biology zoology blog benno meyer rochow honours animal

The Animals that Played a Role

How to honour and remember them

I remember when I worked at Yokohama City University once a year in autumn all of us who carried out experiments with or on animals had to go to the temple and pray for the souls of these animals. Our boss used to joke and say we don’t have to pray too hard because our work involved crabs and insects, but those in sports medicine using dogs, they have to pray much harder. It’s actually a tradition that came to Japan from India via China to think of animals or free some during the festival of Hojyoe. There are, of course, other ways to show one’s appreciation of an animal that has played a major role in someone’s life and “Cher Ami”, a pigeon, was awarded “le Croix de Guerre” by the French Government for having been a successful war spy. Recently a cat named Choupette inherited millions after its owner, the fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, had passed away. Another fashion designer (Alexander McQueen) left 50,000 British pounds to his pet dogs when he died in 2010 and the American TV personality Oprah Winfree is said to have plans to leave millions to her dogs. I wouldn’t be surprised if Brigitte Bardot has similar plans.

If somebody has made a significant contribution to a scientific article that ‘somebody’ is usually mentioned in the ‘acknowledgments’ at the end of the article or in a footnote. There are instances where authors acknowledge the contribution that an animal has made to the research that’s been reported and sometimes the animal’s name is provided, albeit in a cryptic fashion as in the case of P. Matzinger’s 1994 paper on “Tolerance…” with an acknowledgment to her dog Annie McCormack. A dog whose loyalty is commemorated by a statue (and even a movie) is the Japanese “Hachiko” that, after his owner had died in 1925, still came to Shibuya Station in Tokyo day after day for 9 years still hoping to meet its owner. Having been the sole survivors for a year in Antarctica when abandoned two more dogs, namely Taro and Jiro, are also commemorated in Japan and two movies were made about them. By far, however, the most famous dog in the world is Laika, the homeless mongrel that left the Earth on the Soviet Sputnik 2 to become the first living organism in space. Laika appeared on stamps of several countries and there are monuments of this involuntary (and cute) space pioneer.

No article on famous animals can ignore Dolly the sheep, who had a sculpture of its body displayed at the entrance of the Central Library of the Imperial College in London. Dolly, the first ever mammal cloned from the nucleus of an adult cell of a mature Finn Dorset sheep (apparently a cell from the mammary gland) was named after the American country and western singer and animal lover Dolly Parton. However, even though Dolly’s existence and survival was pivotal to Prof. Ian Wilmut’s research at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, this most famous of all sheep in the world never became a co-author of a scientific publication. Of course, you could argue the sheep’s contribution was marginal (it wasn’t!) or that sheep cannot read and write (true), but such arguments didn’t stop other scientists to include the names of some animals as co-authors in their scientific publications.

Erren et al. (2016) in an EMBO-report mention 5 instances of (co)authorships of animals (all mammals). A cat named F.D.C. Willard, owned the American physicist and mathematician Jack Hetherington, appears as a co author in the 1975 Phys. Rev. Lett., and H.A.M.S. ter Tisha (yes, a hamster) is co-author on Nobel laureate AK. Geim’s 2001 paper in the journal Physics. Bonobo apes appear as co-authors of a 2007 paper by primatologist Susan Savage-Rumbaugh, although journals usually impose strict rules on who can be listed as author or co-author. The criteria make it almost impossible (but as we’ve seen not always) for animals to appear as authors or co-authors. Making an animal a ‘co-author’ sure is a great honour for the animal, but the Roman Emperor Caligula even went a step further and had plans to make his favourite horse Incitatus “Consul of the Roman Empire”. But as with animals as authors and co-authors, there were rules, who could and who couldn’t be appointed “Consul” and sadly we would never know what kind of Consul Incitatus might have turned out to be.

© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and, 2020.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to V.B Meyer-Rochow and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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