Posted by: maboulette | December 18, 2011



We’re frequently told that a dog is man’s best friend — but not if that man happened to be Osama bin Laden. One of the overlooked story lines in the remarkable operation carried out by the American commando team that went to Pakistan and killed the al-Qaeda leader in the early hours of May 2 is the role played by the only member on four legs. Wearing canine armor, the trained military dog, believed to be either a German shepherd or a Belgian Malinois, was attached to a human SEAL and lowered from a helicopter into the compound in Abbottabad. He had the ability to sniff out hidden explosives and find any secret rooms of bin Laden’s. And if any of the bad guys had tried to escape, the dog could have easily given chase, seeing as a shepherd or a Malinois runs twice as quickly as humans. 

If the dog ever needs a reference, it doesn’t get much better than having the following remark on your résumé, courtesy of General David Petraeus, then commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan (he’s also said the military needs more dogs): “The capability they bring to the fight cannot be replicated by man or machine.”


Born at the Berlin Zoo in December 2006, the cuddly cub Knut, dubbed Cute Knut, quickly became the most famous polar bear in the world. And when he died tragically this year at the age of 4, his passing made headlines around the world. 

His fame stemmed from Knut’s mother, who rejected him at birth, leading him to be reared by zookeeper Thomas Dorflein (Knut was the first polar bear to be born and raised at the Berlin Zoo in 33 years). The apotheosis of his fame was perhaps when he shared a Vanity Fair cover with Leonardo DiCaprio in 2007, featuring a photo of Knut taken by Annie Leibovitz. His death was (sadly) worthy of a movie, especially since video was taken. Knut collapsed into a pool of water in his enclosure, while hundreds of visitors watched in horror. Pathology experts said Knut’s cause of death was drowning, following an apparent seizure due to his suffering from encephalitis, a swelling of the brain most likely triggered by an infection. “We all held him so dearly. He was the star of the Berlin zoos,” Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit said.


Sixty-two-year-old exotic-animal collector Terry Thompson set his animals loose at his 73-acre (30 hectare) Muskingum County Animal Farm in Zanesville, Ohio, on Oct. 18. State deputies were forced to take drastic action, and when the dust settled, there were 49 deaths, including those of baboons, black bears, lions and rare Bengal tigers. Thompson turned a gun on himself, taking his own life. Authorities defended their decision to shoot and kill the animals, saying it was for the protection of the public. It’s still not known why Thompson released the animals, though there has been speculation that he was in over his head and having difficulties caring for the animals.


If you were to play word association with either Libya or Afghanistan in 2011, chances are that the word zoo wouldn’t make the top of the list. But both Tripoli and Kabul’s zoos played a small if significant part in the broader story. In Libya, the zoo was located in the former Gaddafi stronghold of Abu Salim, where the employees and — of course — the animals had to handle considerable food and water shortages. Ibrahim Basha, the head keeper for 24 years, said the Gaddafi regime frequently failed to make monthly payments, meaning that it owed the company that provided the animals’ food more than $1.5 million. Even one of Gaddafi’s sons, Saadi (who owned nine of the zoo’s 19 lions and loved to check on their progress), stopped visiting. As for the zoo’s employees, only 15 of the 100 were willing to work. 

In Kabul, it could be argued that the worst was already over. Following the collapse of the communist regime in 1992, the Afghan civil war decimated the zoo; with nobody to feed them, the better part of 400 animals died of hunger. Yet the rise of the Taliban (it came to power in 1996) stopped the bleeding as the insurgents built new outer walls and gave food to the surviving animals. What’s more, China and Pakistan have given animals as diplomatic gifts over the years, bolstering the number of both creatures and visitors, who, admittedly, visit as much for the shade afforded by the zoo as by a desire to spend time with the animals.


Dogs haven’t just been used in volatile situations this year; they have wanted to pay their respects in sensitive ones too. Thirty-five-year-old Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson was one of 22 SEALs (and among 30 Americans) who tragically lost their lives when their Chinook helicopter was shot down by Afghan insurgents in August. At Tumilson’s funeral, his beloved dog Hawkeye (known to Tumilson’s family and friends as his “son”) lay at the foot of the casket throughout the ceremony. The heartbreaking image of Hawkeye that was taken by Tumilson’s cousin Lisa Pembleton is surely one of the most poignant of the year.

 “I took this picture, and that was my view throughout the entire funeral,” she said. “I couldn’t not take a picture.” Hawkeye is now being cared for by a friend of Tumilson’s, but it’s evident that he’ll never forget his previous owner.


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