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These were the top animal stories on NPR in 2023, including a snake on the plane

The Thompsons originally started posting on social media to keep their customers updated on the adventures their dogs go on.
Mo Thompson
The Thompsons originally started posting on social media to keep their customers updated on the adventures their dogs go on.

This year, animals made their marks with encounters that ranged from sad to creepy to cute.

These were the most popular animal stories on NPR's site in 2023.

A baby bison was euthanized

In May, a baby bison from Yellowstone National Park was euthanizedafter a visitor touched it. The calf became separated from its herd as it was crossing the Lamar River. A visitor pushed the calf from the river bank onto the roadway, the National Park Service said.

The park rangers tried several times to reintegrate the calf with the herd, but it was rejected. After some backlash, NPS said "national parks preserve natural processes."

Clifford Walters, a Hawaii resident, was charged with "one count of feeding, touching, teasing, frightening, or intentionally disturbing wildlife," according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Wyoming. Walters paid $1,000 in fines.

Certain bird species will no longer have human names

The American Ornithological Societyis removing human namesfrom about 70 to 80 bird species, to begin with, in the U.S. and Canada, it said in November.

Some of those being renamed include Anna's Hummingbird, Gambel's Quail, Lewis's Woodpecker, Bewick's Wren and Bullock's Oriole.

"We've come to understand that there are certain names that have offensive or derogatory connotations that cause pain to people, and that it is important to change those, to remove those as barriers to their participation in the world of birds," the organization said.

The longest Burmese python on record was caught

Stephen Gauta (left) and Jake Waleri brought the 19-foot python to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Naples, Fla., to have it measured and donated for studies.
/ Conservancy of Southwest Florida
/
Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Stephen Gauta (left) and Jake Waleri brought the 19-foot python to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Naples, Fla., to have it measured and donated for studies.

Jake Waleri, 22, was seen on video capturing a 19-foot Burmese python, the longest ever recorded, and as long as a giraffe is tall.

The female snake was seen at the Big Cypress National Preserve in July, and lunged at Waleri before he was able to tape its mouth shut and take it to a conservancy.

Burmese pythons are considered an invasive species in Florida, and have decimated the populations of other animal species, due to them not having any natural predators. As a result, Florida doesn't require a permit to kill the snakes, as long as people do so humanely.

A Portuguese pooch beat death to become the world's oldest dog

Bobi, a Rafeiro do Alentejo dog, broke the Guinness World Recordin February for the oldest living dog, and possibly the oldest dog ever.

Bobi is 30 years old, but was supposed to be buried as a newborn, after a Portuguese couple had too many animals than they knew what to do with. But somehow Bobi survived.

One of the couple's sons, Leonel Costa, is Bobi's owner, and suspects Bobi's brown fur blended into the shed where he was being held, causing his father to overlook Bobi on his day of doom.

A rare spotless giraffe was born in a Tennessee zoo

A reticulated giraffe was born without spots at Brights Zoo in northeastern Tennessee at the end of July. The zoo is asking the public to cast their vote on what to name her.
/ Brights Zoo via AP
/
Brights Zoo via AP
A reticulated giraffe was born without spots at Brights Zoo in northeastern Tennessee at the end of July. The zoo is asking the public to cast their vote on what to name her.

A spotless reticulated giraffe was born at Brights Zoo in Tennessee in July.

Reticulated giraffes are a subspecies of giraffes. The zoo asked the public to vote on a name for the calf, and decided on Kipekee, Swahili for "unique."

Kipekee was thought to be the only spotless reticulated giraffe in the world at the time, but one was seen on a reservein Namibia in September.

There are only about 16,000 reticulated giraffes left in the wild — a drop of more than 50% from 35 years ago, according to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

An otter in Santa Cruz was stealing surfboards

In Santa Cruz, Calif., multiple videos show a Southern sea otter hijacking surfboards.

The otter, known as Otter 841, was reported to have had several interactions with humans over the summer. Though many found the interactions cute or funny, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service discouraged the behavior and warned people to stay away from the animal.

The otter was born into captivity, but was released in 2020, and had been acting strangely since September 2022. The Monterey Bay Aquarium told NPR in July that if they were to capture her, she'd spend the rest of her life there.

But in October, the USFWS reportedOtter 841 had given birth, and that hormone surges could cause aggression in otters. The agency said they had no plans to capture her or her pup.

"Hank the Tank" broke into homes 21 times in Lake Tahoe

A bear in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., was nicknamed "Hank the Tank" after authorities said the male bear had been behind "152 reports of conflict behavior."

But turns out, it was three separate adult bears descending onto the town, and the main perpetrator was actually a female bear, whose three cubs tagged along on her missions.

Still, "Hank," or Bear 64F, was responsible for at least 21 break-ins. Normally, she would have been euthanized, but public pushback prevented that from happening.

Instead, she and her three cubs were relocated to sanctuaries.

A whale watching tour witnessed a gray whale giving birth

Patrons of a whale watching tour off the coast of Dana Point, Calif., were lucky enough to spot a gray whale that was giving birth.

After seeing a pool of blood, the tourists feared the whale had encountered a predator. But they soon saw a smaller fluke, or tail, poke out from under the water.

The mother and baby whale, called a calf, nuzzled together as the mom held it up. Newborn whales' flukes do not become rigid for about 24 hours, and therefore have difficulty swimming.

Whales also touch a lot to become familiar with each other, as they cannot smell like land mammals.

A snake in the cockpit

A pilot was making a trip across South Africa in April when he felt a cold sensation under his shirt. He looked down to find a Cape cobra, a snake whose bite could kill a person in less than an hour.

Luckily, Rudolf Erasmus and his passengers remained calm, and he made an emergency landing at the closest airport.

The snake did not strike anyone, and was not found after the plane landed.

A bus for puppies

The "puppy bus"took the internet by storm. Various TikToks showed dogs outside in snowy Alaska, waiting to be picked up by Mo Mountain Mutts, a dog walking and training service.

Some videos show dogs walking up the bus stairs and plopping into their seats on their own, while one dog lying in the snow began wagging its tail as the bus approached.

"There's so many different dogs and there's so many different breeds and ages that there's plenty of dogs on the bus that you can relate to," said Mo Thompson, the owner of Mo Mountain Mutts. "So people are like, 'Oh, my dog's like Lola,' or 'I'm like Carl.' They identify themselves, like, with the dog."

The dogs go on walks, hikes and swims after being picked up.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayana Archie