Here are just a few fascinating, exotic, and just plain weird pets from history.
1. Bloodthirsty Roman eels
Lucius Licinius Murena was a Roman consul in 62 BC. To say he was crazy about eels is an understatement. He’s notorious for keeping 6,000 moray eels in special pools around his property — and feeding them live slaves. “Muraena” is the genus name of 12 species of eels.
2. Nero’s ferocious companion
Roman emperor Nero was impressed by a tigress he saw fight viciously in the Colosseum and took her has his personal companion. His servants built the tigress, named Phoebe, a golden cage, but she often walked free and joined the emperor at the dinner table. The tales say that Nero loved Phoebe more than anyone or anything else.
3. The Pope’s pet elephant
After Pope Leo X was coronated, he received a white elephant in 1514 from King Manuel I of Portugal, who had obtained it during travels in India. Named Hanno, the elephant was well trained and able to understand orders in Indian and Portuguese. Sadly, Hanno didn’t adapt to life in Rome and became ill. The Pope’s top doctors treated the elephant, but the medicine they administered contained gold and killed Hanno. The artist Raphael painted a commemorative fresco of the elephant, and the pope wrote a poem in Hanno’s honor. Hanno hadn’t yet turned seven (most elephants live to 70).
4. An astronomer whose moose had a drinking problem
Sixteenth-century astronomer Tycho Brahe had a pet moose who had a reputation as a party animal that could drink any of Brahe’s human friends under the table. At one party, after drinking too much beer, the moose fell down the stairs and died.
5. Napoleon Bonaparte’s orangutan dinner guest
Josephine Bonaparte’s favorite pet was a female orangutan that often joined her at the dinner table. The orangutan wore a white cotton chemise and reportedly had impeccable manners and a taste for turnips. Josephine had many other exotic pets, including emu, black swans, and kangaroos.
6. The bear that went to college with Lord Byron
When 19th-century poet Lord Byron was attending Cambridge’s Trinity College, the university forbade pet dogs on the premises. This didn’t sit well with Lord B., who wanted to bring his beloved dog Boatswain. After checking that the rule applied only to canines, the rebellious Byron took revenge on Trinity by bringing a bear as his college roommate.
7. Gators at the White House
Herbert Hoover’s son Allan had a pair of pet alligators that occasionally roamed the White House grounds. However, they weren’t the first gators on presidential property! When John Quincy Adams was in office, the Marquis de Lafayette visited the country and gifted the president a pet alligator, who was stashed in a bathtub in the East Room of the White House. Reportedly, Adams got a kick out of unsuspecting visitors going to the restroom, only to be shocked by a surprise alligator.
8. Playing possum in the Oval Office
Hoover and Adams weren’t the only presidents to boast unusual animal guests during their administration. Benjamin Harrison had two opossums named Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection, and his son Russell had a pet goat named Old Whiskers. Supposedly, the opossums didn’t get along.
9. Audrey Hepburn’s doe-eyed friend
Audrey Hepburn met her pet fawn, Pippin, while filming Green Mansions. The director suggested she take the deer home with her so they’d have a better rapport on screen. After the movie wrapped, Hepburn kept her as a permanent pet. Pippin slept with Hepburn and was photographed at many big Hollywood parties next to the era’s biggest stars.
10. Dali’s domesticated ocelot
Artist Salvador Dali was an eccentric man, and this extended to his taste in pets. As a child, he had a pet bat and later, he took an anteater on a leash for a stroll in Paris. But his most faithful animal companion was Babou the ocelot, who would even accompany him to fancy restaurants. One day, when a woman was shocked by Dali’s feline dinner companion, he lied and told her Babou was simply an ordinary house cat he had painted to look “op-art.” The animated TV series Archer has given its eccentric millionaire character a pet ocelot named Babou in homage to Dali.