In a year that proved to be more eventful than anticipated, the world of animals provided a sense of comfort. Their cuteness and capacity to entertain by acting out in unexpected, affectionate ways or by mimicking human gestures remain understated.

Whether they’re winged or furry, big or small, a few critters made the headlines such as a giant panda cub adorably falling off the stage in China or a penguin of merit inspecting the guards of honor in Scotland. Heartbreaking photographs of starving dogs at a shelter in Venezuela and workers rescuing their pigs from a massive flood in China to the head-scratching 19-year old chimpanzee smoking a cigarette also made waves.

TIME presents a collection of standout images from the animal kingdom shot and shared over the past 12 months.

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