By Paul Casciato
LONDON (Reuters) - Bunga Bunga, Zenga Zenga, a tweeting cobra and other wacky news capped a year that saw the capture of America's most wanted man and the overthrow of dictators.
2011 was filled with animal antics that began with the introduction of Heidi, the cross-eyed opossum, as the latest feral German celebrity to capture hearts around the world.
The star of Leipzig Zoo made an appearance on U.S. television in February predicting Oscar winners, had her own merchandise, a song written about her and gained more than 330,000 fans on Facebook before dying in September to join Paul the oracle octopus and Knut the polar bear in the hereafter.
"The cross-eyed opossum Heidi has closed her eyes forever," the zoo wrote on its website.
PHOTOS: ANIMALS IN THE NEWS
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Motivational speaker Tom Willis, who was born without arms or hands, recently got to fulfill a longtime dream at the San Diego Zoo when he fed a giraffe with his toes. He said the "salami-like tongue" felt "firm and moist."
This orphaned cat -- named Kitler -- couldn't get adopted in July because the dark fur under her nose resembled the moustache of Nazi tyrant Adolf Hitler. Finding felines that bear a striking similarity to Der Fuhrer became a semi-popular internet meme with websites like "Cats That Look Like Hitler" popping up.
Lolong, a 21-foot 4-inch crocodile, has given residents of Bunawan, Philippines something to be proud of -- and possibly to fear. They claim the huge reptile is the world's biggest croc. Hunters sought the beast after it reportedly attacked residents and livestock.
Motala is a 50-year-old Thai elephant that got a new prosthetic leg this year to replace a previous fake appendage. She had been a working pachyderm used for moving trees when she lost a front leg in 1999 by stepping on a land mine that was left over from conflict along the Thailand-Myanmar border. But it was only in 2006 that specialists built her first manmade limb, which has been replaced several times due to fluctuations in her body weight.
Meet the world's bravest dentist. Dr. Doug Luiten performed a root canal on a full-grown, 300-pound Siberian tiger at the Alaska Zoo in October. The procedure on seven-year-old Kunali was a success. The big cat's large teeth required the zoo to procure oversized equipment for the procedure. Kunali endured the broken tooth for four or five years, zookeepers said.
Authorities killed 49 exotic animals near Zanesville, Ohio that were released from a wildlife sanctuary by their owner shortly before he committed suicide in October. Law enforcement officials killed rare Bengal tigers, lions, wolves, bears and a baboon that wondered the rural area. The potential danger from the prowling forced local schools to cancel classes, but there were no human injuries reported. Neighbors had complained about Terry Thompson's menagerie before, saying that animals were noisy and occasionally escaped.
Emergency responders in Gothenburg, Sweden had an unusual problem in September when an apparently drunken moose trapped itself in a tree. Police believe that the moose became inebriated by eating too many fermented apples.
Hollywood turned its attention to Winter, a six-year-old dolphin in Florida, who got a prosthetic tail as a calf after getting caught in crab trap. Doctors feared she would die, but the manmade tail did the trick. The tail was fodder for a big-screen tale. The film about Winter, "Dolphin Tale," was released in September and starred Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd and Harry Connick, Jr.
Wildlife officials removed Shirley, an orangutan, from a Malaysian zoo in September, because she developed an unhealthy smoking habit. A Malaysian wildlife official said Shirley wasn't addicted, but often became agitated without having a smoke. Visitors encouraged her unhealthy habit by tossing flaming loose butts into her enclosure to see her imitate the humans puffing away. You know what they say -- monkey see, monkey do.
Protective pet-owner Brooke Collins punched a bear in the snout that had her dachshund Fudge clenched in its jaws. Fudge suffered minor injuries and the Alaska woman said she realized it was dangerous to fight a bear, but she wanted to rescue her dog.
Talk about a rich bitch! Trouble attained fame as Leona Helmsley's pet Maltese that inherited $12 million when Helmsley, the widow of hotel and real-estate mogul Harry Helmsley, died in 2007. A judge later reduced the canine's fortune to $2 million, but she lived out her days with round-the-clock care in Florida. She was 12.
Bowser Beer was recognized as the world's first beer for dogs by the World Record Academy. The canine brew is made without hops, carbonation and alcohol. Browser Beer is sold in 40 states and is safe not just for pets, but also for thirsty humans.
New York artist Olga Horvat started designing demon-deterring accessories for owners of hell-raising pets after she adopted Princess, a possessed pure-bred poodle who brought horrible bad luck to the Horvat family.
But Heidi wasn't the only news story about the animal world which saw New Zealanders rescue, set free and then lose track of "Happy Feet," the wrong-way Emperor penguin. A fox also escaped from a Belarus hunter by shooting his would-be killer with his own rifle and a flying bear killed two people in Canada.
