The consensus is that 2016 was a bad year, and like every single other year, a lot of animals died. Unlike every other year, we went crazier over these animal deaths than we’ve ever gone.
A gorilla named Harambe got shot at the Cincinnati Zoo after a young boy fell into his enclosure, birthing the “Dicks Out For Harambe” movement. After New York’s governor tried to spare life of a feral deer in Harlem, the buck said a big “fuck you” and died anyway. Two bald eagles got stuck in a storm drain, and one died. Meanwhile, scientists called to classify cheetahs as “endangered” after finding that on 7,100 are left in the world. Also, ten-thousand endangered scrotum frogs mysteriously dropped dead.
So here are this year’s most influential animal deaths. Since 2017 stands to be even worse than 2016, you might call these poor creatures lucky. But perhaps those who passed didn’t deserve such cruel fate. Come to think of it, maybe we all deserve better.
On May 28, 2016, a four-year-old boy climbed into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. When a 17-year-old gorilla named Harambe began to drag the boy by his ankle, zookeepers shot him. What followed was just short of a revolution, as Harambe went from zoo animal to animal legend. Some have called the deceased gorilla the “It Boy of 2016.”’ Regardless of how you feel about Harambe’s death and the memes that followed, we spent a good chunk of the year talking about him. The death of this poor gorilla gave us jokes galore, a cause, a reason to move forward.
A bald eagle gets caught in a storm drain. Its friend stays, trying to protect the poor bird, but eventually flies off, leaving the eagle to die in the drain. It’s the perfect metaphor for our current political predicament. There’s poetry in death, you know.
Another animal death ripe with political metaphor—the first turkey Obama pardoned, aptly named Courage, died this year. Is it a stretch to say Courage’s death means Obama’s legacy is at stake? Only time will tell.
In December, the City of New York announced that it would euthanize a one-antlered deer—which is accepted practice and state policy—that accidentally made its way into Harlem some weeks prior. Smelling a political opportunity, Governor Cuomo announced he would save the deer, except it was too late. The deer died of stress.
The media abuzz with Harlem deer talk, its death birthed one of the all-time greatest headlines on Slate: “I Am Glad the Harlem Deer Is Dead.” While it might seem cruel, Slate’s science editor Susan Matthews points out:
The East Coast is overpopulated with deer. A smaller deer population is better for deer and for people, too. Overabundance means that many animals will suffer due to lack of adequate food and habitat.
A science teacher in Alaska happened upon two dead moose, quite literally frozen in combat. After the incident, Kris Hundertmark, chair of the biology and wildlife department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks explained to The Washington Post:
These two fellows were unfortunate in that they probably fell into the water while locked together and drowned. Then again, that is a much quicker way to go than by getting locked together in some forest and slowly starving to death.
Is it better to know the pain of being alive? Or did death comes as a sweet release for these precious creatures?
A search dog who helped out after the September 11 attacks, Bretagne was an American hero. Euthanized at a Texas veterinary hospital on June 7, 2016, the 16-year-old golden retriever was the last of the 9/11 search dogs to pass. After the attacks, Bretagne searched day and night for survivors and remains. The patriotic pup also served our country after Hurricane Katrina.
Another animal death that doubles as a rich metaphor for America’s crumbling political system. Another day in 2016.
Known as the “loneliest frog on earth,” Toughie—the last fringe-limbed tree frog in the world—died on September 28, 2016. Mark Mandica, the head of the Amphibian Foundation who worked with Toughie for several years, told National Geographic that while the frog’s passing is sad, his story is by no means special.
“A lot of attention had been paid to him in captivity, so he even has his own Wikipedia page,” Mandica said. “But there are plenty of other species out there that are disappearing, sometimes before we even knew that they were there.”
Bees aren’t the only creature dying at an alarming rate.
Hong Kong’s Ocean Park euthanized the world’s oldest captive panda Jia Jia, who was about 114 in human years. The zoo made the decision because old age left Jia Jia immobile, spending her days lying in her cage, refusing to eat.
A glimmer of hope in the darkness of Jia Jia’s passing: this year, we learned giant pandas are no longer endangered.
Right after Scooter was named the world’s oldest living cat by the Guinness Book of World Records, he died at the age of 30. So thanks for all that, 2016.
A day after Jia Jia passed, a New Jersey black bear with an upright gait named Pedals walked right into heaven to join his animal brethren. New Jersey residents became enchanted by Pedals after video footage emerged of him walking just like a human. While New Jersey officials couldn’t verify that the deceased bear—killed by a hunter—was actually Pedals, he matched the description.
“The injured paws and chest blaze of this particular adult bear brought to Green Pond appear to be consistent with the bear seen walking upright on several videos,” a spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Environment Protection told the New York Times. “While many have developed an emotional attachment to the upright bear, it is important to recognize that all black bears are wildlife.”
Yes, bears do die all the time. But it takes a special fellow like Pedals to make the news. Rest in peace, my sweet boy.
A Massachusetts 22-pound lobster—named Big Lobi for the Red Sox designated hitter David “Big Papi” Ortiz—died on August 27, 2016 for the same reason many of these other majestic creatures have passed: humans. After New Jersey brothers Chris and David Schmidt purchased Big Lobi at the Chatham Pier Fish Market, they decided to set it free. Then it died. Another metaphor for 2016? Perhaps.
As we approach 2017, remember Courage is watching us. So is Harambe. And Pedals. And all those other innocent creatures who passed. It’s up to us to make them proud.