From a seal in a pub to a fox in B&Q: The RSPCA's weirdest rescues of 2022

The New Year is a time of reflection for most of us, when we take stock of the past year and what we did right or might have done differently.

But forget the vows of sobriety or plans to get to know your neighbours better – they are probably important, but may as well wait until February.

One true treat of January is that the RSPCA releases a retrospective of all the oddest animals they rescued over the previous year – and some of them are rather silly.

You’d think from watching nature documentaries that Britain’s wildlife is born with the amazing ability to fly, build intricate nests and dance dramatic mating rituals.

But it turns out that natural instinct only gets you so far, as can be seen from the various scrapes these animals found themselves in, like the seal getting stuck up a cliff far above the sea (how?), the duck who mistook the roof of a Surrey shopping centre for great place to lay eggs or the tarantula on a train.

Here are the funniest, furriest and weird rescues of 2022 – and here’s to giving more animals a helping hand in 2023.

An intruder in the loft 

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It’s a bit of a nightmare scenario to have someone move into your home without you knowing – but you’d probably be relieved to find out it was a fox and not a stalker.

Rescuer Jade Guthrie was called to a flat in Battersea, London, on September 13, after someone living downstairs heard noises from above despite the flat being empty and for sale.

‘Other neighbours spotted the fox at the windows,’ she said. ‘She had destroyed the blinds trying to scratch her way out; we believe she’d been inside for around four days.’

Estate agents went into the home and found her running around inside. Jade was given access and found the frightened fox curled up in the insulation in the loft.

‘I opened the doors leading down to the garden and corralled her down the stairs and she darted off into the undergrowth, no worse for wear thankfully.’

Seal walks into a bar

Almost exactly a year ago, locals in a pub were shocked to find a new visitor to their bar.

A poorly seal pup managed to make his way up the River Avon in Bristol, and plonked himself down outside the Old Lock & Weir pub in Keynsham on January 2.

Rescuers from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue were called to help the six-month-old pup named Nacho. They transported him to RSPCA West Hatch in Somerset to be checked over by the wildlife team.

Wildlife supervisor Paul Oaten said: ‘It’s certainly unusual for a seal to turn up at a pub like Nacho did! The River Avon runs from the coast all the way along through Keynsham where the pub is situated at the water’s edge, so it’s likely he found his way there swimming upstream from the coast.’

Nacho was underweight and had puncture wounds on his flippers. He had an ID tag on his flipper showing that he was last seen in Scotland in the summer and released into the wild in November but has lost lots of weight since – which is understandable given it was over 300 miles away.

Another seal… this time up a cliff

Just two days later, on January 4, rescuers were called to another pioneering seal who wanted to explore.

This time, a (different) seal up was found alone at the top of a cliff.

Amy Pellegrini went to Weybourne, Norfolk, after a member of the public spotted the pup on the clifftop 50ft from the beach near a brick wartime pill box.

‘I was quite surprised to find this seal so far up – he must have just taken a wrong turn and then followed the coastal path before ending up on the cliff edge,’ Amy said.

She took the pup down to the beach to a safe spot and returned the following day to check on him and it appeared he’d returned to the sea.

Eel-y weird

Knock knock, who’s there?

Actually it’s not a joke – it’s an eel dropped from the sky.

That’s what the most likely explanation is for how an eel ended up on someone’s doorstep in Plymouth on November 8.

Inspector Sarah Morris, who went to help, said: ‘At first I thought it must be a slow worm because of the location but from speaking to the caller it became clear it really was an eel.

‘On arrival, I went to the back garden and found a pink child’s paddling pool where the finder had kindly placed the eel until I arrived.

‘In 24 years of being an Inspector, I’ve never had a call about an eel out of water! After seeking advice from the team at RSPCA West Hatch Wildlife Centre, I removed the eel and put it in a small fish tank and transported it safely to the nearest estuary where the eel was released.

‘How it got there is a mystery but the most likely reason would have been that it was dropped there by a heron or other such bird.’

Gull on a zip wire

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A gull left hanging upside-down from a telephone line had to be taken to freedom on a makeshift zipwire.

Its feet had been pierced by a fishing lure which then snagged onto the wire while he was flying, leaving him in a precarious position suspended 30ft above a car park in Sunderland, Tyne & Wear, on April 30.

Firefighters helped RSPCA Inspector Kirsty Keogh-Laws to use a throw line and pull the bird to the nearest telegraph pole where a rescuer was waiting at the top of a ladder to bring him to safety.

The bird had only a small wound so was taken for rehabilitation to be released at a later date.

Kirsty said: ‘It was one of the most bizarre rescues I’ve seen! When I first saw him he was flapping around and obviously in pain, but thankfully there was nothing broken and he had movement in both legs.’

Excuse me, you’re in my seat

If you found this critter sitting in your assigned seat, would you make a fuss or let him get on with it?

Passengers were shocked to find a tarantula shut in a plastic container on a train arriving into London Bridge train station.

The spider was taken to station staff and RSPCA rescuer Mat Hawkins went to collect him on January 7 and took him into specialist care.

