When it comes to animals being out of place, nothing really surprises people anymore. Every other day someone’s pulling a snake out of their toilet or an alligator from their pool, and the prevalence of zoos has taken the majesty away from some of the world’s most breathtaking creatures. Short of a tiger running through New York City, what’ll it take to really get everyone’s attention?
Well, when one tropical bird wound up in one of the harshest climates on Earth, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Not only were experts puzzled as to how the creature got there, but the bird’s journey also posed a pressing question: what did this mean for the future of our planet?
After all, Siberia isn’t exactly the kind of place you’d expect to find warm-weather birds. The average annual temperature in the province is 23 degrees, and in winter, most regions dip well into the double negatives.
As such, brown bears, reindeer, and other creatures equipped to survive the freezing cold have come to dominate the Siberian wilderness. Yet just outside the village of Motygino, a very different animal decided to make an unexpected pit stop.
That creature was a young greater flamingo, just barely a few years old. A group of children discovered the bird resting along the banks of the Angara River, and judging by how tired it looked, this flamingo had flown quite a long way.
In fact, the bird was so exhausted that it barely resisted as the children scooped it up and brought it back to Motygino. There, they decided to name it Vasya and began feeding the bird shrimp to nurse it back to strength.
As word of the unusual guest spread through the village, people couldn’t help but wonder: what was a greater flamingo doing in Siberia? While these birds were known to reside in the warmer regions of Africa and Eurasia, the closest known populations were located thousands of miles away.
The Mystery of the Pink Flamingo
What’s more, most of these populations made for the hot sands of Saudi Arabia during this time of year — some 3,000 miles from Motygino, below. How could this lone bird have strayed so far off course?
According to Irina Vorontsova, an expert at Krasnoyarsk Zoo Royev Ruchey, Vasya was likely headed in that direction from Kazakhstan but grew too weak to make the full journey. Tired and disoriented, the young bird altered its course and wound up flying in the opposite direction.
This phenomenon, known as reverse migration, is relatively common among avians, with young birds often being the most susceptible. Greater flamingos, however, have been known to experience this disorientation in later life as well.
Dave_S. / Flickr
“Greater flamingos are famous for wandering,” explained Kenn Kaufman, right, a field editor at the National Audubon Society. “They have a wide range in Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East, and southern Asia, and flocks may travel major distances in response to changes in water conditions.”
Camilla Cerea / Audubon
Incredibly, this wasn’t even the first time a greater flamingo had found its way to the far north. A pair of fishermen watched several birds fall from the sky in 2003 and 2004, and a decade later, a flock was spotted on the Tom River near the city of Kemerovo.
Eric Kilby / Flickr
In fact, historical records show that flamingos have been spotted in Siberia as far back as 1907. However, tired wings and rough winds may not be entirely to blame for Vasya straying off course.
CJ Oliver / Flickr
According to Andrew Farnsworth, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, he believes that reverse migration may also be genetic in origin. While some birds learn migrations routes from their parents, others have them innately passed down to them.
“This is often a case of variation in the expression of whatever genes control birds’ abilities to orient,” explained Farnsworth. “So, for example, some individuals may orient one way… but then a small percentage will vary in their orientation vis a vis genetic variation and perhaps move in 90 or 180 degree offset directions.”
If two birds possessing this orientation mutation were to survive and breed, there’s a high chance their offspring would also reverse migrate. As this gene is passed down through generations, we could see entire colonies of birds migrating the wrong way!
Fortunately, it appears that Vasya’s misadventure was simply the result of a bit of confusion. Yet could this increasing frequency of reverse migrations be hinting at something more sinister going on with our planet?
In Farnsworth’s mind, the answer is a tentative “no.” If it were the case that climate change was causing these disruptions, we’d likely see breeding populations residing in Siberia, indicating that the region had warmed enough to support the flamingos. Still, we’re not out of the woods yet.
Tambako the Jaguar / Flickr
According to a 2006 report in Bird Species and Climate Change, increasing global temperatures threaten to devastate world avian populations. If the average temperature goals set forth in 2016’s Paris Agreement aren’t met, bird extinction rates could exceed 38 percent in Europe and 72 percent in northeastern Australia.
