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GZERO End-of-the-Year lists: Top 5 political animals of 2023

A photo collage of a whale, dog, hippo, seal and panda with the text: GZERO 2023 political animals

GZERO Top 5 political animals of 2023


1. Sally the Sea Lion

Sally the Sea Lion | GZERO 2023 Political Animals

If there haven’t already been children’s books written about Sally the Central Park Sea Lion’s grand day out, there soon will be. In September, unusually heavy rains and flooding helped Sally escape her enclosure to explore other parts of the Central Park Zoo, a favorite for the city’s kids. As zoo workers watched over her, Sally then took a self-guided tour of her surroundings. Sensibly, she decided that Central Park itself is better suited for joggers, cyclists, and weirdos than for sea lions, and she returned to the comforts of her enclosure and the companionship of the other two sea lions who lived there.

​2. Cocaine hippos

Cocaine hippos | GZERO 2023 Political Animals

Less adorable – and far less trustworthy – are the late Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s “cocaine hippos.” Before his predictably violent death in 1993, Escobar had acquired zebras, giraffes, hippos, kangaroos, and rhinoceroses as pets. After his death, most of the animals perished or were moved to zoos. But hippopotamuses are not so easy to handle, so four of them stayed put. By October 2023, they had multiplied, as hippos do, to about 170 roaming freely in the countryside. Colombian officials recently announced plans to sterilize and cull some of them and relocate the rest to sanctuaries overseas. And no, unlike their infamous owner, these hippos aren’t in the drug game — they’ve just won a narcotic nickname.

3. ​First Dog

First Dog | GZERO 2023 Political Animals

Unlike Escobar’s largest pets, President Biden's dog Commander will not be allowed to roam the countryside unattended, but the German shepherd was evicted from his home at the White House in October for attempting to answer an age-old question: Do all Secret Service agents taste the same? In less than two years, Commander has bitten about a dozen people – that we know of. Another Biden family pet, Major, was exiled to Delaware following a number of biting incidents. Commander, like Major, has now retreated from public life.

4. ​Panda-monium

Panda-monium | GZERO 2023 Political Animals

Escalating tensions between the US and China led Beijing to take back its pandas Tian Tian, Mei Xiang, and their cub Xiao Qi Ji from their home in the National Zoo in Washington, DC. The move marks the beginning of the end of Panda Diplomacy between the two countries, with the Atlanta Zoo’s pandas (the last in the US) expected to be returned to China next year. Panda diplomacy began with President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China and Chairman Mao Zedong’s gift of two giant pandas to the United States as a sign of warming bilateral ties. The “gift” agreements, however, stipulate that Beijing still owns the pandas and any of their offspring, which they can take back at any time.

5. Humpback harassment

Bolsonaro whales | GZERO 2023 Political Animals

Finally, former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is enjoying his court-ordered hiatus from politics with a new hobby: Jetskiing around whales. “Captain Chainsaw,” the nickname Bolsonaro earned for his anti-environmental policies and devastation of the Amazon, was spotted on his Jet Ski close to a humpback whale that was showing signs of distress. Adding to his long list of misdeeds on land, Bolsonaro is now under investigation for allegedly harassing a surfacing cetacean.

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