Hero Animals

Wednesday 8th April 7.30pm

The light-hearted documentary series concludes. Using interviews, location filming and reconstructions, the show recounts the amazing real-life stories of humans saved by animals. The last episode in the series tells the tale of a little dog who saved his 80-year-old owner from drowning during Hurricane Katrina.

Based entirely on authentic stories, each edition of ‘Hero Animals’ merges eyewitness testimony with expert insight to explore the heroic deeds of animals around the world. The programme is filmed on location in California, Canada, the Channel Isles, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Thailand.

This week’s action takes place in August 2005. Eighty-year-old George was at home with his dog Frisky, an 18-year-old miniature poodle-schnauzer mix, in Biloxi, Mississippi. George and Frisky had been the best of friends ever since the dog turned up on his doorstep 14 years earlier. “My wife looked out one night and said to me, ‘You see that little dog out there? You go outside, you get him, you bring him in… and he’s your dog, do you understand?’,” George recalls.

George did his wife’s bidding, and Frisky soon became part of the family. “He was so funny, he really was. He had a personality like I never saw,” George says. The pair remained together after George’s wife passed away – nine years before the fateful events of 29th August 2005.

By the time reports of Hurricane Katrina began to reach Mississippi, George had resolved not to flee town. He had already survived three hurricanes in Biloxi so, against official advice, he decided to remain. However, at the last moment, he relocated to a friend’s house, which was on higher ground. The windows and doors were already boarded up in anticipation of the storm, so George and Frisky simply lay down on an inflatable mattress in the bedroom and fell asleep.

At 11pm, George was woken by the sound of breaking glass. The power had gone out and, with the help of a torch, he saw that flying debris had smashed the only window that was not boarded up. Water was gushing into the house and worse was to come. “I saw this huge wall of water coming through the trees,” George remembers. “I realised I had made a mistake that I didn’t leave.”

Fearing that Frisky might develop hypothermia, George placed him on the mattress to keep him out of harm’s way. But a new peril appeared in the form of two deadly moccasin snakes swimming towards them. George managed to fling one of the snakes away and kept an eye out for any sign of the second serpent. By now, the water was so deep he was having trouble keeping his head above the surface.

George was preparing himself for the worst, but Frisky was not ready to let his master go. He began licking George’s face to keep him awake in the cold water. “He started licking my face, to say, ‘C’mon, snap out of it, let’s get the show on the road – we’re gonna get through this!’,” George says. Frisky’s remarkable affection for his owner gave George the strength to cling to life: “That bond was too strong to abandon him… I just couldn’t do it. So I fought it.”

At long last, the flood waters began to recede and rescuers arrived to take George to hospital. Frisky stayed with him the whole time as he was treated for exposure and cuts to his feet. George knows he has his canine pal to thank for his survival – another testament to the courage of dogs, who have saved more humans than any other animal. Two years after Katrina, Frisky passed away peacefully. “Frisky definitely was a hero and saved my life, there ain’t no doubt about that,” says George.

Wednesday 1st April 7.30pm

The light-hearted documentary series continues on Five. Using interviews, location filming and reconstructions, the show recounts the amazing real-life stories of humans saved by animals. This week’s episode explores the case of Lulu, a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig who called for help when her owner, Jo Ann, suffered a heart attack.

Based entirely on authentic stories, each edition of ‘Hero Animals’ merges eyewitness testimony with expert insight to explore the heroic deeds of animals around the world. The programme is filmed on location in California, Canada, the Channel Isles, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Thailand. This week’s action takes place in the summer of 1998 at Lake Erie, Pennsylvania, where a retired couple’s relationship with their pet pig brought about a remarkable rescue.

As they did most weekends, Jo Ann and Jack Altsman from New York State drove to their holiday home beside Lake Erie for a break. As ever, the couple brought Lulu, their Vietnamese pot- bellied pig, along for the ride. “She was part of the family,” explains Jo Ann. Having been with the Altsmans since she was very young, the two-year- old pig had formed a strong bond with her owners. Lulu was very friendly and very intelligent. “She loved affection,” recalls Jack. But Jo Ann and Jack were about to see Lulu in a very different light.

On the morning of 4 August 1998, Jack got up early to go fishing on the lake with his friend, while Jo Ann stayed in bed. When the time came for Jo Ann to get up, however, something was seriously wrong. “When the alarm went off, I couldn’t get up,” she says. Having experienced the condition once before, Jo Ann recognised the pains in her chest and extreme dizziness as symptoms of a heart attack. “I knew this was the big one,” she says.