Photographer is only a witness. / Flickr
As for Vasya, he’ll continue to recuperate under the watchful eye of the people of Motygino. While it’s unlikely the flamingo will ever find his way back to his flock, his caretakers are hoping to reunite him with birds of his own kind.
“We would like to pass the flamingo to a zoo or shelter with rare birds,” said Antonina Maisa, who is currently caring for Vasya. “Somewhere the flamingo will be comfortable, alongside companions with whom it can communicate. Ideally, the same bird breed, or at least from the same region.”
Regional Committee for Environmental Protection, Seversk Zoo
Unfortunately, birds aren’t the only animals that sometimes stray a little too far from home — a fact that definitely would’ve helped Captain Ren Dorr as he and his crewmates approached a helpless animal lost at sea in late 2019.
After all, Captain Dorr was only a lobsterman. It was what he was best at, and he was proud to contribute to the 126 million pounds of the seafood caught in Maine every year. Yet, at the midpoint of this November excursion, he couldn’t focus on lobster.
Captain Dorr, left, was joined by fellow fishermen and friends Jared Thaxter, center, and Shawn Dowling, right, on the Ryss & Stace, a 32-foot fishing vessel. The trio sailed from a harbor up the Northeast coast of Maine, not far from the small city of Harrington.
About five miles from shore, they went to work. Captain Dorr set what lobster fisherman call a triple, or three traps suspended from a single line. With a trap in place, they sailed towards another buoy, this one south of Nash Island.
That was when the crew spotted something dark and oddly shaped poking out of the water, drifting away from land, out towards the endless ocean. All three fishermen rushed to the starboard side, trying to get a closer look.
Squinting against the sun’s reflection on the waves, the men realized that they were staring at an animal of some kind. But it looked dead. There was no struggle on its part; it just drifted with the current. So much for catching lobster.
“He was just kind of going with the flow,” Captain Dorr recalled later. “He wasn’t trying to fight it or swim with it. He was just kind of floating along.” Five miles from shore, the animal — if alive — apparently accepted its grim fate.
Because many wildlife-laden islands pepper the waters off Harrington’s shore, it wasn’t impossible, the fishermen supposed as they navigated their ship closer to the animal, that a swimmer got caught up in the current.
In fact, nearby Nash Island was dubbed a “higher value island” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because it serves as a home for several migrant bird species. Had a thirsty bird just taken a dip? Perhaps one of the isle’s many sheep was swept away?
“I’m sure he [had been] going from island to island or shore to an island,” the captain said, “and he couldn’t see or got caught in the current.” And when the boys finally pulled the ship up close, they could tell what the animal was.
Antlers gave it away as a deer. Ren Dorr noticed how exhausted the poor animal looked. The tides suggested the deer had been in the water for over six hours. No wonder he appeared dead. The captain turned to his crew and uttered four words.
“We gotta grab him,” Captain Dorr said. Yet, his command didn’t go over well. “They kind of looked at me like I had 10 heads,” he recalled. They’d carried some interesting cargo on the Ryss & Stace, but never a scared buck.
Eventually, Shawn and Jared realized their captain wasn’t joking around, so they quickly started scheming how to bring the deer aboard. They couldn’t exactly jump into the water and hope to corral the exhausted buck — they’d have to get more creative.
So, they grabbed a rope and fastened it like a lasso. Each fishermen tried to ring the buck’s antlers but found that wrangling a deer on choppy seas was about as easy as wrangling a steer on the back of a bronco.
Not the type to give up, Captain Dorr exchanged the rope for a gaff, a stick with a hook fishermen use for snagging big catches. Leaning over the side of the boat, he struggled to catch the deer’s antlers.
But after an Old Man and the Sea-style struggle, the captain finally hooked the deer’s antler! A new wave of determination hit him, and with renewed energy, he pulled the deer towards the Ryss & Stace.
