“Unlikely Heroes: 37 Inspiring Stories of Courage and Heart from the Animal Kingdom” by Jennifer S. Holland is a book that shares unexpected stories of heroism and empathy from various animals, including dogs, cats, seals, horses, and cows. The book highlights the modesty of animal heroes, who don’t care about recognition or TV coverage. Instead, they focus on their actions before the incident, such as eating, sleeping, and rolling in the mud.
One example is the story of Meagan Howard and her close friend Samantha Kuusk, who lived together in Denver. Meagan watched her 2-year-old daughter, Hannah, while Meagan prepared her favorite breakfast treat, a Pop-Tart. When the Pop-Tart was spit out, Meagan noticed Hannah engaged with the TV and slipped out to use the bathroom. She heard two distinct words from the parrot’s mouth: “Mama. Baby.” The parrot repeated these words repeatedly, and Meagan found Hannah choking on the Pop-Tart. Meagan grabbed her and performed the Heimlich maneuver until the piece came flying out.
Samantha was grateful for the act, but Meagan said, “Don’t thank me! It was Willie who was the hero!” The surprising part is that Willie had never combined the word “mama” with the word “baby,” and hasn’t said them together since. This story highlights the importance of being humble and empathetic when it comes to animals, as they often go back to what they were doing before the incident.
Willie the Quaker parrot who saved a two-year-old girl.
Tamara Reynolds Photography
In August 1996, a little boy visiting the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago, Illinois, fell 20 feet into the gorilla exhibit. Zoo staff, led by Craig Demitros, heard people yelling and saw families pushing through the emergency exit. He announced a “signal 13” — a potential life-threatening situation. One of the gorillas, Binti Jua, approached the boy’s motionless body and carried him about 75 feet away from the other animals. Binti seemed to rock the child back and forth like a mother would a sleeping baby. Finally, she set him down and joined her gorilla kin as they moved inside.
The boy began to regain consciousness after Binti left, and zoo staff, along with paramedics who happened to be near, descended, stabilized him, carried him out of the exhibit, and loaded him into a zoo ambulance. Some say Binti was a hero, while others are more cautious about a label that suggests a purposeful action. Craig says that we can only speculate about her motivation, but the fact that she had her own baby also might be a factor. It was fortunate that the child was unconscious, as if he had been crying and flailing about, Binti might have seen him as a threat.
Binti Jua’s name is Swahili, meaning “Daughter of Sunshine,” which seems appropriate for an animal that gave so many days to a child that might otherwise have missed out. The child, now a man and long recovered from the fall, has remained out of the public eye. Three generations of Binti’s family now share the Brookfield exhibit, and she has risen from position of awkward youngster to unlikely hero to matriarch.
In Olgara Village, West Bengal, India, an elephant believed to be the one crashed through the home of Lalita Mahato left with her daughter Basanti. The elephant suddenly found himself standing over the bed of a crying child and stopped his devastating charge. Instead of ignoring the baby or swiping her aside, the elephant stretched out his trunk and began to pluck debris off the cot, cleaning up all the rubble that had fallen on the girl.
The elephant believed to be the one crashed through the home of Lalita Mahato, left, with her daughter Basanti.
Barcroft Media (2)
To the child’s parents, it was simply a miracle, but then came a second miracle of sorts: the elephant turned and walked away, returning to the forest without further commotion.