Here are the animal stories that defined the year and sparked the most discussion and debate.
11. Giant Green Anaconda
Eaten Alive doesn’t air on the Discovery Channel until Dec. 7, but PETA already started protesting it a month ago. For the special, naturalist and author Paul Rosolie is supposed to be “consumed” in some way by a giant green anaconda while wearing a “snake-proof” suit built to withstand the anaconda’s natural constriction. In a statement, PETA argued Discovery “tormented” the reptile for ratings. Rosolie told EW he hopes the stunt, which took 60 days to film over the summer, will raise awareness about conserving the Amazon rainforest.
10. Westminster Best in Show Winner
Sky, a wire fox terrier, was named “best in show” at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show on Feb. 11. The victory speaks to the pedigree of the breed, which has won the honor 14 times, more than any other breed.
9. Tortoises With iPads
On Aug. 9, the Aspen Art Museum in Colorado premiered “Moving Ghost Towns,” an exhibit by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang featuring three African sulcata tortoises with iPads mounted on their backs that played video footage of abandoned areas. While the curators said the tortoises are supposed to symbolize longevity in Chinese culture, animal rights advocates said the iPads attached to their backs were symbols of animal cruelty and in “bad taste.” A petition racking up more than 18,000 signatures, plus inclement weather, forced the museum to transfer the reptiles to a conservation area.
8. World Cup Animals
“Psychic” animals at zoos and aquariums worldwide “predicted” 2014 World Cup games by gravitating toward a ball or box of food with stickers of different countries’ flags. Oracles included an elephant, lions, donkeys, penguins, an armadillo, a loggerhead turtle and dolphin. Bob, a sloth at the Toronto zoo, correctly “predicted” Germany would beat Argentina in the final, but no single animal became a household name as the late Paul the Octopus did for his 2010 World Cup predictions.
Correction appended, December 8, 2014: The original version of this article misstated Germany’s opponent in the final match of the 2014 World Cup. It was Argentina.
7. Tara the 'Hero Cat'
Surveillance video shows a cat named Tara chasing off a dog that was harassing her human, four-year-old Jeremy Triantafilo, in Bakersfield, Calif., on May 13. The story went viral after the boy’s family uploaded the footage to YouTube (more than 23 million views to date), and Scrappy, the eight-month-old labrador-chow mix, was put down. Lauded as “The Hero Cat,” the feline was invited to “throw” the first pitch during a minor league baseball game, and Kern County declared June 3, 2014, as “Tara ‘The Hero Cat’ Day.”
Jiff, a Pomeranian known for his cameo in Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” music video and for being Kesha’s “new boyfriend,” became the fastest dog on two paws. He set world records for fastest 10 meters on hind legs (6.56 seconds) and fastest 5 meters on front paws (7.76 seconds) at an Illinois kennel in September.
5. California Chrome
On May 3, California Chrome became the first California-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby since Decidedly in 1962. Bred off a $10,000 investment, Chrome was off to the races, set to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown since 1978, but he finished tied for fourth at the Belmont Stakes in June.
4. Giant Panda Triplets
Rare giant panda triplets born July 29 at China’s Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou made their public debut at the beginning of November after reaching a 100-day milestone. Their mother Ju Xiao, impregnated with sperm from a panda at a Guangzhou zoo in March, gave birth to the two male and one female cubs — reportedly the fourth set of panda triplets born through an artificial breeding program. This set is believed to be the first known to survive.
3. Marius the Giraffe
The Copenhagen Zoo outraged animal lovers when it euthanized a two-year-old giraffe named Marius on Feb. 9, performing the autopsy and feeding his remains to lions as children looked on. While it’s not uncommon for culls to take place at zoos to prevent inbreeding, doing it so publicly may have been uncharacteristic, arguably sparking numerous petitions to save Marius, death threats and calls for boycotts of the zoo, TIME reported. Defending the decision, the zoo’s scientific director Bengt Holst told TIME, “If we’re serious about science, we can’t be led by emotion.”
2. Marnie the Dog
Marnie, a 12-year-old Shih Tzu rescue with a tilted head and an outstretched tongue, only pounced onto the viral scene six months ago, but already boasts nearly 700,000 Instagram followers and photo ops with James Franco, Jonah Hill, Tina Fey and Demi Lovato. Based in New York City, this rising star is the Internet celebrity to watch in 2015.
1. Grumpy Cat
Grumpy Cat (real name Tardar Sauce) tops the list for the second year in a row. While most of the animals on this list have already had their 15 minutes of fame, Grumpy Cat’s permanent frown (caused by feline dwarfism) is still making the Internet smile two years after her photo went viral. With the help of Ben Lashes (aka, the ‘world’s first meme manager’) she has gone from Reddit to red carpet—hamming it up at the MTV Movie Awards with a miniature version of Pharrell’s infamous brown hat (ironically, of course), posing with Ryan Seacrest and Jennifer Lopez on American Idol, and “hosting” an episode of WWE Raw. Now boasting corporate sponsorship, two books, a toy line, coffee brand (“Grumppuchino”), a Lifetime movie, and a possible Hollywood movie deal, she won’t be going away anytime soon. After all, she’s supposed to have nine lives, right?