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Four-Legged Friends

Ships of the New Steel Navy were teeming with wildlife. In earlier days, animals had been kept on board ships not only for companionship, but for food. By the late 19th century, animals were kept merely as pets and mascots. All types of creatures could be found roaming the decks of these technological marvels, from the mundane to the bizarre. In this photo, sailors on board the cruiser Olympia tease two cats by shining light from a mirror at them.

Feeding a Bear

Some of the animals kept on board warships may seem rather surprising. Here, a sailor feeds a bear on board the battleship USS Connecticut, during the cruise of the Great White Fleet. The town of Aberdeen, WA, presented the ships of the fleet with 16 bears during a stop there. Animals were a common gift to visiting warships by local officials.

Exotic Creatures

Other more bizarre and exotic creatures made their homes on Navy warships, particularly after stops abroad. In this photo, Lieutenant John Lewis poses with a kangaroo on board the battleship USS Connecticut in 1908. This animal was also acquired during the cruise of the Great White Fleet. Sometimes, exotic animals were more of a nuisance than a companion. Sailor Frederick Wilson, serving on board the cruiser USS New Orleans in 1899, wrote about a number of monkeys acquired by sailors during a stop in the Middle East. The monkeys had escaped captivity, and had taken up residence high in the smokestacks of the ship, biting anyone who tried to recapture them. A ship's officer, upset about the biting, put a bounty on the heads of the monkeys.

Wounded in Action

It seems unlikely that exotic animals lived long and happy lives on board crowded steel warships. And these animals shared a common threat with their owners - combat. The parrot shown here lost a leg in the Battle of Manila Bay, on board the cruiser USS Olympia.

For more images of pets and mascots on board Navy warships, click here.

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