Jo Ann tried to call for help but was too weak to reach the phone. After struggling across the house, she collapsed on the floor and could not move. With her husband some miles away in the Lake Erie wilderness, Jo Ann was alone – except for her pet pig. If she did not receive medical attention within the hour, Jo Ann would most likely die.

However, Lulu seemed to sense that something was wrong and rushed to her owner’s side. “She was trying to get me up,” says Jo Ann. When Jo Ann remained on the ground, Lulu left the house and trotted to a nearby road, retracing the path of her regular walks with Jack. Once in the road, Lulu lay on the tarmac and waited for a passing car. When nobody stopped, the pig went back to the house to check on her owner.

By this time, Jo Ann was slipping in and out of consciousness. “Somehow Lulu knew I was dying,” she says. Sure enough, the pig redoubled her efforts to get help, trotting back and forth between the house and the road for half an hour. Eventually, a young man stopped in the road and followed the strange little pig to the holiday home. Upon spotting a woman lying on the floor, the man phoned 911 and Jo Ann was rushed to hospital. Fortunately, the surgeons were just in time to save Jo Ann’s life. But were it not for the heroics of Lulu and the quick thinking of the young stranger on the road, things could have been very different. “I’m extremely lucky to be alive,” says Jo Ann. “Lulu saved my life.”

Animal behaviour expert Mark Berkoff explains that Lulu’s valiant efforts were thanks to the close relationship pigs can form with humans. “What Lulu did was amazing, but it would not be beyond the cognitive power of a pig,” he says.

However, Lulu’s story was to end with a bitterly ironic twist. News of her heroics spread throughout the US and Lulu was thrust into the limelight, but it was her fame that ultimately killed her. As a star, Lulu was regularly fed sweets and chocolate by her many fans, such that she died at the age of six from a heart attack. “I still haven’t got over it,” says Jo Ann.

Wednesday 25th March at 7:30pm on five

The light-hearted documentary series continues on Five. Using interviews, location filming and dramatic reconstructions, the show recounts the amazing real-life stories of humans saved by animals. This week’s episode revisits the scene of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami in Phuket, where a baby elephant staged a remarkable rescue.

Based entirely on authentic stories, each edition of ‘Hero Animals’ merges eyewitness testimony with expert insight to explore the heroic deeds of animals around the world. The programme is filmed on location in California, Canada, the Channel Isles, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Thailand.

Stories featured throughout the series include that of a gorilla that protected a little boy; a dog that kept an 80-year-old flood victim afloat during Hurricane Katrina; a dolphin that saved a surfer from a shark attack; and a pig that summoned help for an ailing heart patient.

This week’s action focuses on eight-year-old Amber Owen, whose special relationship with a baby elephant brought about a dramatic rescue in the midst of the most appalling catastrophe ever to hit Thailand.

During the Christmas holidays in 2004, Amber was enjoying the trip of a lifetime in Phuket, Thailand, with her mother and step-father. Along with the dream hotel and stunning beaches, there was an added attraction for Amber –a four-year-old elephant called Ning Nong and his handler, Yong, who were regular visitors to the hotel.

Amber bonded with the young elephant and spent most of her time playing with him on the beach. “I felt quite amazed because I’d never seen a baby elephant before I went to Thailand,” she gushes. But while Amber and Ning-Nong played happily on the beach, massive geological pressures were building up. Nearly 500 miles away, deep beneath the Indian Ocean, two continental plates were grinding ever closer. The world’s worst natural disaster in over 40 years was only two days away.

As Amber and her parents enjoyed a Christmas Day barbeque on the beach, there was little sign anything out of the ordinary was about to happen. But in the early hours of Boxing Day, the continental plates collided. Despite news of the earthquake hitting nine on the Richter scale, all was calm on Phuket beach. However, at the Elephant Riding Centre 50 miles away, handler Aniway Jongkit realised all was not well with the elephants. “They suddenly shook off their chains and ran up the mountain,” he recalls. Less than two hours after the earthquake, disaster struck on the beach. The sea suddenly disappeared –a sure sign a tsunami was approaching. Although no one reacted on the beach, Ning Nong was acting strangely. “Ning Nong kept pulling my arm and running to get away from the sea,” says Amber.

As the killer wave rushed towards the beach, Ning Nong raced away just in time, carrying Amber safely on his back. His quick reaction made the difference between life and death. But others were not so lucky –within minutes Phuket was swamped by the wave. Twenty minutes after the wave hit, Amber’s mother
Sam rushed back to the beach to look for her daughter. “I was so frightened, but something told me she wasn’t dead,” she says. But how can Ning Nong’s courageous behaviour be explained?

