Exotic Pets in History

African Grey Parrot

Many famous people were pet-lovers. Most of the United States presidents kept pets (see U.S. Presidents and their Pets)) and Winston Churchill had a series of pets. Some famous historical figures have had unusual pets as companions:

  • Ramses II (14th century BC) owned a pet lion. The lion went to battle with him and is depicted in the king’s description of the famous Battle of Kadesh against the Hittites.
  • Ptolemy II, king of Egypt (285 to 246 BC) had a pet white bear. The bear was placed at the head of parades during festivities.
  • Roman Consul Licinius Muraena (1st century BC) kept around 6000 Moray Eels.
  • Nero (Roman Emperor from 54 to 68) kept a pet tiger called Phoebe. He had his servants build a golden cage for her in the palace grounds, and she often ate meals at the royal table with the emperor and his guests.
  • Pope Leo (16th century) X kept a white elephant. The elephant was given to the Pope at the time of the coronation by King Manuel I of Portugal. The elephant, named Hanno, was beloved by Pope Leo and lived near the Pope’s residence. Unfortunately, the elephant became ill after only three years in Rome and the Pope’s doctors killed the elephants with their attempts to cure him. The Pope then wrote a poem dedicated to Hanno.
  • Ivan the Terrible (16th century) had bears. However, these were apparently not pets, but underfed and neglected bears used to execute prisoners or innocent bystanders.
  • Josephine Bonaparte (18th century) owned an orangutan. And a whole collection of exotic pets, including exotic birds, kangaroos, emus and Australian black swans. She also had a dog who slept in her bed with her and with her husband, Napoleon.
  • Marquis de Lafayette (18th century) owned the alligator sometimes attributed to President Quincy Adams. He brought the alligator with him when he visited the White House and took him home when his visit ended.
  • Mozart (18th century) had a pet starling. Mozart kept the bird for three years and was amused that it could mimic music, including his own compositions.
  • Andrew Jackson (19th century) had an African Grey Parrot. He bougtht it as a present for his wife but had to care for it himself after his wife died. The parrot disrupted Jackson’s funeral by swearing loudly in Spanish and English.
  • Salvador DalĂ­ (20th century) kept an ocelot named Babou. He also had pet bats as a child and was once seen walking an anteater, although this animal was apparently not his pet.

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