Before their journey westward in America in 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were advised by Thomas Jefferson to “observe the animals” and especially “the remains and accounts of any which may be deemed rare or extinct.” One of the animal fossils that the expedition sent back is believed to have been of a dinosaur, dating from the Cretaceous Period.
Llamas, alpacas, guinea pigs, turkeys, and ducks were among the animals indigenous to the New World that Christopher Columbus encountered on his second voyage there in 1493. On that trip he introduced from the Old World horses, pigs, cattle, sheep, and goats. “A large whale was taken betwixt my land, butting on the Thames and Greenwich,” wrote London dweller John Evelyn in his diary on June 3, 1658. “It was killed with a harping iron, struck in the head, out of which spouted blood and water by two tunnels, and after a horrid groan, it ran quiet on shore and died.”
According to a study by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute published in 2013, there are in the U.S. around 84 million cats with owners and between 30 and 80 million feral cats, most of which are hunters. The Institute estimates that felines in the latter group kill between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds a year and around 15 billion mammals.
The first known “laboratory rat” was used in 1828 in an experiment about fasting. Guinea pigs have been put to scientific use since the 1780s, when Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier measured their heat production. The first recorded usage of guinea pig to liken a person or a thing to a test subject was in 1891, by George Bernard Shaw in his book The Quintessence of Ibsenism.
According to Diogenes Laërtius’ third-century Lives and Opinions of the Eminent Philosophers, Plato was applauded for his definition of man as a featherless biped, so Diogenes the Cynic “plucked the feathers from a cock, brought it to Plato’s school, and said, ‘Here is Plato’s man.’ ” When asked about the origin of his epithet, cynic deriving from the Greek word for dog, Diogenes replied that it was given to him because he “fawns upon those who give him anything and barks at those who give him nothing.”
“A seaman in the coach told the story of an old sperm whale, which he called a white whale, which was known for many years by the whalemen as Old Tom, and who rushed upon the boats which attacked him, and crushed the boats to small chips in his jaws, the men generally escaping by jumping overboard and being picked up,” recorded Ralph Waldo Emerson in his journal on February 19, 1834, adding that the whale “was finally taken somewhere off Payta Head by the Winslow or the Essex.” It was the wreck of the Essex in 1820 from which Herman Melville drew inspiration for Moby Dick.
In 1610, in the harbor of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Richard Whitbourne saw a “strange creature” that was “beautiful” and had “blue streaks resembling hair” and a “hinder part” that pointed “like a broad-hooked arrow.” When it attempted to climb into his boat, one of his men “struck it full blow on the head, whereby it fell off from them.” He supposed that it was a mermaid. Two years earlier, while aboard a ship near Norway, Henry Hudson reported that “one of our company, looking overboard, saw a mermaid,” as her “back and breasts were like a woman’s,” “her skin very white,” and her tail “like the tail of a porpoise, and speckled like mackerel.”
Beaver fur can contain between 12,000 and 23,000 hairs per square centimeter, and it is particularly good for making thick, pliable, water-resistant felt. In 1733 the Hudson Bay Company valued one prime-quality beaver skin at the same worth as one brass kettle, two pounds of Brazilian tobacco, one gallon of brandy, or a pound and a half of gunpowder.
“Pubic grooming has led to a severe depletion of crab-louse populations,” a medical entomologist with the company Insect Research & Development Ltd. said in an interview in January of this year. “Add to that other aspects of body-hair depilation, and you can see an environmental disaster in the making for this species.” More than 80 percent of college students in the U.S. remove all or part of their pubic hair.
In 1872, railroad magnate and racehorse owner Leland Stanford hired Eadweard Muybridge, then famous for his photographs of Yosemite Valley, to capture evidence on film that at a certain point in a horse’s trot, all four of its legs were simultaneously off the ground. Five years later, Muybridge developed a camera with a shutter speed of 2/1000 of a second, fast enough to prove Stanford correct. Muybridge went on a lecture tour with a device of his own design, the zoopraxiscope, which, through the rapid projection of photographic images, created the illusion of continuous movement.
In the “Those That Will Work” section of Henry Mayhew’s London Labor and London Poor, published in 1861, there is a profile of Jack Black, whose self-appointed title was “Rat and Mole Destroyer to Her Majesty.” In addition to exterminating vermin royal and common, Black kept a collection of rats, which included a rare white one. Noting the white rat’s popularity with audiences, he bred it to sell the offspring; novelist Beatrix Potter is believed to have bought her albino rat Samuel Whiskers from the exterminator. It is speculated that the majority of albino rats, the variety most often used in science experiments, are descended from Black’s original pet.
In 2012, twelve zoos in the U.S. and Canada introduced iPads for use during the enrichment times allotted to orangutans as part of a program called Apps for Apes. Richard Zimmerman, director of Orangutan Outreach, said of the animals in the program, “We’re finding that, similar to people, they like touching the tablet, watching short videos of David Attenborough, for instance, and looking at other animals and orangutans.”