Wildlife vet Roman Pizzi believes that the girl and the animal had formed a deep connection thanks to
the hours they spent playing together. “It’s perfectly possible [Ning Nong] saw Amber as another young elephant,” he remarks. And because of the way elephants form long-lasting bonds, it could be a relationship that lasts a lifetime.

Wednesday March 18 at 7:30pm on five

The light-hearted documentary series continues on Five. Using interviews, location filming and dramatic reconstructions, the show recounts the amazing real-life stories of humans saved by animals. This week’s episode reveals the remarkable story of a young boy who plunged head first into a gorilla enclosure at Jersey Zoo, only to be protected by a 200kg silverback.

Based entirely on authentic stories, each edition of ‘Hero Animals’ merges eyewitness testimony with expert insight to explore the heroic deeds of animals around the world. The programme is filmed on location in California, Canada, the Channel Isles, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Thailand.

Stories featured throughout the series include that of an elephant that rescued a little girl from southeast Asia’s devastating tsunami; a dog that kept an 80-year-old flood victim afloat during Hurricane Katrina; a dolphin that saved a surfer from a shark attack; and a pig that summoned help for an ailing heart patient.

This week’s action takes place in the gorilla enclosure at Jersey Zoo in the summer of 1986. At the zoo to celebrate Lloyd’s fourth birthday in August, the Merritt family were immediately attracted to the troop of western lowland gorillas, in particular the dominant silverback Jambo. “Jambo was massive,” recalls mum Pauline. As the group leader, 25-year-old Jambo ruled over the other animals, breaking up squabbles and protecting his offspring –but what happened next showed that he was also capable of a great deal of compassion towards other primates.

In order to get a better view of the activity below, Lloyd’s five-year-old brother Levan climbed onto the wall. Before his parents knew what was happening, Levan had plunged 12 feet onto the concrete floor of the enclosure. “When I first looked over, I thought he was dead,” says Pauline. In fact, Levan had suffered a serious head wound and was unconscious. However, the danger to the lad was by no means over. The events that followed were all captured on film by an amateur cameraman.

The zoo keepers knew that they could not enter the enclosure while Jambo was roaming around because the 200kg silverback might see them as a threat and attack them. All the onlookers could do was watch and wait. It was not long before Jambo approached the stricken lad. However, as Jambo bent over Levan, it became clear to everyone that he was trying to protect the boy. The huge ape positioned himself between Levan and the younger gorillas, then even gently stroked the child’s back. When Levan came to and began to cry, Jambo led his entire troop away and into their indoor quarters. Keepers took the opportunity to lock the gorillas inside so that they could finally rescue the boy.

Thanks to the protective instincts of Jambo, Levan lived to tell his dramatic tale. With the help of eyewitness testimony from Levan’s family, paramedic Brian Fox and keeper Richard Johnstone Scott, ‘Hero Animals’ looks back at that fateful day and explores why a wild animal acted to protect an injured human.

 

Wednesday 11th March at 7:30pm on five

The light-hearted documentary series continues on Five. Using interviews, location filming and dramatic reconstructions, the show recounts the amazing real-life stories of humans saved by animals. This week’s episode reveals how a pod of wild dolphins protected a Californian surfer from a great white shark.

Based entirely on authentic stories, each edition of ‘Hero Animals’ merges eyewitness testimony with expert insight to explore the heroic deeds of animals around the world. The programme is filmed on location in California, Canada, the Channel Isles, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Thailand.

Stories featured throughout the series include that of an elephant that rescued a little girl from southeast Asia’s devastating tsunami; a dog that kept an 80-year-old flood victim afloat during Hurricane Katrina; a gorilla that protected an injured boy who fell into a zoo enclosure; and a pig that summoned help for an ailing heart patient.

This instalment travels to the long sandy beaches and eternal sunshine of California. Surfer Todd Endris was catching some mid-morning waves at a popular beach when he was attacked by a great white shark – the most notorious predator of the open sea. The terrifying leviathan lunged at Todd, shredding the skin on his back with its 3,000 razor-like teeth, and slicing open his leg to the bone.

Shocked, bleeding and alone at sea, with the shark wheeling round for another attack, Todd expected to die. Then, out of nowhere, a pod of bottlenose dolphins arrived. They formed a protective ring around the injured man, blocking the shark and giving Todd the chance to swim to shore.

How and why did these famously friendly marine creatures intervene in the shark’s dissection of its prey? Do dolphins’ reputed powers of intelligence and communication explain their curious empathy for a shark-stricken surfer? Witnesses, experts and the highly fortunate Todd offer their accounts of this remarkable rescue.

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