Throughout history, animals with real jobs have worked alongside humans – to venture where a person cannot go or fears to tread. From land animals to those in the sea and even insects, where would we be without them?

1. Ferrets

White-faced ferret

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Scuttling through small spaces is second nature for these furry creatures so this is one of the animals with real jobs who help their human owners by running cables underground. Thinking nothing of rushing along narrow dark places, the animals wear a harness to which a wire is fixed, then speed along the pipe and up at the other end pulling the cable behind them. They have been used on oil rigs, by telephone companies, camera crews and even the military.

 

2. Dolphins

Two bottlenose dophins underwater

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The bottlenose dolphin’s super sonar sense means that it has proved an invaluable aid in locating mines in the sea. The dolphins get a mental image of the object by making clicking sounds and using their echolocation ability. After reporting though yes/no responses to their handler, the dolphin can then swim off to mark the hazard with a buoy on a weighted line to alert shipping.

 

3. Glow worms and fireflies

Fireflies in a jar

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Some soldiers in the First World War found that glow worms provided (admittedly poor!) illumination in the dark trenches, so collected them and kept them in jars to help them read maps and letters without having to risk their lives by venturing into the open for some light.

 

4. Geese

Geese behind a wooden barred fence on the lookout

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You thought that our canine companions made the best watchdogs… Well, geese give them a good run for their money. They have super-sensitive eyesight, being able to see much further and in much more detail than dogs or humans. Being very territorial,  intruders will provoke loud honking that just gets more ear-splitting, thus alerting humans. They have even been used to guard military installations.

 

5. Cormorants

iStockphoto

iStockphoto

Using these sea birds to assist in fishing is traditional in Japan and China. The fishing takes place after dark, with a fire hanging from the bow of the long, wooden boat to provide illumination. The birds are placed on leashes and trained to dive and bring up the fish to their handler. A snare tied round the bird’s neck prevents it from swallowing bigger fish, though it is allowed to swallow the smaller ones.

6. Rats

Danger Mines sign by a field of long grass

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A breed of giant rat – as big as a domestic cat – is being used to help clear land mines in Mozambique. They sniff out the explosives and then scratch the ground to alert the humans following them, who then dispose of the mine safely. The rats, though large, are not heavy enough to set of the mines themselves and are quick to learn, so invaluable in saving life and limb.

7. Elephants

Woodcut from Le Toru Du Monde published in 1868. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Wikipedia

Gruesome, but true, these majestic beasts were used in India to execute criminals, trained to stomp on the unfortunate victim. Thankfully, the practice is no longer used, and elephants are used for much friendlier tasks, like moving tree trunks in the logging industry in Burma.

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