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Jambo the gorilla

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In 1986 a little boy fell into the gorilla enclosure at Jersey Zoo. Jambo, a large Silverback, went over to the unconscious child while onlookers watched in horror. However, instead of hurting the boy, Jambo gently touched his back and kept the other curious gorillas away until zookeepers lured them into their inside enclosure. Jambo then followed his family, and the boy was rescued.

Rats that detect land mines

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Decades after the war, Cambodia’s countryside is still littered with mines. Clearing them is dangerous work but a Belgian charity has trained Giant African pouched rats to do the job. Magawa, the most famous rat, had a five year career, during which time he sniffed out more than 100 landmines. He was awarded a gold medal for gallantry by the British animal charity, the PDSA.

The porpoises who saved Dick Van Dyke

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In 2010, the famous singing movie star, Dick Van Dyke, had a close encounter with some other singers. After falling asleep on his surf board in the ocean, Van Dyke woke up out of sight of land. When he saw fins circling him, he thought they were sharks. Luckily, he was wrong, and the fins belonged to friendly porpoises who pushed his surf board back towards the shore.

The woman who survived a heart attack thanks to her pet pig

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Pigs are very intelligent animals – and one woman’s remarkable story proves that they’re also very empathetic. When Jo Ann Altsman collapsed with a heart attack while on holiday in Pennsylvania, she was alone except for Lulu, her pet Vietnamese pot-bellied pig. Evidently realising her owner was in trouble, Lulu went to a nearby road and lay down in front of passing traffic – again and again – until someone stopped and followed her.

Saved from a tiger shark by a humpback whale

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When a marine biologist called Nan Hauser went diving in the Cook Islands, she wasn’t expecting to have an encounter with two of the ocean’s largest creatures. The first was a tiger shark that seemed intent on making her its lunch. The second was a humpback whale that used its head to push her gently back to her dive boat – and to safety.

Kabang the dog

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Adopted as a stray puppy in the Philippines, Kabang was a cross-breed who saved the lives of her owner’s daughter and niece. The two children were attempting to cross a road but didn’t see an advancing motorcycle. However, Kabang did – and she leapt at the motorcycle, pushing it over and away from the children. Neither the children nor the motorcyclist were badly hurt but Kabang lost half of her face.

The parrot who sounded the fire alarm

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Louie, a pet parrot in Australia found the perfect time to try out a new word. One night, a fire started in his house. Louie shrieked, “Fire! Fire!” until his owners woke up and got their children safely out of the house. Sadly, when they tried to return for Louie and four pet dogs, the fire was too intense and all the dogs and Louie died.

The dolphins who protected swimmers from a great white shark

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In 2004, four people swimming off the northern coast of New Zealand were perplexed when a pod of dolphins began swimming around them. The dolphins herded them ever closer together. After a couple of attempts to escape, the swimmers spotted a great white shark cruising nearby. Only when the shark left – apparently deterred by the dolphins’ actions – were the swimmers “released” and allowed to return to shore.

Lefty, the dog who took a bullet for her family

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In 2013, a Pitfall called Lefty got between her owners and armed assailants who’d broken into their house. When one of the intruders tried to shoot one of the family, Lefty went for him. The action may have saved her owner’s life but the bullet shattered Lefty’s humerus bone. Although she had to have her leg amputated, community fundraising ensured the vets bills were paid.

A tale of two Mandys

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When a cow knocked an Australian farmer into a heap of manure, badly injuring him, the farmer feared he’d die before anyone found him. However, his collie dog and pet goat, both called Mandy, came to keep him company. They stayed with him for the five nights before rescue came – keeping him warm during the cold outback nights and the nanny goat allowed him to milk her so he could stay sufficiently hydrated.

The lions who kept a kidnapped girl safe

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When a twelve year old Ethiopian girl was beaten and abducted by men set on forcing her into marriage, she can’t possibly have imagined how matters were to turn out. Unbelievably, three lions chased off the men and then stayed guard over the – presumably terrified – girl until police and relatives found her some hours later. What’s more, the lions left without a murmur when the rescuers arrived.

The female gorilla who saved a child

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In 1996, a little boy fell into the gorilla enclosure at an Illinois zoo. Binti Jua, an eight-year-old gorilla, with her own baby clinging to her back, reached the child first. She picked him up, cradled him and only laid him down on the ground again when she heard zookeepers open the door to her inside enclosure. Like the boy at Jersey zoo, this little boy recovered well from his experience.

Alerted to a carbon monoxide leak by a pet dog

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Dogs’ powerful olfactory senses are well-known, and frequently harnessed for all kinds of uses. However, in Iowa, Roxy, a normally mild-mannered family pet, not trained for scent work, began behaving oddly one night. She jumped up and down on her owners’ bed, refusing to let them sleep. It was only when the carbon monoxide alarm went off that they realised what she’d been trying to tell them.

