Wild animal stories were some of 2023’s most memorable: Here are some of the best


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From monkeys terrorizing tourists to China’s “panda politics,” wild animals found their way into the news and captured our imagination in increasingly unexpected ways in 2023.

An expert recently argued that wider access to technology and the internet would lead to more wild videos of animals, and this year went a long way toward proving that case: The year also proved a rich one for strange cases and some major legal victories, including an historic decision in Canada on the ivory trade. 

Here are some of the biggest animal stories from the past year that will ensure 2023 remains one to remember.  

ORCAS TAKE REVENGE

Anti-capitalists like to shout the slogan “Eat the Rich,” and a group of orcas came dangerously close to making that rallying cry a reality as they systematically attacked yachts throughout the Mediterranean Sea, sinking at least four of them.

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The pod of whales, which experts believed could contain some 35 members, was already responsible for 23 attacks against yachts by the end of May and continued attacking boats around the Iberian Peninsula until well into August. 

Marine biologists suggested that the whales targeted yachts as a form of “revenge” after a boat may have caused a “critical moment of agony” for the pod’s matriarch, White Gladis, who would turned more aggressive. Other experts believed the act was merely “playful” and worried that reports of “attacking” could lead to harm for the whales. 

The whales would ram the boats from behind in a repeated, targeted fashion to force the boat to stop. The whales would then continue to ram the boats from the sides. The behavior spread throughout the pod to its younger members, and four orcas died from initiating such brazen attacks. 

‘PANDA POLITICS’

China found another path through which to pressure the U.S. just ahead of a critical and long-waited in-person meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Biden when Beijing prematurely recalled its pandas from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

The bears, a top attraction at the zoo, had remained in D.C. for 50 years after President Richard Nixon had brokered the deal, which was set to expire on Dec. 7. The recall left the U.S. with only four pandas.

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China has lent out 65 pandas to 19 countries through “cooperative research programs” with a stated mission to better protect the vulnerable species. The pandas return to China when they reach old age, and any cubs born in the United States are sent to China around age 3 or 4.

Suddenly, a topic that had not been anywhere near the negotiating table became a cause célèbre when Biden announced that Beijing had agreed to send over two more pandas to take up residence in San Diego. 

Xi called the pandas “envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American peoples,” but did not share further details of the plan. 

The San Diego Zoo said it was “very much” looking forward to welcoming back some pandas, having last hosted a pair until 2019. 

MONKEYS TAKING OVER THAILAND

Tourists to Thailand usually have to remain alert to civil unrest and “periodic violence,” according to the U.S. State Department, but they have another minor concern for which to watch: Monkey gangs. 

The country has largely allowed the monkey gangs to roam freely, even holding an annual festival to celebrate the many monkeys that live on the island of Koh Phi Phi, but in some areas the monkeys – since the COVID-19 pandemic – have grown more aggressive and into more of a problem for tourists. 

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An Australian father had to fight off monkeys on the beach when they tried to rob his family and go after his kids, resulting in the monkeys surrounding him and at one point even biting his hand when he took a swing at the gang. 

The situation on Koh Phi Phi has grown more troublesome as the monkeys have developed enough comfort around people to now forage in broad daylight from stores and tourists. One resident said of a recent incident that as bad as things have gotten, the monkeys have not “overrun the island yet.” 

In addition to the gangs even stealing food from out of people’s hands, two large gangs have repeatedly fought over territory in cities on the island since 2020 when lockdowns started during the pandemic. 

“With the tourists gone, they’ve been more aggressive,” Supakarn Kaewchot said in 2021. “They’re invading buildings and forcing people to flee their homes.”

MYSTERIOUS DOG PNEUMONIA

One of the stranger but more gripping stories near the end of the year followed a mysterious case of respiratory illness that spread among the dog population in the U.S., sometimes leading to death. 

The symptoms included a pervasive cough that could last for weeks and proved resistant to traditional antibiotics, quickly followed by a fever and lethargy.

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Per the Oregon Department of Agriculture, symptoms also include sneezing, eye or nose discharge, fatigue, blue or purple gums from oxygen deprivation, trouble breathing and negative tests for other common respiratory illnesses.

The University of New Hampshire in late November identified a small portion of the genome that may cause the illness after examining samples from 70 dogs across New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Massachusetts from the last two years, the university wrote in a statement. 

More than 200 dogs in the U.S. have fallen ill with a mysterious respiratory illness that can sometimes develop into pneumonia and appears to be resistant to antibiotic treatments. (Miami Herald/Contributor via Getty Images)

The American Animal Hospital Association wrote in early December that veterinarians have used oxygen support, IV fluid, nebulization (which helps clear the buildup of secretions in the throat) and coupage (which helps clear buildup in the lungs). 

BIG DECISIONS IN ANIMAL RIGHTS

This year proved a stressful one for animal rights activists as several long-sought legal advances, including the ban on dog meat sales in South Korea and limits on ivory trade. 

One of the biggest controversies in animal rights this year followed a ban on using dwarves in bullfighting events – but an outright ban on the practice continued to elude activists. Colombia has also tabled a motion to ban bullfighting outright. 

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South Korea in 2021 launched a task force to look into the effects of banning dog meat, and that effort received a significant boost after the country’s first lady expressed support for a ban and two lawmakers submitted bills to eliminate the dog meat trade

But activists will likely remember 2023 as the year Canada banned the trade of elephant ivory and rhino horns, ending a seven-year campaign by the Humane Society International (HSI). 

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“In banning trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn, the Canadian government has shown considerable leadership and reflected the will of Canadians and the vast majority of African nations holding elephant populations,” Kelly Butler, the campaign manager for HSI said following the decision. 

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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