The Old Man and the Sea (1958)
Despite what was likely a traumatic experience for the buck, he didn’t thrash about as Captain Dorr, Jared, and Shawn pulled all 100 pounds of him onto the deck. Finally safe, the deer “laid right down like a dog,” the captain said.
Of course, now the fishermen had a shivering, freezing, exhausted deer on their vessel and no way to comfort it. Wanting to cut the deer’s suffering short, Captain Dorr redirected his vessel.
Bangor Daily News
Half-an-hour later, the crew — now with a fourth member — arrived back at Harrington. Apparently not the overly sentimental type, the fisherman tossed the deer back into the water once the ship was 50 yards or so from the shore.
“I dropped him in,” Captain Dorr remembered, “and he was kind of dazed there for a second. Then he turned and saw that land was right there, and he smoked it for land.” In no time at all, the deer was safe and grazing.
Looking back, Captain Ren Dorr was proud of his rescue. “He was gonna die, 100 percent. There’s no ifs, ands or buts — he was a goner,” he said. “I couldn’t have that on my conscience, obviously. That’s not the guy that I am, so I figured I’d bring him in.
After that, it was right back to work. The crew turned the ship around to empty their triple. They breathed a sigh of relief, too. A spooked buck on their vessel could’ve been a disaster. They’d heard animal rescue horror stories.
Like the one relayed to national news by Rando Kartsepp, Robin Sillamäe, and Erki Väli, who had an exciting day working construction in early 2019. While performing repairs on the Sindi dam in Estonia, the three men were caught off guard by an unusual sound.
The workers approached the bank of the Pärnu river to investigate, and, about 100 yards out, they spotted an animal splashing frantically in the water. But as they watched, they soon realized the gravity of the situation.
Mother Nature Network
This wasn’t just any animal — it was a dog! Right away, it was clear this canine was in danger. The icy river was surely chilling the poor pooch to the bone, and from the way it was struggling, they weren’t sure it could tread water much longer.
TEFL_job_seeker / Reddit
Without hesitation, the three men leapt into the river and hurriedly swam toward the struggling animal. The ice was thick, but together they managed to carve a path and bring the dog to safety.
The men quickly wrapped the shivering pup with a heavy blanket, and it was then that they were finally able to get a good look at the dog. It was large, with thick fur and piercing yellow eyes. A one-of-a-kind look for a common house pup.
Knowing the animal needed help, the workers didn’t have much time to admire her coat. The blanket was doing little to warm her up, and only proper medical care — not even a big fat fire — could save her from hypothermia.
So, taking the animal in their arms, the men carried their newfound friend to their pickup truck and laid the shivering dog inside. Then they phoned their local animal hospital, who told them to bring her in right away.
The truck sped to the hospital, and all the while, the animal never stirred. In fact, it slept almost the entire way, its head laid upon Kartsepp’s lap; even in its poor state, it sure was a cuddler!
No sooner did they arrive at the hospital than the veterinarians were on the scene, carrying the dog inside and immediately working to nurse it back to health. But there was only one problem. This wasn’t actually a dog.
In fact, veterinarians couldn’t identify what it was. With everyone stumped, the doctors phoned in a local hunter to see if he could shed some light on their situation. Sure enough, the man knew exactly what they were dealing with. This wasn’t a dog — it was a wolf!
The construction workers were in shock. Not only had they completely misidentified the animal, but they’d actually kept a live wolf in their vehicle without so much as a leash! If it had wanted to, the wolf could’ve easily made a snack of them.
Into the Woods
Thankfully, the icy water had served to sedate the wolf, which explained why it was so docile when the men had rescued it and placed in it their truck. This state of calm wouldn’t last, however — it was, after all, a wild animal.
“At first, he was so done in for he didn’t resist at all. We simply kept him in this room,” said head clinician Tarvo Markson. “But once he started to get an idea of the situation, I felt things might quickly take a turn for the dangerous.”
And turn they did, for as the animal recovered, it began acting as one would expect a one-year-old wolf to behave in a small, enclosed space. So, for its own safety – and for the safety of the doctors – the wolf was placed in a cage.
