When Good Critters Go Bad

You don’t need to be human to break human laws. Meet some of the world’s most notorious animal offenders.

All around the world, and across time, there are incidents of interspecies criminal activity. Or, to be precise, animals violating human law and order. It may seem unfair to punish our furry (and scaly) friends for not knowing penal codes, but then again, you may not know what that parrot said. We’ve collected some of the most notable examples of such miscreants from the 1400s to modern times.

Monkey Hartlepool, England (1805) Crime: Espionage

During the Napoleonic Wars, a monkey, the lone survivor of a French ship, washed ashore in an old fishing village on England’s northeastern coast. (The boat, it seems, didn’t make it.) Having never seen either a monkey or a Frenchman, the townspeople mistook the animal for a Frenchman. They convicted him of espionage and hanged the animal on the beach. Or so the story goes. True or not, the monkey remains the mascot of the town’s soccer team. The mascot’s name? H’angus the monkey.


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Rooster Basel, Switzerland (1474) Crime: Laying an egg

What constitutes a crime can vary according to species. A rooster was sentenced to burn at the stake in a “solemn judicial proceeding” for the “heinous and unnatural crime of laying an egg.” The bird was feared as a diabolical creature for this abnormality. Also known as cock eggs or witch eggs, these eggs were believed to produce a cockatrice, a serpent-like creature with a rooster’s head.


Rat Provence, France (1508) Crime: Barley theft

Rats don’t just populate our sewers. Centuries ago, a pack of vermin were put on trial for eating the year’s barley crop in the town of Autun, some 200 miles from Paris. Luckily for the rodents, a young lawyer named Bartholomew Chassenée made a name for himself by providing an eloquent defense. He argued that the rats were entitled, like other defendants, to notice before condemnation. When the rats didn’t show up to their court date, Chassenée attributed their absence to intimidation by their mortal enemies: cats. Without their guaranteed safety, he explained, the rats could not be expected to stand trial.


Parrot London, England (1898) Crime: Inciting violence

A foul-mouthed parrot, sitting behind the bar at a Blackfriars pub, started a fight when its cursing was mistakenly attributed to an Italian ice cream man who had just walked in the door. A mob chased the ice cream man out the door, but not before the parrot, according to the Falkirk Herald, “kept up a running fire of abusive and scandalous remarks.” The two men who started the fight were jailed for a month, but there is no word on what happened to the parrot.


Donkey Chiapas, Mexico (2008) Crime: Felony assault

Dispensing human justice to animals isn’t something that just happened centuries ago. In 2008, a donkey was “locked up in a holding pen normally used for keeping drunks off the streets” for biting and kicking two men. The angry ass was released after his owner paid the men’s $420 medical bills (one man had a fractured ankle). Chiapas police officer Sinar Gomez later said, “Around here, if someone commits a crime, they are jailed no matter who they are.”


Koala bear Campbelltown, Australia (2014) Crime: Disrupting traffic

An unruly koala bear in a suburb of Sydney was taken into custody after zigzagging around city streets, holding up traffic, and refusing to move along. A post on the New South Wales Dog Unit’s Facebook page gave a play-by-play account, writing, “Senior Constable Barry stopped and spoke to the koala about the dangers of running across the lanes of traffic.” He added of the incident: “It’s the nature of policing sometimes.”


Beaver Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Germany (2018) Crime: Destroying property

Woodchucks aren’t the only animals chucking wood! A German couple was taking their yacht down the Müritz-Elbe waterway when a beaver felled a 65-foot poplar tree directly onto the boat. Luckily, the couple was unhurt, although the hungry rodent caused thousands of dollars of damage to the yacht. (After going nearly extinct at the beginning of the 20th century, the Eurasian beaver is making an “astounding” comeback across Europe.) The beaver managed to escape “undetected.”

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