San Diego's Memorable Animal Tales of 2016

From a sleepy little sea lion pup getting cozy in a restaurant booth to the rescue of Mr. Ruffles, the dog who got his paw stuck in the bathtub drain

Sometimes they were cute and cuddly. Other times, they got themselves into situations we simply couldn’t believe. Either way, their tales had to be told. Here’s a look at San Diego’s most memorable animal stories of 2016.

Venomous Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake Washes Up on Coronado Beach
In January, following strong El Niño storms in San Diego, a 20-inch-long, venomous, yellow-bellied sea snake washed up on Coronado’s Dog Beach, near Naval Air Station North Island. The species, rarely seen in California, was distinct in appearance, with a black top half and bright yellow lower half. It was found by a citizen who brought the snake, which was barely alive, to the attention of lifeguards, who then placed it in a bucket. The snake did not survive; scientists believe it washed ashore due to the El Niño conditions.

A very poisonous snake rarely seen in this part of the world washed up on a local beach Monday. NBC 7’s Greg Bledsoe reports from Coronado and explains why we may be seeing more of these in California.

Sea Lion Found Sleeping in Booth at Restaurant
Tiny sea lion, party of one. In February, The Marine Room restaurant in La Jolla got a visit from a very special, whiskered patron: a 20-pound sea lion pup who somehow got into the restaurant overnight and made his way into a cozy booth. Restaurant employees found the young sea lion the next morning curled up in the booth and sleeping. The Marine Room’s executive chef, Bernard Guillas, shared photos of the pup on Facebook and his post went viral. SeaWorld San Diego’s Rescue Team was called to the restaurant to remove the little sea lion. Experts said this case was one of many unusual sea lion rescues in Southern California at the beginning of 2016 in part due to El Niño weather conditions, which caused very high and low tides and stormy weather, prompting sea lions to seek high ground, warm places and food.

[G] San Diego's Cutest Critters

San Diego Safari Park Welcomes Largest Cheetah Litter
When the San Diego Zoo Safari Park released new video of the largest cheetah litter delivered at the park’s off-exhibit breeding center, our hearts swooned. The six adorable little cubs were born to mom Addison – a much larger litter than keepers ever expected.

'I Can't Believe This Dog is Alive': Owner Reunites With Pup Presumed Dead at Sea
Try not to cry on this one. In this true underdog tale, Luna – a puppy presumed dead for five weeks after falling off a fishing boat – was reunited with her owner, Nick Haworth, in San Diego after being rescued by the U.S. Navy. Luna fell off a fishing boat two miles off the coast of San Clemente, near Naval Auxiliary Landing Field San Clemente Island (SCI). More than a month after she disappeared, Navy staff spotted Luna on a road on SCI. Luna’s reunion with Haworth followed – with lots of tail-wagging, hugs and kisses.

Video showing the reunion of Nick Haworth and his German Shepherd Luna who was lost at sea and then recovered weeks later.

Ball Python Discovered in San Diego Resident’s Bathtub
Yikes. In May, a woman in Golden Hill was getting ready to take a bath. As she drew the water and looked down, she came face-to-face with a snake in her drain. It was a ball python, which was successfully snaked from the drain by officers with the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services (DAS).

Caught on Camera: The Rescue of Mr. Ruffles
Poor Mr. Ruffles. In May, DAS officers had yet another interesting case of an animal stuck in a bathtub drain. This time, it was a pug mix named Mr. Ruffles who had gotten his paw stuck in the drain cover of his owner’s bathtub as he was hopping out of the bath. Animal specialists rushed to the aid of the pooch and performed a rescue that included sedating Mr. Ruffles and rotating his entire body at the same time as the drain cover. The rescue was captured on cellphone video and, after a while, Mr. Ruffles was finally free.

Raw cell phone video from the County of San Diego Animal Services of a rare rescue operation involving a dog named Mr. Ruffles who got part of his paw stuck in the drain cover of a bathtub.

Elderly Orangutan Dies at San Diego Zoo
In a heartbreaking decision in June, the San Diego Zoo euthanized Janey, a beloved, 55-year-old Bornean orangutan. Janey, born in 1961, had been suffering from respiratory problems that led to a series of cardiac arrests. Ultimately, the zoo said the best thing for Janey was to let her go peacefully. Janey was the oldest living Bornean orangutan in the United States.

Officers Find Abandoned Puppies at Kit Carson Park
In June, three Escondido Police Department officers discovered three puppies, shivering and abandoned, at Kit Carson Park. A woman jogging through the park stumbled across the pups; they were barely bundled in a coat thrown on the grass. The woman went to call police and, when she returned, she found the three officers each holding one of the puppies.

NBC 7’s Candice Nguyen talks with Escondido Police Officers Jose Guerrero, Nathan Visconti and Christopher Dare and the call they’ll never forget from Kit Carson Park. Photos of the pups courtesy Tracy Plowy.

Two Greater Flamingos Born at San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Over the summer, two greater flamingos were added to the flock at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. After these cute little chicks hatched in July, Safari Park officials said it brought the number of greater flamingos born through its breeding program to nearly 200.

Giant Panda Xiao Liwu Turns 4
Who doesn’t love a good panda birthday? Over the summer, the San Diego Zoo’s giant panda, Xiao Liwu, celebrated his special day with gifts and treats, including a birthday cake made of ice, fruits and vegetables. At the ripe age of four, keepers now refer to the panda as “Mr. Wu.” At the time of his birthday he was up to 160 pounds – about the same size as his father, Gao Gao, and was on the cusp of the age of sexual reproduction for giant pandas. Mr. Wu is the sixth cub born to mother Bai Yun

Kokomo the Gorilla Shows Off Newborn
In October, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s gorilla, Kokomo, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, estimated to weigh between 3.5 and 4.5 pounds. Just two days after the little one’s birth, the park shared sweet, tender photos of the doting mother and her baby. Keepers said Kokomo was constantly holding the newborn, keeping her as close as possible. The baby girl joined the Safari Park’s troop of eight other gorillas – one adult male, three adult females and three little gorillas ranging in age from two to eight.

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