A sergeant of a Royal Engineers signals section puts a letter into a cylinder attached to a messenger dog’s collar at Etaples, 28 August 1918. This dog was one of many animals put to work during the First World War. Pigeons were also used to deliver messages.
(2nd Lt. D McLellan/ IWM via Getty Images)
‘Book of mammals’; a 14th-century miniature from The Book of the Properties of Things by the French illustrator Jean Cordichon. Most of the animals depicted are easily recognisable, including a lion, squirrel, camel and hedgehog. However, a dragon, unicorn and mermaid have also been categorised as mammals by Cordichon.
A 17th-century engraving showing Morocco, the famous dancing horse. Morocco was trained by his owner, William Bankes, to perform tricks for the entertainment of visitors to Savage’s Inn, on London’s Fleet Street. He could reportedly walk on two or three legs, recognise colours and play dead. Morocco’s immensely popular comedy act apparently also involved him being able to count coins, identify audience members and urinate on demand. The act was so impressive that when he toured it to Paris, Bankes was reportedly arrested and charged with sorcery. He was saved from the stake only by revealing the secrets behind Morocco’s skills.
(Look and Learn / Peter Jackson Collection / Bridgeman Images)
Laika, the first dog in space, seen here in the Sputnik 2 capsule. Originally a stray found wandering the streets of Moscow, Laika became the first creature to orbit the earth, on a Soviet mission on 2 November 1957. Despite sadly dying on the Sputnik 2 spacecraft, Laika has gone down in space history.
(Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)
A depiction of wild cats fighting at the Tower of London’s Royal Menagerie. The tower was London’s oldest zoo, with wild animals first recorded there in 1210. Over the centuries, the menagerie was home to a variety of exotic animals from across the world, including monkeys, six-foot snakes, alligators, an elephant, kangaroos and a bear named Martin. In 1686 a young woman named Mary Jenkinson died after being mauled by the tower lions while attempting to stroke them. After several other attacks, the royal animals were moved to London Zoo in 1832.
This picture’s tagline reads ‘Extraordinary and Fatal combat, which accidentally took place in the Tower of London on the 3rd of December, 1830 between a Lion and a Tiger and Tigress, by which the Lion was so seriously injured that he died in a few days afterwards’.
(Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
A depiction of wild animals in the Mien forest (Burma), from 15th-century France. This miniature comes from Livre des merveilles du monde (Book of the Wonders of the World) by Marco Polo and Rustichello, and seems to depict an elephant and horse alongside a unicorn.
Lithograph illustration from 1873 showing a large travelling circus aquarium filled with sharks, alligators and seals. The tank also contains a turtle, octopus, narwhal whale and a large spouting sperm whale.
A Roman mosaic from Terranova in Italy, dating from 4th century AD. This detail depicts a gladiator fighting against a tiger.
(DEA/G. Dagli Orti/De Agostini/Getty Images)
A 16th-century portrayal of a ‘marine dog’, from the collection of the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. Judging by its head and skin texture, the artist was quite possibly trying to depict a seal.
(Art Media/Print Collector/Getty Images)
13th-century falconers with their birds. The illustration is from a treatise on falconry, a popular medieval pastime, in the collection of the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.
(Art Media/Print Collector/Getty Images)
An advertising poster for a ‘Boxing Kangaroo’ show at the Folie-Bergere, in late 19th-century France. Kangaroo boxing is thought to have originated in the US and Australia, and is first recorded in 1891. It became a popular entertainment at circuses and carnivals around the world.
(Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)
A war elephant shown crushing an enemy soldier during the Second Crusade (1147–49). The painting comes from a 15th–16th-century fresco at Santa Maria Assunta and San Cassiano Cathedral in Brixen, Italy.
This image depicts Queen Victoria with her pet dog Looty, a Pekinese gifted to her by Captain Hart Dunne of the 99th Regiment during the Second Opium War. Captain Hart had apparently found the little dog after the looting of the Summer Palace near Bejing, hence his name. Pekinese were the sacred dogs of the Chinese imperial court – an ancient breed with a 2,000-year heritage.
(Look and Learn/Bridgeman Images)
A mummified cat dating from 2000–100 BC. Cats had enormous significance for the Ancient Egyptians. The goddess Bastet was commonly represented as a cat or a woman with a cat’s head. Egyptian families shaved off their eyebrows in mourning the death of a cat, many of which were mummified and buried within temples. Anyone who killed a cat could face severe punishment and perhaps even the death penalty.
‘The Unicorn in Captivity’, South Netherlands 1495–1505. This tapestry is one of seven ‘Unicorn Tapestries’ in the collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, woven in fine wool and silk with silver and gold thread. While others depict a brutal hunt for the mythical creature, here the unicorn is seen hemmed in by a fence and chained to a tree.
Click here to see other ‘Strange creatures through history’.
(Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
A colour engraving dating from around 1800 depicting different varieties of walrus, seals and sea lions.
(Archiv Gerstenberg/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
A portrait of Catherine of Aragon holding her pet monkey, dating from around 1530. Catherine was the first wife of Henry VIII, who she married in June 1509.
(Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)