Animals have a knack for saving other animals, but they’ve also been known to put themselves in the line of danger for humans , and we’re not just talking about pet dogs that protect their homes from burglars.
From dolphins that rescued a surfer from sharks and a whale that helped a drowning athlete to an elephant that protected a young girl from a tsunami, these amazing, selfless animal heroes remind us once again of the unique species we co-habitat with that we need to protect.
Whale Saves Diver
Athlete Yang Yun was part of an underwater competition that required contestants to remain at to the bottom of a 20-foot arctic pool in China’s Polar Land when the freezing temperatures caused her legs to cramp, leaving her unable to return to the surface.
That’s when one of the tank’s residents, a beluga whale named Mila grabbed Yun’s leg and guided her up toward the air.
Dolphins Save Surfer
Flipper spent several seasons helping humans out of jams, but his rescues aren’t entirely out of the ordinary for the dolphin population.
Stories of dolphins rescuing humans are everywhere, including the one about Todd Endris, a surfer who survived an attack by a great white shark that he said “came out of nowhere” off the coast of California.
After he was bitten, a pod of bottlenose dolphins circled Endris, holding off the shark until he could make it back to shore – just as they would for one of their own.
Gorilla Saves Boy
When a 3-year-old boy fell into the gorilla exhibit at the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois it wasn’t just injuries from the 24-foot-drop that put him in danger: The exhibit had several adult gorillas on display that were also a threat.
But 7-year-old female gorilla Binti took over, picking up the boy and cradling him before leaving him gently by a door for zookeepers to rescue him. The toddler was transferred to the hospital and recovered.
Dog Saves Boy
Man’s best friend isn’t the kind to shy away from rescuing an owner, but it’s still heartwarming to hear about pups that put themselves in harm’s way for their masters.
In this case, it was 18-week-old puppy Pinky who grabbed the attention of a swarm of bees that was headed for her human companion, 9-year-old Richie Bragg: Pinky was stung more than 40 times but survived, and most likely saved Richie – who has a blood condition that prevents proper clotting – from needing serious medical attention.
Seal Saves Man
When an injured elephant seal pup was rescued in 1994 at the animal center that would become the Aquarium of the Pacific, keepers were simply hoping she’d survive — she did, and became a favorite of visitors and locals with a reputation for being “a gentle giant,” as volunteer Hugh Ryono writes on the Aquarium’s blog.
But when Ryono fell while feeding seal pups a year later and found himself unable to get out of the way of the pups’ aggression, it was Gimpy that stepped in, protecting Ryono from an attack (and earning a writeup in Reader’s Digest).
Lions Save Girl
While some sites dispute the truth of this story, The Guardian reports that, in 2005, a girl in Ethopia was kidnapped by seven men and beaten for a week — until three lions chased the men away and stood guard over the girl until police found her.
Theories for the lions’ behavior range from the idea that they mistook her cries for those of a baby lion to the possibility that they were preparing to eat the girl when the police arrived, but The Guardian quotes an Ethopian police sergeant as saying, “If the lions had not come then it could have been much worse.”
Watusi Calf Saves Woman
Along with mentioning Gimpy the seal in its “True Stories of Hero Pets” collection, Reader’s Digest also brought our attention to Lurch, an African Watusi calf that intercepted his owner, Janice Wolf, while she was walking the paths of her Arkansas refuge.
Lurch refused to move out of the way and when Wolf grabbed his horns to guide him, he knocked her off balance – thereby preventing her from stepping on a coiled copperhead snake she was about to disturb.
Dolphin Saves Drowning Swimmer
It’s not just shark attacks that inspire dolphins to swim into action and save humans: One rescuer, Filippo, was a popular resident of the Adriatic Sea off Italy’s Manfredonia who became a spur-of-the-moment lifeguard when a 14-year-old boy fell into the ocean – without knowing how to swim.
Scotland’s Daily Record reports that the dolphin pushed the boy to keep him above the water until his parents could pull him to safety.
Elephant Saves Girl
Amber Mason, an eight-year-old girl from Bucks, England, was in Phuket, Thailand when the tsunami struck in 2005 – riding an elephant named Ningnong.
As the water rose, the elephant ran up the shore, taking the brunt of the impact and keeping Amber above the water.