Emotionally supportive alligators, adventurous felines and a sheep who listens to commands. Here’s a round-up of some of the cutest animal stories we told in 2022.
Rio, or is that Phoenix?
Rio – a black and white cat from Whanganui – got a new nickname after she was rescued from a Phoenix palm she had been stuck in for more than two weeks in September.
Marita, Jessica and Elizabeth reunited with Rio.
The moggy, nicknamed Phoenix during her ordeal, had become somewhat of a neighbourhood celebrity – as many tried to help get her down.
An arborist, two cherry-picker companies, a drone operator, as well as members of the community had all tried to help get her down.
A cage with fresh meat and clean water up high on a cherry picker finally enticed Rio to come out of the tree – and she was soon reunited with her owner.
Brad Larsen said Rio had gone missing about three weeks earlier – and he and his family were oblivious to Rio’s newfound fame.
They were “over the moon” when Rio was reunited with them.
WallyGator the support alligator
When you think of an emotional support animal, alligator doesn’t come to mind.
But in Pennsylvania, you will find the one and only registered support alligator – WallyGator.
WallyGator became an official emotional support animal after helping his 69-year-old owner get through depression.
Joseph Henney has handled and trained alligators for more than 30 years.
After losing seven people close to him in just two weeks, Henney fell into a deep depression – with his doctor offering him anti-depressants.
He didn’t take them, choosing to hang with Wally instead.
The alligator helped him recover quickly and Henney’s doctor suggested he register the reptile as an emotional support animal.
“He does a lot of cuddling, he gives hugs, he gives kisses,” Henney said.
“He actually sleeps with me a lot.”
For other people – Wally helps put on a smile on their face and “makes their day”.
Lucky the obedient sheep
Sit, bow, turn back, jump, stay, pose. Dog tricks, you may ask? Oh no.
These are the tricks of Lucky the sheep.
But that’s not all Lucky can do.
The 6-year-old sheep owned by Caroline Thompson of Christchurch has learnt 29 different commands.
After seeing Lucky sit down beside her one day, Thompson decided to see if he would do it on command.
With a handful of leaves, she began training her sheep. He “cottoned on” pretty quickly.
“I think it suits people to think that they’re dumb … I mean, you wouldn’t eat them otherwise,” Thompson said.
“There’s whole paddocks full of these amazing, intelligent animals that it suits people not to think they’re bright.”
Moss found three years later and 130km away
A handy dandy microchip helped reunite a family with their beloved feline … three years after he went missing.
The Fellowes family adopted Moss and Roy from the SPCA in Hamilton before moving with them to Palmerston North.
Soon after the move, Moss went missing and despite their best efforts to find him, the Fellowes family had no luck.
That was until Moss showed up three years later and 130 kilometres away at the SPCA in Hastings.
After the family got him home once again to Palmerston North, Moss made himself comfortable on a bed as if he had never left.
If only Moss could talk…
Echo the avalanche dog
Echo is in training for an event his trainer hopes will never happen.
The two-year-old border collie is in his first full season as an avalanche rescue dog with Land Search and Rescue.
His handler, Lisa Jaggi, said dogs were far superior at finding people buried in snow than humans were.
They have a sense of smell “220 million scent receptors versus our five million. They smell the world in 3D”.
Where a dog can search a hectare in 30 minutes and work out if someone was under the snow, it would take 20 humans four hours.
“We’re really training for a situation we hope will never happen,” Jaggi said.
“He’s this amazing teammate that makes me smile every day.”
Connie the turtle leaves rehab
After two stints in rehab, Connie the green turtle was returned to sea in May.
Connie was first looked after by the team at Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium after she was found stranded in the Far North four years ago.
She weighed just 18 kilograms – less than half of what she should.
She was returned to the sea in 2019 – but was back at the aquarium a year later, very sick.
Connie had chronic pneumonia and problems with digestion – possibly from ingesting plastics.
It was a bittersweet moment for Kelly Tarlton’s staff when they returned Connie to the sea from Rangiputa Beach in the Far North – hopefully for the last time.
But if she was to need help again – Connie now has a flipper tag that will make her identifiable if she makes her way back to shore.
Baby boom at Auckland Zoo
It was a special year for Auckland Zoo – welcoming several baby animals to its family.
First came Bahmi, a baby orangutan. Bahmi was born on 20 March to his parents Melur and Charlie.
The zoo’s primate team said watching Bahmi’s birth was incredible.
Team member Amy Robbins said Melur knew exactly what to do after the baby was born, cleaning and nursing him.
“It’s been 16 years since the birth of Melur and Charlie’s first offspring, male Madju so it’s incredibly special to welcome their second.”
Next came a baby giraffe, born 19 August.
The male giraffe named Jabali was standing and suckling from his mother within the hour after his birth.
Zoo staff believe he has inherited the tall genes of his grandfather – being the tallest giraffe at birth the zoo keepers could recall.
Just 10 days after Jabali’s birth, a kororā/little penguin chick hatched at the zoo.
The chick weighed just 34 grams when it hatched and had tripled its weight in 10 days.
Just over a month after the chick hatched, rhinoceros calf Amali was born at the zoo – weighing about 60kg.
After a 16-month long pregnancy, zoo staff said it was “super exciting” to see Amali’s mum Jamila give birth.
Cuddles with a cow
An Australian man found the healing power of bovine touch so strong he decided to make a business out of it.
Now, Lawrence Fox offers cow cuddles as a form of therapy.
Two years ago, Fox was working remotely from a friend’s farm.
Not having much human interaction, he spent a lot of time with the cows in the paddock and found it helpful.
“I had been working as a business strategist for most of my career and that was really taking a toll on my mental health,” Fox said.
“And I eventually got to the point where instead of taking breaks from that work to go spend time with the cows, I realised I needed to make spending time with the cows the work, and that’s when I sort of went down the path of looking into cow cuddling.”
Fox purchased six female cows – and two offspring has since joined them.
“Their body language shows that they do enjoy it very much, they’re basically like half-tonne puppy dogs, you can see that when you scratch them, they react, and they’ll roll over and want scratches on their belly.
“They’ll move their tail if you scratch at the base of their tail. So, you can tell that they enjoy it. They love it.”
Those who visit his cows for cuddles include young children with autism and retired farmers.
Leopard seal takes a nap
Lower Hutt residents got a large and furry surprise in September when a leopard seal decided to take a snooze on Petone Beach.
Locals found the visitor “amazing” and while most kept their distance, some got a bit too close to the seal.
“It’s a dream come true,” one woman said.
“I’ve lived in Wellington all my life and never seen one on the beach here. Never.”
Construction crew finds kittens
A construction crew got more than they bargained for when they turned up for work one day – finding a litter of adorable kittens.
The crew working on Transmission Gully found seven kittens near a digger on site.
Helping You Help Animals said the kittens were hiding under some rubble and were found when a digger moved it.
The workers wrangled all the kittens into a box and took them down to the animal rescue group.
The kittens had very full bellies when they were found – although not too happy to be bothered.
However, they were just 4-5 weeks old at the time and HUHA founder Carolyn Press-Mackenzie said they would be “easy enough to turn around”.
The construction workers who found the babies were “legends” and she appreciated them being brought to her rescue group.