By day’s end, the animal had made a full recovery, and the clinic was confident she could be reintroduced to the wild without any repercussions. But even so, Estonia’s national environmental agency decided to fit the wolf with a GPS collar just to be safe.
When it came time to release the wolf, it took off in a flash, disappearing back into the wilderness. Kartsepp and the others waved goodbye as it went, a bittersweet end to one unforgettable day of work.
“We are so happy for the outcome of the story, and wish to thank all the participants — especially these men who rescued the wolf and the doctors of the clinic who were not afraid to treat and nurture the wild animal,” said the Estonian Union for the Protection of Animals of the incident.
Still, it wouldn’t be surprising to see something like this happen again in Estonia, as the country is home to a large portion of Europe’s wolf population. In fact, the wolf was named Estonia’s national animal only a few months prior to this incident.
Animal Unique in the World
Incredibly, this particular wolf was actually spotted in the wild just a month after its run-in with the construction workers. Considering it was photographed over 70 miles from where it had been released, it looks like this lucky guy was doing just fine.
Heiko.J / Flickr
Though some would think it impossible to confuse a wolf with a dog, people seem to misidentify animals all the time. And for those that are none the wiser, they might accidentally wind up bringing these doppelgangers home as pets!
For instance, one morning while he was dropping his kids off at school, Jostein Hansen noticed a tiny animal scurrying across a snow-covered road. Curious, the dad pulled over.
The dad, of course, knew that small animals and well-traveled highways didn’t mix all too well, so, with impressive dexterity and speed, he danced through traffic and snagged it before the worst happened.
Jostein identified the animal as a hamster. Back at home, his own daughter had one, so he had a fondness for the little rodents. “If some kids have lost it, then it will be seen as a disaster,” he said. “So I took the chance to try to catch it.”
With the hamster in his hands, and thinking still of how sad his own daughter would be were her hamster to go missing, the dad resolved to find the owner. In the meanwhile, he stashed the hamster in his glove box.
As a man with limited resources, Jostein knew he needed a little extra help to see the hamster to her proper home. So he reached out to a Norwegian newspaper, iTromso.
The Newsroom / HBO
Assignment editors passed the story on to Sanna Drogset Børstad, who couldn’t help but frown when she learned she’d be spending her next few hours looking for a hamster’s owner.
After all, Pulitzer Prizes, she knew, didn’t usually go to those investigating lost Norwegian rodents. Nevertheless, she met up Jostein Hansen and his rescued hamster. She had no idea what this story would become.
Hamster in tow, the two traveled to a pet store affiliated with Animal Protection Norway, an organization dedicated to animal dignity and welfare.
If anyone could find the original home of this lost hamster, it was one of the 9,000 people working for the organization. And indeed, the pet store employee did help Jostein and Sanna — in a way!
The pet store employee looked over the hamster. Turning the critter over in her hands, she processed the brown, black, and blonde fur. And then she told the duo it wasn’t actually a hamster.
What Jostein had chased down in the middle of a snowy Norwegian road wasn’t actually a pet, either. In a way, actually, Jostein had conducted a kidnapping. A rodent-napping, if you will.
The creature was actually a Norway lemming! Indigenous, of course, to Norway, these furry critters do bare a striking resemblance to those pets we’ve come to love. But wait, you might be thinking…
The creature was playing Frogger in the middle of the road. That’s so very lemming, right? The creatures, after all, have a reputation for chasing each other off cliffs. So Jostein kind of did it a favor, saving it from its nature. Nope!
Contrary to their behavior in the popular video game series Lemmings, the critters are smart, master burrowers, and they like to go on the move when their homes get overcrowded. They do just fine in nature, no matter the weather.
So, back in the pet store, Jostein knew he needed to return the critter to the wild. He and Sanna returned to the road from which the lemming was originally “rescued” to let her run free in the snow — not in a wheel.
Then, in the middle of a dark-and-dreary day, the duo released the lemming, waving at her as she made her way back home. Those involved couldn’t help but laugh. They’d been a part of the world’s most bizarre mistaken identity case.
