Sure, there was a pretty crazy U.S. election this year, and a seeming flood of celebrity deaths, and very terrible developments for people in Syria, Nigeria and many other spots. But amid all this human drama, many animals managed to make big impressions with their wits, daring, sacrifices and cuteness.
You might have forgotten about several of them. So here, in no particular order, is a list of some of our favorites critters of 2016.
Inky the octopus — Inky became a global sensation after the New Zealand aquarium where he’d been kept revealed that the cephalopod had fled his tank, scooted across the floor and slipped to freedom by way of a drainpipe to the ocean. With that feat of self-liberation, Inky became a Pixar-style hero to humankind, a model of octopus intelligence and a muse for debates on the merits of anthropomorphism. Is Inky still living out his days in the South Pacific with similar derring-do? We’ll never know, and that only adds to his mystique.
Harambe the gorilla — Harambe, the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla who was fatally shot after a toddler fell into his enclosure, left quite a legacy. His death immediately spawned discussions about animals in captivity, responsible parenting, zoo safety and wildlife conservation. Harambe has since become the inspiration for lots of weird memes, not to mention some racial slurs.
The baby bison of Yellowstone — This bison was never named, so it will forever be remembered by one image: a sweet-faced, fuzzy and somewhat bewildered-looking animal standing in the trunk area of an SUV. The bison had arrived in that strange spot after tourists in Yellowstone noticed it alone on a road, shivering and approaching cars. (Depending on the telling, the tourists worried that it looked cold.) This isn’t a terribly unusual situation in Yellowstone — or in nature, for that matter — and the park ended up euthanizing the calf, a decision officials scoldingly attributed to human interference.
Pedals, the upright-walking bear — This black bear’s fan base grew over the few summers he wandered around suburban New Jersey on his hind legs, an unusual gait caused by injuries to his front paws. Some lovers of Pedals, as he was dubbed, faulted the state for not placing him in a sanctuary where his disability would be less of a vulnerability. Pedals did end up dying — at the hands of a hunter.
The horse in a tweed suit — Ahead of a major equestrian event, an English bookmaker hired a former apprentice to Alexander McQueen to make a tweed suit — for a retired racehorse. The resulting photos were nothing less than astonishing. But that was just our opinion, so we asked fashion expert Tim Gunn to appraise them. His verdict? “Noble and regal and believable.”
The eagles that ate a cat — We all need to eat. Just because your tastes don’t extend to cat doesn’t mean baby eagles shouldn’t like it. Just ask the eagle family of eastern Pittsburgh, whose kitten dinner was live-streamed for all the world to see.
The squirrel suicide bomber — A local politician in Chicago had enough with “aggressive” squirrels that he said were damaging trash cart lids, and he publicly aired his anger about the rodents at a City Council meeting. Just a few weeks later, the alderman was biking when a squirrel darted out and fatally entangled itself in his spokes, sending him over the handlebars and to the hospital. Coincidence? The alderman thought not.
Scarface the grizzly bear — Of the 700 or so grizzly bears that roam the Yellowstone National Park environs, some are more famous than others. One 25-year-old male was a beloved crowd-pleaser with a ragged face that told the tales of many battles. His nickname was Scarface. In April, wildlife officials in Montana announced that he’d been fatally shot months before, and they launched an investigation into whether the killing was legal.
The mountain lions of Los Angeles — L.A. is a city of stars, but we’re partial to the four-legged predators who stalk the Santa Monica mountains and lead action-packed lives worthy of silver-screen treatment. They’re bound by freeways. They have adorable kittens. One mountain lion ate a zoo koala. Another escaped a death sentence for killing alpacas. And sadly, just last week, the mother of some of those kittens was killed trying to cross a highway. The kittens, according to the National Park Service, probably aren’t old enough to survive without her. The question driving this big cat epic is whether the rest of their brethren can.
The “gay” lions — Two lions with lustrous manes were photographed and filmed being quite affectionate and cuddly. The images went viral. Many wanted to know: Were the lions gay? Don’t bet on it, a lion expert told us; this was only a “bromance.”
Patton the Goldendoodle — Unless Donald Trump acquires an animal at some point, he’ll be the first U.S. president in 150 years not to have a pet. One Florida acquaintance of Trump is determined to ensure that doesn’t happen. She’s even acquired a puppy she says she’s sure will become the first dog in the Trump White House. His name is Patton, he’s a Goldendoodle (golden, of course!), and he’s darn cute. But Trump hasn’t yet committed to him.
The moose that battled to the death — Here’s a sight you don’t stumble across often, even when you’re wandering around the woods of Alaska: two male moose, their antlers entangled, frozen mid-battle in a slough. Two Alaska men found them and snapped photos, which shot around the world. Many saw the scene as a metaphor for American politics in 2016.
The baby iguana of the Galapagos — This reptile hatchling starred in some of the most suspenseful footage of 2016. Would he escape a terrifying band of racer snakes determined to make him their snack? The chase, aired in BBC’s “Planet Earth II,” was what my colleague Ben Guarino described as “out of a James Bond movie. It was Indiana Jones. It was the way George Miller might track Tom Hardy fleeing apocalyptic gearheads through the deserts of ‘Mad Max.’”
Hank the ballpark pup — Was this unofficial mascot for the Milwaukee Brewers really who he said he was? Photographic evidence was indeterminate, and conspiracy theories about a body double churned. So fervent were the rumors (and this was pre-hubbub about fake news) that the Brewers held a news conference to put them to rest. Hank, they said, was still Hank.
The Harlem deer — How this one-antlered buck made his way to Manhattan was a mystery. But as soon as he had set himself up in a Harlem park, he had a following. Locals fed him carrots and asked officials to capture and relocate him, for his own safety and that of motorists. Capture him they did, and a political battle ensued: The city wanted to euthanize the deer. The state offered to relocate him. Amid the tussle, the deer perished — from “stress,” officials said.