn, captured the imagination of the world. Elephant conservation programs were soon created, many of which still exist today.

A pig almost started a war

After America won independence from Britain, the residents of San Juan Island - who were a mix of British and American - lived in relative harmony for several years. 

The peace was nearly shattered, however, when a British farmer shot an American pig that had eaten some of his crops, very nearly sparking a war between the two nations.

A wolf galvanized the American conservationist movement

At the tail-end of the 19th century, Ernest Thompson Seton was hired to kill a pack of wolves that had been preying on livestock.

After realizing the final wolf was grieving its fallen family, Seton found himself unable to pull the trigger. He published his story, and it further galvanized the burgeoning conservationist movement.

King Henry I died from eating too many eels

Lampreys are singularly repulsive creatures, but King Henry I of England was absolutely obsessed with them, eating the blood-sucking eels at every opportunity. 

In fact, according to the king's personal doctors, Henry died after eating "a surfeit of lampreys." His death sparked a period of unrest that eventually escalated into a protracted, bloody civil war.

A dog saved Napoleon from drowning

Few figures altered the course of European history as dramatically as Napoleon Bonaparte, but the general nearly died before seizing control of France in 1815. 

While making the voyage from Elba back to his home country, Napoleon fell overboard and would have drowned, were it not for the actions of a Newfoundland dog which leaped in and saved him.

A pig inadvertently started the Second Crusade

In 1131, King Philip of France was riding through the streets of Paris when his horse tripped on a pig. 

Philip died in the fall, and his successor - the pugnacious Louis VII - promptly started the Second Crusade, which proved to be one of the bloodiest episodes in human history.

Horses completely changed the course of human history

While dogs and cats were vital to the start of human civilization, horses helped it spread throughout the world. 

The animals were first domesticated around 5,000 years ago, and they suddenly allowed people to travel long distances in comparatively short amounts of time, meaning new cities could be founded far and wide.

A pigeon saved 1,000 soldiers during WWII

While fighting in Italy in 1943, a British platoon seized control of the village of Calvi Vecchia from the Germans, not realizing an airstrike had already been called in. 

Fortunately, a carrier pigeon named G.I. Joe managed to relay news of the capture just in time, preventing what would have been a catastrophic incident of friendly fire.

Doves helped Fidel Castro claim power

After claiming victory in the Cuban Civil War, Fidel Castro faced the equally difficult task of winning over the Cuban public. 

As Castro was giving a speech in Havana, two doves flew down and landed on his podium. The moment was interpreted by Cubans as a sign, and they welcomed Castro as their leader.