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Animals of NYC: Pale Male, the Bronx Zoo Cobra, Pattycake and more unforgettable tales

The city's animal tales are as outsized as the metropolis itself.

Whether they are tales of alligators in the sewer or the love story of Pale Male and Lola, the red-tailed hawks of Fifth Avenue that have inspired bird watchers to hold protests to defend them, when New Yorkers hear a good story about the fauna of the city, they can't get enough.

And the really good ones become legend, iconic in the same way as Ed Koch or Sarah Jessica Parker.

Remember Ming the Bengal tiger, who lived in a Harlem public housing complex and was said to have emotional problems? Or what about Hal the coyote of Central Park, who roamed the wilds of the urban green and had the tabloid media giving chase?

Yes, there really may have even been an alligator in the sewer back in 1935 and it still entrances today.

Here are seven unforgettable animal tales, new and old, that had New York talking.

Jaws the alligator of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

The alligator of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was nicknamed
Photo Credit: Robert Stridiron

The alligator of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was nicknamed "Jaws" by police, but at two- or three-foot, the reptile was hardly a fear-inducing monstrosity.

It was spotted near Meadow Lake by a jogger in August 2015, and then again in September by several people. The NYPD's 110th Precinct tweeted, "Jaws is back! Bigger and badder than before!" He soon became a much-hunted reptile, but the police had no luck catching Jaws even though he was still being spotted.

It took a civilian in a rental boat to catch the gator with a fishing rod on Sept. 15, 2015. "Got him on the first shot," he told WCBS-AM. "It was real cool."

George the subway cat

Rarely has a feline caused such commuter chaos
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mila Rusafova

Rarely has a feline caused such commuter chaos as George.

The Manhattan cat, on a leash held by owner Mila Rusafova of Washington Heights, was at the Canal Street station at about 5:20 p.m. on July 22, 2015, when it got loose and scampered down near the electrified third rail of the E train.

Unfortunately for any riders trying to make it to their destinations at that time, the MTA, seeking to rescue the cat, shut off power to the tracks, suspending service on the E train. The result, as transit cops worked to get George to safety, was a commuter mess, with more than 80 trains either rerouted or delayed. "He used up a bunch of his lives," Officer Brian Kenny, who ultimately rescued George, quipped at the time.

George, perhaps, was lucky that some of the thousands of commuters who had to deal with frustrations didn't take the rest of his lives from him.

Bronx Zoo cobra

For some New Yorkers, it was a nightmare
Photo Credit: Bronx Zoo Cobra via Twitter

For some New Yorkers, it was a nightmare scenario: a highly venomous Egyptian cobra had gone missing at the Bronx Zoo.

It was March 2011 when the cobra was discovered missing from the reptile house, the 24-inch snake having slithered out of a holding cage into a space that was described as a labyrinth of pipes and equipment.

As zoo officials worked to recapture the cobra and assure the public that no one was in danger, a clever Twitter user set up an account and began posting as the snake, ratcheting up 91,000 followers in only a few days. The fake Twitter account documented the snake's supposed travels through the city, including to the Empire State Building, all the while using an iPhone.

The cobra was recaptured without incident on March 31 after nearly a week on the lam.

Pale Male

He is widely considered the most famous hawk
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary and Audubon Center

He is widely considered the most famous hawk in the world. He is as iconic a New Yorker as Ed Koch. He inspired a best-selling book, Red-tails in Love, an Emmy-winning documentary film and a children's book. His story has been told in numerous newspapers, magazines and on TV shows around the world.

Pale Male, a red-tailed hawk, first began nesting at a penthouse on 74th Street and Fifth Avenue in the early 1990s. According to the Audubon Society, he may have been the first documented red-tailed hawk to take up residence in modern Manhattan, instantly adding to the fascination surrounding the bird of prey.

He quickly attracted a group of followers, bird-watchers and urban wildlife fanatics, who would show up early in the morning to watch the real-time drama of the raptor. With his lover, Lola, and other mates, he sired several chicks. According to The New York Times, he was father to 23 youngsters from a series of mates by 2008.

In 2004, Pale Male and Lola were evicted from the nest of their 12-floor limestone co-op that they had called home for 11 years, leading to an international ruckus and a battle that pitted the building's board against the bird's fans. (Mary Tyler Moore, who lived at the building along with Paula Zahn and Wall Street tycoons, was among those who came to the bird's defense.)

The building's board lost to the public outcry after removing the nest. A new stainless structure was built for the feathered mates to return, and they did, to rebuild their nest. Lola disappeared, mysteriously, by 2010, but Pale Male continues to perch at the building to this day. He's not been alone either, still attracting a bevy of beautiful female birds to share his nest.


Pattycake was the first gorilla born in New
Photo Credit: Wildlife Conservation Society

Pattycake was the first gorilla born in New York City in 1972, at the Central Park Zoo. Her birth propelled her to superstar status, with her antics as a baby publicized widely in the press.

When she broke her arm at 6 months during some rough play, New Yorkers followed along closely as she was taken to New York Medical College for an hourlong operation and recovered at the Bronx Zoo with a full-arm cast.

Her stardom continued throughout her life, as she gave birth to several gorillas of her own, and became a centerpiece tourist attraction in the Bronx. She died at age 40 on March 31, 2013.

Fred the undercover cat

Fred may have been the city's most famous
Photo Credit: Newsday / Joel Cairo

Fred may have been the city's most famous crime fighter with four paws and a tail.

The black-striped cat had been rescued from an alley by Animal Care & Control and adopted by Carol Moran, an assistant district attorney at the Brooklyn district attorney's office.

A few months later, the D.A. was on the trail of a fake veterinarian for charging for a botched operation on a dog. To catch the suspect, the D.A. hatched a sting operation to have Fred delivered to the man with the stated goal of having him neuter the cat for $135. Once the man took the money, the authorities moved in and arrested him. Fred's story was the world's meow when the story broke in February 2006.

The fake veterinarian, meanwhile, was sentenced to probation and a psychiatric evaluation. Fred, though, came up one life short when he was killed in August 2006 after being hit by a car. He was 15 months old.

Orlando the hero dog

Cecil Williams, a blind man from Brooklyn, said
Photo Credit: Newsday / Bruce Gilbert

Cecil Williams, a blind man from Brooklyn, said that his service dog Orlando "tried to hold him" up before they both fell onto the tracks of a northbound A train at 125th Street in December 2013.

And Williams would later say that Orlando saved his life by by huddling on top of Williams as cars ran over them and came to a halt. They were both struck but survived. "Orlando was like my angel," he was quoted as saying in Today. "We work together. I protect him and he protects me."

Shortly after his fall, a fundraiser helped Williams to keep Orlando as a pet. The dog, 11 at the time, had been due to retire.


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