Many people are fascinated by the animal kingdom, which is evident by the vast amount of nature documentaries and programs on television and on the internet these days. It’s like we can’t get enough of seeing our favorite creatures in their natural habitats, and we love learning about their everyday life. However, this isn’t quite enough for some, and there are plenty of shocking stories of people transcending the border between man and beast. And we’re not just talking about the standard “wolf children” tales, which are often fabricated. These are stories of people well and truly pushing the boundaries on purpose. Some of this happens in the name of research; some is just downright lunacy. Either way, there are some remarkable tales of human voluntarily living with wild animals – and let’s just say, a lot of them don’t end particularly well. We’ve found some of the craziest, most extraordinary stories and compiled them into one article.
Living in the Lions’ Den
In January 2011, Jim Jablon moved into the lion pen at Wildlife Rehabilitation of Hernando, Inc., the 14-acre sanctuary he’d owned and operated since 2002. The move was pure publicity — he hoped to raise money for his struggling nonprofit. By the end of the month, the Tampa Bay Times reported he’d collected around US$75,000.
However, not everyone agreed with his actions – according to the LA Times, people accused him of “exploiting” the big cats and treating them like pets. Either way, the money he earned was enough to feed all of his animals for at least another year.
The Unethical Dolphin Project
This bizarre research project saw 23-year-old scientist Margaret Howe Lovatt move into a flooded house to teach a dolphin how to speak English. Yes, that’s right. Not long into the project, Lovatt realized “Peter” the dolphin was courting her, and her unusual reaction was to engage in sexual activity with him.
What actually ended the project was the lead scientist being caught giving LSD to the other dolphins, as well as various other unethical things. Poor Peter ended up falling into a deep depression and “committed suicide” by deliberately failing to surface for air.
Only the Pack Survives
When he was in his 20s, Englishman Shaun Ellis sold everything he owned to buy a plane ticket to Idaho, where he began a career as a wolf researcher with a difference. He decided to immerse himself entirely into the wolves’ culture by setting up camp near a den.
The wolves not only came to accept his presence but also let him babysit their pups. They even started to bring him food such as raw deer and elk. We’re pleased to report that Ellis got out alive and now runs a wolf research center in Devon, England.
Just Never Cry Wolf
In 1946, Farley Mowat was hired by the Dominion Wildlife Service to prove that wolves were to blame for the declining caribou population in the northern Canadian wilderness. His employers hoped his research would give them a good reason to shoot the wolves, but instead discovered they were eating rodents.
Mowat had further proof: he knew that a large predator could survive eating nothing but voles because he’d done it himself. Although much of what Mowat wrote in the 1963 book Never Cry Wolf about his experiences in the Arctic has been more or less discredited as heavily fictionalized, no one disputes that the vole experiment actually happened.
Living the Turkey Life
Joe Hutto’s project started when a neighbor brought him some wild turkey eggs he’d found on his plantation. Joe knew if they hatched and he wanted them to stay wild, he would literally have to become a turkey mom and shun his human friends.
Joe took his new role seriously – he tried to learn how to speak “turkey” and wore only pale blue because mother turkeys have pale blue heads. The Casper Star-Tribune said Joe wouldn’t eat in front of his turkeys, because turkey moms don’t eat sandwiches, and wouldn’t take pictures of them, because turkey moms don’t make scrapbooks. That’s dedication.
Bear Necessities in the Name of Research
According to his obituary, the failed actor Timothy Treadwell spent 13 summers living with and studying bears in Alaska. He was a controversial figure, partly because he lacked actual training as a research scientist and partly because he was extremely confident around his quarter-ton subjects, claiming that the bears would never hurt him because they “love me too much.”
Eventually – and somewhat unsurprisingly – he was killed by a bear. It wasn’t one he was familiar with, however, but it killed his girlfriend too. Unfortunately, his 2003 claim of “My transformation is complete — a fully accepted wild animal — brother to these bears” wasn’t entirely accurate …
The Travesty of Travis
In 1995, Sandra Herold paid $50,000 cash for a baby chimpanzee she named “Travis.” She and her husband, Jerry, raised Travis as if he was a child, teaching him how to brush his own teeth, use the toilet, and ride a bicycle. He became a local celebrity.
One day, Travis got agitated and ran outside. When Sandra’s friend Charla Nash showed up to help detain him, he attacked her and bit her face. Charla lost much of her face and both her hands in the attack that also left her blind. She survived and, according to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, received a full face transplant in 2009.
The Adventures of Hercules
In 1976, Andy Robin and his wife, Maggie, purchased Hercules the bear from a zoo in Scotland for ￡50 with the idea of training it to be a sparring partner. Hercules grew to be 9 feet tall and weighed nearly half a ton.
In 1980, Robin took Hercules for a swim in the Sea of the Minch, and the bear escaped. He was missing for 24 days and, when finally captured, he’d lost more than half his body weight. In fact, the most unusual thing about this story is that Hercules never killed, mauled, or injured anyone – ever. He died of natural causes in 2000.
Tipped Over the Edge
As a small child in Namibia, Tippi Degre played with giant toads, elephants, and lion cubs. She thought of the animals as her brothers and sisters and was particularly close with a 5-ton, a 10-foot-tall African elephant named Abu. She petted leopards, played with meerkats, snuggled toads, and rode ostriches.
Considering this all happened before Tippi’s 10th birthday, she must have learned a great deal about wildlife and nature. And the fact that she’s still living suggests she stayed away from chimpanzees! However, her mother told The Telegraph that she only ever interacted with animals that were tame or accustomed to humans.
The Rebel of the Family
In 1973 a baby chimpanzee named “Nim Chimpsky” was taken from his mother and placed in a human home with the goal of treating him exactly like a child, in the hope that he would learn human behavior and human speech. That was not what happened.
Instead, Nim learned how to bite his human siblings and smoke marijuana, culminating in him losing his temper and destroying his “dad’s” library. Nim was eventually removed from the home and placed with a new “mom.” He bit her, too, and mauled someone else, and the project was officially over.
The Born Free Father of Lions
George Adamson, who was featured with his wife Joy in the award-winning documentary Born Free, had the nickname “Baba ya Simba,” which means “Father of Lions.” After the documentary, Adamson continued raising orphaned lions for release but always maintained a relationship with the animals after they went back to the wild.
He could approach his lions after a kill and was once photographed sitting with a male lion and the freshly killed carcass of a zebra. It sounds crazy to most, but Adamson’s bond with the once-orphaned lions was strong enough to allow him to be accepted in this way.
The Rifle-Carrying Mule Deer
Joe Hutto’s made it onto this crazy list again! He also spent seven years living with mule deer, as his house was in the middle of their winter territory. According to Wide Open Spaces, one of his subjects even regularly groomed him, which is something mule deer only do with family members.
There was one crucial difference between Joe and the mule deer, however. Because of his total inability to escape predators once your herd has bounded off into the forest, Joe is the world’s only rifle-carrying mule deer.