Charlie the smoking chimp is dead. Several years ago a visitor to the Mangaung Zoo in Bloemfontein, South Africa tossed Charlie a lit cigarette through the bars.
He picked it up, stuck it in his mouth and, observing the humans that were curiously eying him, inhaled. After that he was hooked, Charlie would bring two fingers to his mouth to indicate he wanted a drag and visitors would toss him a cigarette. Zookeepers tried to cut Charlie off but some visitors continued to sneak him cigarettes. Despite his smoking habit Charlie lived to the ripe chimp age of 52—the average age for chimps is 40. “He was on serious medications and in and out of the vet,” said the zoo’s spokesperson. “Charlie was very old for a chimp, and even though he has been receiving special care, and a special diet including protein shakes, vitamin and mineral supplements, he succumbed to old age.”
An autopsy is still pending and while it is not yet known whether cigarettes helped kill Charlie, they definitely helped make him famous, his death was reported the world over. While it is rare for animal deaths to receive such coverage some of the strangest human deaths in history have been caused by animals. They have led to not just a wealth of newspaper articles, but also award-winning movies, and in some cases have even changed history.
Timothy Treadwell grew up on Long Island, New York, where he was an average student, a star diver and had a pet squirrel. After a near fatal heroin overdose Treadwell moved to Katmai National Park, in Alaska to observe grizzly bears and search for meaning in his life. He found it with the bears and spent 13 summers living among them, at times even touching them and playing with the cubs. He co-wrote a book and was featured on the Discovery Channel, David Letterman and Dateline NBC. In October of 2003 him and his girlfriend visited Katmai and camped near a salmon stream frequented by grizzlies. On October 6, a bush pilot arrived to retrieve the pair. The pilot found Treadwell’s disfigured head, partial backbone, and his right forearm, still wearing his wrist watch. His girlfriend’s remains were found nearby, partially buried in a mound of twigs and dirt. Acclaimed German director Werner Herzog made a popular documentary film about Treadwell’s death called Grizzly Man.
Alexander I ruled Greece from 1917 to 1920, when at the young age of 27 he was killed by a monkey. The king had been out walking his dog in the Royal Gardens when the canine was attacked by a pair of primates. Alexander beat one monkey with a stick, although in the fight it bit him on the hand. “Another monkey rushed to the defense of his mate, and in fending it off, the King received another bite which severely lacerated a gland,” reads a report of the event. “The infection which set in following the bites gradually poisoned the King’s entire system…” Alexander fell ill and days later died of sepsis. Both monkeys were found to have been diseased and were destroyed. Upon Alexander’s death his father, Constantine I, who had been forced into exile at the end of WWI, returned to rule Greece. He led the country into the Greco-Turkish War, which resulted in a quarter of a million military and civilian casualties and the loss of territory. Winston Churchill later declared; “it was a monkey bite that caused the death of those 250,000 people.”