And who could forget Mia, the cobra who escaped from New York's Bronx zoo? She became a Twitter sensation when an anonymous Twitter user began posting tweets from @bronxzooscobra, which followed the snake's progress visiting New York landmarks and a popular cafe for morning coffee.
"Getting my morning coffee at the Mudtruck. Don't even talk to me until I've had my morning coffee. Seriously, don't. I'm venomous," one Twitter message read.
Twitter gained followers and broke news, including the musings of Osama bin Laden's unwitting neighbor who tweeted about the "unusual" noises in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad during the raid to capture America's most wanted man in May.
"Uh oh, now I'm the guy who live blogged the Osama raid without knowing it," IT consultant Sohaib Athar said on Twitter a few hours after reporting a loud bang rattling his windows.
Video-sharing website YouTube delighted millions with hit videos showing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev parking a car and then trying to hold it back from ploughing into a crowd. It also showed the U.S. Presidential Cadillac marooned on a Dublin ramp and a music video entitled "Zenga Zenga," which lampooned embattled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Gaddafi, who is flanked by gyrating female dancers in the video, was later captured and killed -- one of four dictators overthrown in an Arab Spring which also swept through Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen.
Other less authoritarian leaders also fell in 2011.
In seven tumultuous days in November Italy went, as one cartoonist put it, "from Bunga Bunga to Banca Banca." The first refers to the name that former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi bestowed on the wild parties he allegedly held at his villas.
The second, Italian for bank, refers to the financial world that will dominate much of new Prime Minister Mario Monti's term as he tries to reign in Italy's profligate spending and tackle a major debt crisis threatening the entire euro zone.
The flamboyant Berlusconi, who is accused of sleeping with a teenage prostitute and hosting parties where girls dressed up in sexy nun or nurse outfits, said he had no regrets.
"I have a high regard for myself and I have nothing to reprimand myself for when I look at myself in the mirror," he said. "Perhaps at times I've exaggerated with irony, but never with brutal offences like those directed towards me."
Berlusconi once described U.S. President Barack Obama as "suntanned," suggested that he seduced Finnish President Tarja Halonen and held up two fingers behind a Spanish minister's head in an EU summit photograph.
British royalty enjoyed a surge of global popularity, with the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton in April, which sparked celebrations across Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and a horse-racing victory on the day for the aptly named Royal Wedding at odds of 4/1.
Irish leprechauns, tea-sipping Britons, Australian ABBA impersonators and the oldest yoga teacher on the planet were just some of the people who set records on Guinness World Records Day in November.
In Ireland, 262 people in Dublin set the record for the largest gathering of people dressed as leprechauns.
>"We believe that a record for leprechauns belongs to its native soil and we're really pleased to bring it back to Ireland," Derek Mooney from Ireland's RTE Radio One said.
Charlie Sheen wasn't the only celebrity to top odd stories with his "winning" ways.
Three Polish police commandos were sacked from an elite anti-terrorist unit for serving as bodyguards for Paris Hilton and singer Lady Gaga threatened to sue a London ice cream shop for its "Baby Gaga" ice cream made from breast milk.
Playboy founder Hugh Hefner was jilted in June by prospective wife number three and French actor Gerard Depardieu apologized to fellow passengers for urinating during takeoff on an Air France flight.
The presenters of British motoring TV show "Top Gear" described Mexicans as "lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight" and didn't fear complaints from Mexico's UK envoy. Ambassador Eduardo Medina Mora described the comments as "vulgar," "inexcusable" and "xenophobic" in a letter to the BBC.
Apple's iPhone edged past pop stars and celebrities as the top searched term on the Web in 2011, despite the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
"10 years ago we had Steve Jobs, Bob Hope and Johnny Cash. Now we have no Jobs, no Hope and no Cash," according to a joke lamenting the dire straits of the current U.S. economy.
The world of comedy also lost one of its favorite figures with the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in December.
Although he was a brutal dictator reviled by human rights groups for jailing or starving hundreds of thousands of North Koreans and abhorred for his proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Kim was comedy gold to satirists.
The late leader with his elevator shoes and bouffant hairstyle was immortalized in the 2004 U.S. film "Team America: World Police" in which a foul-mouthed Kim drops U.N. nuclear inspector Hans Blix into a shark aquarium and sings a heartfelt ballad about the burden of leadership in politically incorrect accented English: "I'm so Ronery" (I'm so Lonely).
The last laugh fell to The Economist magazine, which put a waving Kim on its cover in 2000 under the headline "Greetings, earthlings" as the world's most reclusive nation began cautiously opening up to South Korea.
Eleven years later, the British magazine's Asia blog noted Kim's death with another photo of Kim waving under the caption "Farewell, earthlings.