Animals in history
There are many aspects of travel which are generally overlooked, especially when our involvement of it is so minimal that it barely registers.
For example every country has its own fragrance whether that be sweet spices in the bazaars, pungent forest pine or the fresh sharpness of a glacier. It is easy to ignore these smaller details because they don’t simply jump out and fill our camera frames.
The same applies to animals we encounter from working animals to those which flap around and try to steal our lunch. This got me thinking these animals and their role which has helped to shape the world as we know it today. It is often vastly different to the modern relationship they have with humans. Many of these furry friends have been instrumental in shaping history and don’t just serve as an Instagram opportunity.
BEFORE I GET INTO IT…
When encountering wild animals in captivity, please take a second to assess the situation. Is the animal, reptile, mammal in its natural environment? Is it being treated well and would it be there if tourists weren’t so keen to hand over hard currency? I recently saw where a well-known blogger who was proudly ‘snuggling’ a penguin in Dubai zoo; she had completely failed to see the bigger picture of her actions.
SO WHAT ARE THESE ANIMALS AND WHAT MAKES THEM SO SPECIAL?
Everywhere, and I mean everywhere I travel there are pigeons. Anywhere there is a stray crumb, pigeons will be there en masse to hoover up the remains of lunch picnics and empty wrappers. But look at the history of these ‘scavengers’ and you’ll see these creatures in a new light.
During the First World War, pigeons, or ‘Carrier Pigeons’ as they are better known played an important role in delivering messages across the battlefield. In fact over 100,000 pigeons served Britain alone in the WWI, and double that in WWII so the role of the humble pigeon in history is actually rather significant. Often communication lines would be down and troops suffering under heavy fire, and exhaustion were unable to deliver the message safely in person. These clever well-trained ‘rats with wings’ would carry messages between teams that were capable of taking, and saving the lives of so many men. So besides having expert marks-men, how would one kill a carrier pigeon in its tracks? MI5 saw the obvious threat pigeons posed and trained Peregrine Falcons to seek out and destroy these flying messengers.
The humble bee has always had a bad rap and one that won’t leave you alone on a hike can really spoil the day. Besides being the makers of honey, they are best known for their general peskiness at picnics which is why the Romans used them as a weapon, often catapulting a hive (and subsequent swarm) of angry bees at their enemy. If you were attempting an uprising, would a swarm of bees launched in your general direction have you running for cover? They may be small but they have strength in numbers!
In most cities around the world you’ll find stray cats roaming the streets, scavenging the remains from bins, however the ancient Egyptians held cats in such high regard and killing a cat was a serious offence. They worshipped the sacred cat goddess, often depicted as half feline and half woman. They were revered for killing snakes such as cobras, and at times given a traditional Egyptian mummification for the journey into the afterlife. These days in Egypt, cats are more commonly found roaming the streets than enjoying the royal treatment.
The last time I rode a horse was a 7 hours tour in Bolivia which was perhaps over ambitious for this non-rider, since then I’ve sworn way from them. However, horses once served the purpose of being more than animals for enjoyment (ahem!). Horses were one of the first animals associated with warfare, dating back to chariot races around 1340 BC. They were regarded for their speed, endurance and ability to train. The fact that a horse is able to pull more than twice its own body weight absolutely secured its use for literally thousands of years. The Great War was one of the last major conflicts where horses were relied on, prior to modern day warfare took preference. Even today horses were used by the Police as late as the late 90’s in Northern Ireland, and as crowd control today in central London.
If you consider that America is a relatively new land and it was horses which were largely responsible for bringing settlers from all over America who came in search of new land. Think about the long arduous journey, travelling over a country without roads, in simply a horse and cart. In those days, this was a major expedition and would sometimes take years with older family members dying and babies being born. Imagine ending a journey with a new family then the one you started with!
Commonly used for tourist rides in Thailand, elephants are hugely intelligent and played a major role in wars for the Mongols, Indians and Sri Lankans until the late 15th century. They’re use was so common that the term ‘elephantry’ was given to the troops who rode elephants although they were more difficult to control. Originally used on the front line to create panic (a stampeding elephant tends to do that), elephants tended to suffer panic themselves and kill whatever was in their way to avoid the hustle and bustle. Actually many scared elephants were killed by their owners to prevent further damage and they were inevitably fazed out.
Man’s best friend has been by our side for well over 13,000 years and has played an important role throughout some of the biggest conflicts in history. I suspect dogs are the reason why most travellers opt for a rabies job however, these faithful friends with loyalty, obedience, intelligence, heightening senses and general cuteness, have earned their place in history. The Romans used dogs to patrol the perimeter of camps; they were kept in hospitals to improve the morale of wounded troops on the front line and also to locate wounded men. In England during the Middle Ages, Mastiffs and Great Danes were used for their size to scare enemy horses in the hopes they would throw the knight to the ground. These days these faithful animals are better known as sniffer dogs for explosives and illegal items, a far cry from the strays we befriend on our travels who follow us around cities with wagging tails.
MULES AND DONKEYS
When I was a tour leader in Egypt, I rode a donkey to the Valley of the Kings more times than I care to remember, even throughout a dose of extreme food poisoning with it was coming out both ends. But surely these stupid animals must have come from much grander backgrounds than carrying poorly tourists. This distinctly ordinary farm animal, its ability to carry heavy loads and follow basic instructions, lent itself to invaluable service on the battlefield.
The camel’s resilience made this animal such a favoured beast of burden and served several roles in history. If you think back to when traders travelled the ancient Silk Road, bringing religion and trading in exotic goods, these were all transported by camel. In fact the term ‘caravanserai’ originated from wonderfully ornate desert palaces, where weary travellers could escape the desert night, tie up their camels and sleep or conduct business. Due to their size, ability to carry heavy loads and travel long distances without water, this made camel a travellers best friend. These days in Northern Africa it’s easy to pay for a tourist camel ride however, their history is instrumental in shaping life as we know it today.
In summary, all too often we hear about the great people of the countries we travel through, but it would appear the history books may not be written as they are, without the faithful allegiance of animals that made it all possible. Stop to consider this next time you spot our furry friends in far off places.
Happy travelling folks!