While we’re all familiar with the standard selection of movie stars, musicians, and athletes that populate the ranks of human celebrities, the world of famous animals is often more interesting. Like humans, animal celebrities rise to fame as a result of luck, talent, or some combination of both. More often than not, though, what sets famous animals apart, is that they usually arrive at success in stranger ways. From actors and artists to animal intellectuals, click through to check out some of the most intriguing animal celebrities around.
1. Congo the Painting Chimp.
Critics of abstract art often claim that even children can paint that way; this artistic primate proved that a chimpanzee can, too! Born in 1954, Congo was a resident of the London Zoo, and began creating art when celebrity zoologist (and a painter himself) Desmond Morris handed him a pencil. He soon moved on to painting, and produced hundreds of pieces by the age of four. He had his work shown in galleries and even sold at auctions. One of his most famous human fans? None other than artistic genius Pablo Picasso, who reportedly hung one on the wall of his studio.
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2. Bobbie the Wonder Dog.
A two-year old Scottish Collie/English Shepherd mix from Silverton, Oregon, this “Wonder Dog” made one of the most amazing journeys known to animal kind (or humankind, for that matter). In 1923, on vacation with his family in Indiana, Bobbie was separated and presumed lost. His bereaved family returned to Oregon, never expecting to see him again. Nearly six months later, though, Bobbie showed up on their doorstep, having made the 2,500 mile journey home all by himself. The story of Bobbie’s remarkable return spread across the country, and he became one of the most famous dogs of the 1920s.
3. Koko the Gorilla.
No list of famous animals would be complete without Koko the Gorilla. Known worldwide for her ability to communicate using American Sign Language, Koko is said to possess a vocabulary of more than 1,000 words. Koko’s signing captured the public imagination, and made animals everywhere seem just a little more human. While scientists are still debating the extent of her linguistic abilities, there’s no denying that Koko’s story has touched the hearts of millions around the world.
Koko was also a big fan of Mr. Rogers. In the video below, you’ll see their first encounter!
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4. Rin Tin Tin the German Shepard.
Rescued from the European battlefield of World War I, this German Shepherd went on to become the biggest animal star of the silent film era. U.S. soldier Lee Duncan found Rin Tin Tin as a puppy in a bombed French village, and brought him back home after the war. Settling in Los Angeles, Rin Tin Tin made the rounds on the local dog show circuit before moving up to films, quickly becoming an international star. Throughout his career, Rin Tin Tin appeared in dozens of popular films, and even came close to winning the 1929 Academy Award for Best Actor. Unfortunately for him, the Academy decided the award should be given to a human instead.
5. Shrek the Sheep.
In New Zealand, a country where sheep outnumber humans nearly seven to one, it’s difficult for a single sheep to make a name for himself. But Shrek the Sheep did just that in 2004, when he was found living in a cave after a six-year absence. Shrek had avoided being sheared for years, and when he was found his fleece contained nearly 60 lbs. of wool – enough to make 20 suits! Shrek’s long overdue shearing was broadcast live on television, and made him into a New Zealand national icon.
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6. Tillamook Cheddar the Jack Russell.
Also known as “Tillie,” this Jack Russell terrier is a big name in the world of artistic animals, not to mention the art world in general. Tillie’s pet parent, F. Bowman Hastie III, first noticed his pooch’s artistic inclinations when she began scratching at a legal pad, Hastie stuck a sheet of carbon paper to the pad, allowing Tillie to record her scratches, and the rest is art history. With dozens of television appearances and exhibitions in both American and European galleries, Tillie has experienced the kind of success likely to color many human artists green with envy. Check out some of his art here!
7. Gua the Chimp.
Here’s a novel experiment: in 1931, scientists Winthrop and Luella Kellogg began raising Gua, a baby Chimpanzee, alongside their infant son Donald, treating her just like a human child. Early on, Gua tested higher than Donald in areas like motor skills and the ability to follow simple commands. As time passed, though, Donald began to develop language, while Gua did not. The Kelloggs ended the experiment after nine months, but their findings have made Gua one of the 20th century’s most famous chimps.
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8. Smokey Bear.
A few years after the U.S. Forest Service created the fictional Smokey the Bear mascot, a real life animal earned the nickname Smokey in 1950. This black bear cub was saved from a real life wildfire in New Mexico’s Lincoln National Forest by a group of soldiers. News of his dramatic rescue made him a national celebrity, and by the time he was transported to his new home at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., hundreds of people were waiting to greet him. Smokey lived out the rest of his days as a celebrity bear, receiving so much fan mail that the U.S. Postal Service eventually gave him his own zip code.