Sanna may not have won a Pulitzer with the story, but she was smiling by the end of the day. She covered a story that she didn’t think she — or anyone involved — would ever forget. As for Jostein…
While some thought to pile on the eager dad in the aftermath — the guy did pick up a wild animal while it was just hanging out — the pet store worker sided with the over-ambitious rescuer.
“He did the right thing,” the worker said. “He saw an animal he thought needed help.” And, to be fair, that lemming did look a lot like a hamster!
In fact, Jostein’s decision to help an animal he thought was in trouble is far better than the alternative — letting an animal suffer because you think it’s A-okay. Jim Passmore of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, learned the same lesson.
Jim Passmore / Facebook
His usual stomping ground was Haikey Creek, a park frequented by outdoor lovers admiring the plentiful pecan trees. There, while waiting for his yorkies to do their business, Jim spotted something out of the ordinary.
CaptainTexas / Instagram
A strange mass floated on the surface of the park’s waters, sitting in stark contrast to the normally smooth surface of the creek. It was big, brown, and vaguely animal-like. Squinting to get a better look, he guessed the object was a log. But he wasn’t sure.
Edging closer to the shore, Jim stepped off the trail onto the muddy grass. If he could just get a closer look, he might be able to satisfy his curiosity. Finally, with a jolt, Jim realized the thing wasn’t a thing after all. It was covered in brown hair. It was alive.
Tony Worrall Photography / Flickr
Feeling lucky to glimpse a wild creature in its natural habitat, Jim was only more intrigued. The unknown animal was moving, barely. Could it be gently stirring in its sleep? Floating, but rattled by a dream? Then his dogs began to snarl.
Martin Brookes / Flickr
The nearer Jim inched to the animal, the more riled up his tiny pups got. Their predatory snarls and growls made it seem like they sensed some looming danger. Nevertheless, he grew concerned by the animal’s feeble movements. It looked desperate — and stuck.
Since the thing was hanging out in a wooded, muddy, creek bank, all signs suggested it was a beaver. Then, fresh off the revelation, he noticed something hidden in the brush that hinted towards a more sinister situation.
A carrier. The case was large, the kind used to transport pets to the vet, and appeared abandoned. Poking around inside, Jim discovered a large filthy blanket. What worried him more was that, beneath the blanket, was a heavy weighted chain.
Standing there, Jim tried to piece together what was going on. Obviously, someone had discarded the carriage. Judging by the haphazard scene — the dirty blanket, the chain, the bitten and mangled cage — a cruel individual had dumped a helpless creature in the wild.
Yorgos Stavrinos / Flickr
Someone, Jim thought, intended to harm the animal, but it escaped. While understanding washed over him, a rustling in the woods got his attention. Another beaver crawled out of the undergrowth. Jim took this as a sign.
Not fleeing from human contact, the beaver moved into the open. Jim watched mystified as it crossed the ground and moved closer down the creek’s edge, towards the mystery creature.
SuburbanWildlifeTV / YouTube
Seeing as he had pegged the mystery animal as a beaver, Jim took this new beaver’s fantastical intervention as a positive omen to trust his gut. He approached this beaver, creeping the final few feet towards the floating animal.
Jim Passmore / Facebook
The other animal stirred weakly, trapped in the muddy suction of the water. Side by side, Jim knew he’d guessed wrong. The creature was way too big to be a beaver unless it was a radioactive giant one.
All along, the creature in distress had been a big, fluffy, dog! Muck and grime concealed a gorgeous collie. Glad he further investigated the mystery creature, Jim stepped into the creek, now determined to save him.
Vicky, Ken & Kiyomi Foreman / Flickr
Better safe than sorry, Jim called out to some other pedestrians to give him a hand freeing the dog. They gathered around him, but as Jim had feared, any contact sent the dog into frenzy mode. It bit someone who got too close.
Jim Passmore / Facebook
With the creature still stuck in the mud, Jim reevaluated their strategy. They needed to be careful. Grabbing onto the scared pooch would only freak it out further. So, in order to unstick the cranky thing, they needed a distraction.