Rescued by dolphins

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In 2004, a group of divers got lost in the Red Sea. Unable to sight their dive boat, they feared they’d die before rescuers found them. However, they’d reckoned without a pod of bottlenose dolphins. When they saw the rescue boat, the dolphins repeatedly leapt across its prow, always pointing in the direction of the stranded divers.

The horse that protected its owner from attack by a cow

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In 2007, a Scottish farmer called Fiona Boyd was trampled by a furious cow. Boyd curled up in a ball, expecting the cow and the rest of the herd to kill her but rescue came from a surprising place. Hearing the commotion, Boyd’s horse, Kerry, galloped over and began kicking out the cow with her powerful hind hooves. Eventually she frightened off the cow, almost certainly saving Boyd’s life.

Mila the beluga whale

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Yang Yun was a 26 year old free diver, competing in a competition to become a trainer at China’s Polar Land Aquarium. When she suffered severe leg cramps while 20 feet down, she began choking and was sure she’d die. However, Mila, a beluga whale, took action. She grasped the diver’s leg and propelled the woman up to safety.

Rescued from a rattlesnake by a chihuahua

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In 2007, a 5 pound chihuahua called Zoey launched herself at a rattlesnake that was striking at a one year-old baby on a Colorado farm. The little dog took the full force of the snake’s bite to her head and neck. Fortunately, despite the grapefruit-sized swelling that ensued, the dog recovered after a trip to the veterinarian’s office.

Golden Gate bridge jumper saved by sea lion

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Nowadays, Kevin Hines is a suicide prevention speaker. In one way, he’s paying forward what was given to him by a sea lion that saved his life after he jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge. After he hit the water, the massive sea mammal circled beneath him, keeping him afloat and alive until rescuers reached him.

The dog who performed the Heimlich maneuver

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Owners sometimes have cause to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a choking dog. However, one pet dog – a golden retriever called Toby – performed the action himself. Seeing his owner choking on a piece of apple and trying and failing to perform the Heimlich maneuver on herself, Toby took action. He jumped up and down on her upper torso until the apple shot out of her mouth.

Protected from hypothermia by beavers

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A small child lost in the wilderness on a cold night doesn’t have the makings of a tale with a happy ending. However, for one such wandering child, that’s exactly what happened. Following a long night of searching, the little boy was found curled up asleep surrounded by a family of wild beavers. Whether they’d done so deliberately or not, their body warmth had kept him alive throughout the night.

Glowworms: a nightlight for soldiers

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Soldiers in the trenches in World War One had to make do without even the most basic comforts. This often included lights because of the fear of drawing enemy fire. However, some soldiers came up with a natural, low-lighting solution. They gathered the glow worms that lived in the area and kept them in jars. Just a few of them emitted sufficient light for a soldier to read a letter from home or military communication in relative safety.

Rescued from a shipwreck by a turtle

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A shipwreck and a desert island is a coincidence that mostly occurs in novels and movies. Certainly, no desert island was in sight in 1974 when a woman was shipwrecked off Manila. Alone, she expected to die – at least until she spotted a giant sea turtle. The reptile allowed her to clutch its shell and cling on. For two days, the turtle stayed on the surface of the water, towing the woman back to land.

Ning Nong, the elephant who saved a child

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Amber Owen was riding Ning Nong the elephant on a Phuket beach when the tide suddenly receded. Instinctively, Ning Nong headed away from the water but, moments later, both the elephant and the little girl were caught in the deadliest tsunami in modern history. However, Ning Nong stood firm against a wall and, somehow, both survived.

Horseshoe crabs

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It’s not the nicest use to which humans have put members of the animal kingdom. However, as a species, the horseshoe crab is responsible for saving more human lives than any other animal – and it’s all down to their sky blue blood. The substance clots when it comes into contact with bacterial toxins. Prior to the development of a synthetic alternative, the crabs’ blood was widely used to ensure patient safety in biomedical settings.

The dog who saved his owner from being run over

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An afternoon walk with Orla the Boxer-Staffie cross turned into a nightmare for Kimberley Bridges, in a West Yorkshire town in England. An out of control car careered towards her and, to horrified onlookers, seemed set to mow her down. However, the powerful dog took action and ran off the sidewalk, pulling her owner to safety.

Sergeant Stubby

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The unofficial mascot of the 102nd Infantry Division in World War I, Sergeant Stubby saw front line action for 18 months. During that time, he alerted his regiment to surprise mustard gas attacks and received two wound stripes. He became a post-war celebrity and his remains are preserved at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Across enemy lines: war pigeons

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Carrier pigeons played a vital role in both world wars, carrying messages across enemy lines. Sometimes those messages even saved lives, such as in the case of the pigeon that alerted rescuers to four airmen who’d come down in the English Channel. After battling through stormy weather, the bird died of exhaustion but not before delivering its message and ensuring the men’s successful rescue.

