Land & Conservation

The Sweetest and Strangest Animal Stories of 2018

From mischievous North Carolina black bears to vigilante cattle in Florida to good dogs everywhere, these are our favorite Southern animal anecdotes from the past year

Hitching a Ride

A group of bicyclists were about seven miles south of Columbus, Georgia, this summer when they came across a five-month-old Great Dane mix with a broken leg, broken toe, and substantial road rash. Despite his ailments, the pup came bounding up to them, looking for help. Jarrett Little, one of the cyclists, could not leave the dog on the side of the road and carried him on his back into town, where he was treated, named Columbo, and quickly adopted.

Photo: Chris Dixon

Columbo holds on to Jarrett Little as he bikes to safety.

Grin and Bear It

As mountain communities like Asheville, North Carolina, grow, they get closer and closer to the wildlife around them—as Nicole Minkin Lissenden, who parked her minivan in her parents’ driveway just north of town one afternoon, learned this year. When she noticed the car’s door was ajar, she closed it and walked away, not noticing she had trapped a black bear inside. But it didn’t stay there for long.

Elsewhere in Asheville, this bear was a little less boisterous as it snoozed the day away in a backyard hammock.


Circle of Life

Last spring in Florida, nature photographer Doc Jon snapped a photo of an osprey on Madeira Beach without thinking much of it. Later, when he zoomed in on the image, he saw that the bird was carrying a small shark, which was carrying an even smaller fish in its mouth.“The odds are impossible that I got this shot,” he said. “I take pictures all the time, but I don’t know how I’ll ever top this.”

Photo: Doc Jon

An osprey on Madeira Beach, Florida, carries a shark, which carries a fish.

Bridle Party

The rules at Elk City Tractor Supply Company near Cheyenne, Oklahoma, are clear: all pets are allowed inside as long as they’re on a leash. That’s why this September, the manager of the store allowed a man to bring his horse inside. The bay doubled as a shopping cart as its owner tossed a bag of feed across its saddle before hitching up to the checkout counter. Robin Morris, who snapped a photo of her fellow shoppers, told a local Fox News affiliate: “Technically a bridle is a leash.”

Photo: Robin Morris

A man brings his horse into an Oklahoma store.

Happy Dance

When Daisy, a seven-month-old husky mix went missing from her Jackson, Mississippi, home in June, her owner, Joyce Adams, spent days trying to track the dog down. Two weeks later, Adams and Daisy reconciled at a local shelter and their reunion is guaranteed to be the happiest thing you’ll see all day.


Founding Feathers

This August in Culpeper, Virginia, Pam Alvey’s lime green Indian ringneck parakeet, Kiwi, was perched on Alvey’s husband’s shoulder inside their home when he suddenly took flight and disappeared out an open window. Devastated, Alvey thought she’d never see the bird again. Two months later, Kiwi touched down on the shoulder of a security guard at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, some forty miles from Culpeper. When the historic site posted a picture of Kiwi on its Facebook page alongside a bust of T.J. himself, Alvey was delighted. “In my book, this is a miracle,” Alvey told NBC29, tears of joy streaming down her face as she was reunited with Kiwi.

Photo: courtesy of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello

Kiwi perches on a bust of Thomas Jefferson.

That’s Reticulous

One of earth’s largest amphibians was introduced to the world this year after being discovered in southern Alabama and northwestern Florida swamps. The reticulated siren, a spotted salamander with a snake-like body, can reach up to two feet in length. And while scientists have been studying these not-so-little guys for about five years, only this year did they find enough specimens to formally describe the species in scientific journals, thus making the discovery official.

Photo: courtesy of David A. Steen, Science Wildlife Ecology and Conservation

Reticulated siren.

Two Heads Aren’t Always Better Than One

In late September, a rare two-headed baby copperhead slithered into a Virginia garden. The gardener, both frightened and intrigued, contacted the Virginia Herpetological Society, which took the snake to the Wildlife Center of Virginia. Two months later, after attracting national attention, the snake died of natural causes. “Too many challenges living day to day with two heads,” wrote J.D. Kleopfer of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries on Facebook.

Photo: J.D. Kleopfer/Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

A two-headed copperhead found in Virginia.

Cold-Blooded Chillers

As big and intimidating as alligators are, they tend to mind their own business. Take this six-footer who decided to nap on the porch of a Louisiana home.

Photo: courtesy of St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office

An alligator napping on the porch of a Louisiana home.

Or this South Carolina gator, who is very respectful of traffic laws.

This even extends to its cousin the crocodile, one of which was spotted floating pleasantly around Key Largo on a pool noodle.


Udder Arrest

After a car chase in Sanford, Florida, this August, a suspected felon ran into a field full of cows. These bovine bounty hunters—cow cops?—chased her through the pasture, eventually cornering her against a fence where police arrived to arrest her. Police helicopter footage captured the entire event.

Photo: courtesy of Seminole County Sheriff’s Office

The cow chase as seen from a police helicopter.

The Great Kitten Rescue

In July, a woman drove the forty-five miles from Capron to Petersburg, Virginia, before stopping for lunch, realizing as she got out of the driver’s seat that she had a stowaway: a kitten was stuck inside the fender well of her car. Warren Strum of Leete Tire and Auto Service came to the rescue, extracting the scared but unharmed cat. It was then love at first sight for one of the Leete Tire employees who had tagged along. He adopted the kitten on the spot.[0]=68.ARBFdsa0shyqqBK7QLj7jC_2PktfyOiFl3PWRuXIZxZKr13l4-URu5VKSof4xggmoM9bH9qoPYEXOllx0Yoz46L9FVUoPZgm_hp8nozuoExRuRtaXPiCp5jjvhRiSlNKLGztA8UfejP6vwttTORrAU3g7h_KWhXb-EpotRITbCnObCFsd7ZhPXJ9aTF1umkCfK7PGlbTR_efqDZcoikZol925IUhAHVtMT6q_0DqgDJJtWtv4FrRsG8xyuqi4oovG1kS6azRBtsWJXO-T8LxVwE_fumn1GuPhMwJE48peNRet-bPzDjQbGUcvHVuJSSQuHUKIT14DnUKIECswzFAORvlJg&__tn__=-R


Lovable Labradors

Of all the good dogs this year, three labs stood out from the pack: Woody, a South Carolina pup who rescued a drowning man in the Okatie River in March , Cash, who sniffed out a missing toddler in April, and Sully, George H.W. Bush’s service dog who paid his last respects to his beloved owner before moving on to help disabled soldiers and veterans in need.