A solution popped into Jim’s noggin: the dog couldn’t bite what it couldn’t see. Grabbing a dark sweatshirt, he draped it on the suffering dog’s head. Cutting out all vision and light worked like a charm; the hairy critter appeared soothed.
Now that the dog was subdued, they had to yank it free. It slipped further into the mud, and so would the rescuers if they kept standing in the gloop. They needed a pulley system.
Wrangling up a makeshift lift composed of dog leashes, they looped the ropes around its belly. Planting their feet, the gang heaved. You’d figure several able-bodied men would pluck the helpless creature out in seconds, but it was as if this guy had been super glued.
Finally, after one high-stakes game of tug-of-war, the dog slipped free! Elated, Jim pulled back the covering and wiped away the mud to reveal the dog’s face…
Jim Passmore / Facebook
The dog looked thankful but understandably terrified. There was no telling how long the poor creature wrestled to free itself from the mud after its owner deliberately cast their pet away. All they could confirm was that the handsome doggy appeared perfectly healthy.
Jim Possmore / Facebook
Jim, a long established dog lover, was furious. How anyone could abuse an animal, let alone their pet, he never would fathom. He phoned the police, and officers arrived swiftly on the scene. Finally, the scared pet had advocates, and they set to work to keep him safe.
Jim Passmore / Facebook
Upon further examination, the police began to piece together the sad truth of the dog’s tale: Locked in the animal carrier, trying to bite its way out, the sweet creature had been dropped on the street.
At some point, the cage had been struck by a car, sending it tumbling into the forest, where it landed in the muddy bank of the creek. By a pure miracle, the dog survived this horror story, mostly unscathed, but surely mentally wounded.
Eren Çevik / Flickr
If Jim hadn’t been guided by the auspicious beaver, who knows if the poor thing would have made it out of the mud. But that magical appearance raised more questions than answers. Was the beaver signaling a fellow animal in danger, or was it pure coincidence?
Eric Tischler / Flickr
However, no one had time to ponder over the mystery. Officers realized the dog wasn’t walking out of the paddock. They had to get the sizable dog, they’d dubbed Teddy (due to his stuffed animal likeness) to the vet for an examination.
OK Animal Alliance / Facebook
Teddy was wiped out from his mud struggle. He appeared to be pretty overweight, and that, coupled with possible injuries, prevented leading him on a leash. In another twist of fortune, the rescuers found a wheelbarrow not too far away.
Jim Passmore / Facebook
Wrapped in a blanket, Teddy was carefully placed in the wheelbarrow and pushed out of the paddock. The next call Jim made was to the Oklahoma Alliance for Animals. In a few minutes, they made arrangements to take Teddy under their wings.
OK Animal Alliance / Facebook
In a way, Teddy dodged another attempt on his life. Landing a spot with the OAA allowed him a chance at rehabilitation. His scared demeanor and his justified lack of trust of humans would’ve certainly marked him for euthanasia if he’d been taken to the shelter.
Oklahoma Alliance For Animals / Facebook
Not to mention, Teddy bit one of his rescuers, which, regrettably, is a fast track for putting an animal to sleep. The rescue group refused to give up hope for his future. Fearing that his lashing out was a side effect of rabies, they ran tests to rule it out.
OK Animal Alliance / Facebook
Results came back clear: Teddy was rabies-free. But he still had a long journey to make him well enough to find a new family. His movements and general attitude were low energy, and he needed to increase activity to lose some pounds.
Martie Jessie / Flickr
Once the kind rescue workers started spoiling Teddy, his sourness melted away. In its place was a soft, gentle, somewhat-slimmer, long-coated sweetheart. His story gained viral traction, and he had a wide fanbase cheering on his fitness journey.
Zhao Shouren / Flickr
Teddy didn’t have to wait long for his happily ever after. Jessie, a Vet Tech for the rescue, fell hard for his sad puppy dog eyes. The forces of nature made sure Teddy was found and granted the fairytale life he deserved.
Oklahoma Alliance for Alliance / Facebook