The hypoglycemic attack alert dog

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Increasing numbers of dogs are trained to alert their owners to an incipient diabetic hypoglycaemic attack. Without prompt action, these attacks can be fatal, making a dog’s role a vital one. Korey the golden Labrador has it down to a fine art, spinning in circles to alert his owner to the approaching emergency.

The parrot who saved a baby

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When a two year old in Denver began choking on a pop tart, the only witness was a green parrot called Willie. Luckily for that two year old, Willie was a perceptive and vocal parrot. Seeing what was happening, he immediately began squawking: ‘Mama! Baby!’ Eventually the toddler’s mom’s friend rushed in, performed the Heimlich maneuver and so became the second link in the chain that saved the child’s life.

The dog who rescued 93 sailors

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After a fierce storm all but destroyed their boat, 93 exhausted sailors contemplated their probable fate. However, after one sailor drifted out to sea, beyond the reach of the others, the 94th crew member took action. He was a Newfoundland dog called Tang – and he leapt into the water and, after seizing a rope at the prow of the boat between his jaws, struck out for shore. He dragged boat and sailors successfully to land.

Nana the St Bernard who foiled a child abduction

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A man who tried to abduct a toddler from a front yard got more than he bargained for when the family’s massive St Bernard dog got involved. Understandably objecting to the man’s attempts, Nana the aptly-named dog, seized the toddler’s diaper between her teeth and pulled the child out of the would-be abductor’s car.

Protected from a mountain lion by a bear

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A hike in Northern California took an unexpected turn in 2012 for Robert Biggs. Distracted by the antics of a family of black bears, he didn’t notice a mountain lion was stalking him until the lion had already pounched on him. However, the mother bear did. Perhaps fuelled by the desire to protect her cubs, she attacked the lion, ripping it off Biggs’ backpack and ensuring his survival.

The dolphins who protected a swimmer

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In another example of dolphins protecting people from sharks, a long-distance swimmer – incidentally raising money for a whale and dolphin charity – found himself surrounded by a pod of the cetaceans after a large great white shark emerged from the waters beneath him. The ten dolphins stayed with him until the shark gave up and swam off elsewhere.

The abused dog who saved an abused child

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A Michigan family rehomed a small dog called Peanut from the dog shelter. Originally rescued from an abusive home, Peanut settled in well and was a calm pet. One cold, snowy night, however, he began barking and continued even when let outside. When his owners followed, they found a hypothermic child, who’d run off from her own abusive home.

The pit bull firedog who rescued a baby

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A fire in a Californian apartment could have ended with tragic consequences were it not for Sasha the pitbull. The first to notice the fire, Sasha barked until her owner woke up. Not content with that, Sasha then carefully carried her owner’s baby off the bed and away from the flames.

Saved by monkeys

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A family day out to a scenic gorge in India started well. The views were great and the monkeys who lived in and around the gorge were very entertaining. However, when one of the family’s young children got too close to the edge, it looked as if a tragedy was about to occur. Amazingly, one of the larger adult monkeys reached for the boy and hauled him backwards until he was standing on firm ground again.

Asthma attack alert cat

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Cats aren’t the usual choice for a role as a medical support animal. However, one thankful woman took to TikTok to commend her small black cat, after Mini Kitti woke her up – seemingly deliberately – moments before an asthma attack struck. Had the woman still been asleep when the attack started, it’s possible she wouldn’t have reached her lifesaving medication in time.

The Doberman who saved a child from a snakebite

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When a King Brown Snake – one of the world’s most venomous species – got a Cairns’ toddler in its sights, it had reckoned without the little girl’s family’s dog. As the snake reared up to strike, the Doberman grabbed the child by her diaper and threw her over his shoulder and away from the snake. The dog, called Khan, got the bite instead but, luckily, recovered after a prompt shot of anti-venom.

The cat who predicted a heart attack

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When Rusty the cat started acting oddly one morning, his owner didn’t know what to think. She already wasn’t feeling well so wasn’t best pleased when the the cat jumped up at her, yowling loudly. However, some instinct told her to take the bus to the doctor’s office but, before she got there, she had a heart attack at the bus stop. Now recovered, she believed Rusty knew something was wrong.

Frida the earthquake rescue dog

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Frida was a Labrador retriever who worked as a search and rescue dog with the Mexican Navy to locate the victims of earthquakes and other natural disasters. During her many years of service, she took part in 55 rescue operations, including that following the 2010 earthquake in Haita, when she found 12 survivors, and the 2017 Mexican Puebla earthquake.