The pink-toed tarantula – native to Central and South America and islands in the Southern Caribbean – was 3.5cm in size and is thought to have been abandoned on the train.

Mat said: ‘Passengers got more than they bargained for when they spotted this little guy on the train! He was shut inside a plastic tub so we believe he had been abandoned in the carriage.’

Sheep stranded on cliff leads to abseil rescue

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Sheep are another mainstay of the annual RSPCA list, with them and foxes seemingly keeping rescuers in business.

This ‘hopelessly stranded’ sheep was rescued from a cliff in Devon by a specialist rope rescue team who had to abseil to save her.

A farmer called for help after the ewe was spotted stuck half-way down a cliffside by the coast in Kingsbridge, east of Plymouth, on April 29.

An eight-strong team was deployed to save her from the 50ft drop and were able to push her onto higher ground and catch her to return her to her flock.

Chief inspector Richard Abbott said: ‘I’m so relieved we were able to help this stranded sheep, as she faced a harrowing prospect of falling a huge distance to the ground.

‘Our very patient rescue team accessed the ewe by abseiling down the cliff; and over several hours were able to guide her to higher points, before she was caught and guided to a nearby field.’

Some DIY for the den?

Foxes always feature on the RSPCA strangest rescues lists, as they tend to get themselves in quite a few tight spots.

This particular one needed a hand after B&Q staff found him taking a snooze in the doormat aisle when they opened up the Peckham store in London on January 22.

They contacted the RSPCA as he was suffering from the skin condition mange.

Rescuer Chloe Wilson said: ‘He looked very cute all curled up on a doormat down one of the shopping aisles! I think as far as he was concerned he’d found the perfect sleeping spot.

‘However, on closer inspection the poor fox was suffering from mange, a skin disease caused by mites, so I transported him to South Essex Wildlife Hospital for care.’

Cat in a dry stone wall

Cats love to squeeze into tight spaces – and that’s as true when they’re in a field as when they’re examining your empty boxes.

A dog walker spotted this black and white cat squeezed in a small gap in a dry stone wall in a field near Bishop Auckland, County Durham, on January 23.

RSPCA rescuers dismantled the wall to free the cat who appeared to be trapped inside.

Inspector Ruth Thomas-Coxon said: ‘It was an unusual call-out and the poor puss was very frightened and a little aggressive.

‘Initially it looked as though he’d chosen to tuck himself inside the gap but he didn’t try to run away when we got closer so I was concerned he may have been injured or sick.’

The land owner helped to dismantle the wall and free the cat, who was taken to be checked over by vets before going to a rehoming centre so staff could try to trace his owners.

A sheepish tale

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A sheep managed to get herself stuck in barbed wire fencing in Hanbury, Worcestershire, on May 7.

RSPCA inspector Suzi Smith was called to help after she was found by a passerby.

Suzi said: ‘Luckily I was able to free the sheep and she was able to return to her flock straight away as she had managed to escape injury.’

Not the best nest

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A duck who laid her eggs on the roof of a shopping centre in Surrey had to be moved to a better location, as it wasn’t the cosiest home for the babies.

Residents overlooking the Friary Centre, Guildford, raised the alarm and called the RSPCA for help on May 18 after eight eggs hatched into fluffy ducklings still on the roof.

Inspector Andrew Kirby said: ‘Normally in the wild, once the ducklings have hatched, the mother duck will lead them to water, but of course the building’s roof was far too high up and also in the city centre which has heavy traffic – so incredibly dangerous for ducks!

‘She really needed a helping hand to move from “the penthouse” to a more suitable location.’

He herded them from the roof inside where he caught them and carried them down to a nearby pond to set them free.

‘Wedgehog’ gets himself stuck between bars

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A podgy hedgehog misjudged his waist size (easily done) and ended up stuck between the bars of a metal gate.

RSPCA rescuer inspector Jack Taylor was called to Bramley in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, to help him out on June 26.

‘Our call-taker who logged the report from the member of the public who found the little hedgehog aptly named him ‘wedgehog’ when they tasked me the job,’ Jack said.

He managed to carefully push him backwards out of the railings and he wasn’t injured so scurried back into the bushes.

Possum in a pickle

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A man had quite the fright when a sugar glider – a type of gliding possum – flew into his bedroom in central London and woke him up.

John Zou, 27, was in bed when he heard something scampering around his sixth-floor flat at around 5am on January 10.

He shut the little possum in one of his rooms to keep him safe, fed him some sugary fruit, and contacted the RSPCA for help.

Rescuer Francesca Tambini went to collect the little glider from Holborn and took him to an exotics sanctuary.

‘I left the window open to the balcony so he must have come in from outside. I guess he’s someone’s pet and flew into my flat from theirs,’ John said.

Francesca said: ‘I expect this little guy is an escaped pet or has been abandoned locally before turning up on this man’s balcony.

‘Unfortunately, we do see these sorts of animals being abandoned from time-to-time when their owners realise how difficult it is to meet their needs in a household environment.’

Mum and kittens rescued from the rain

Homeowners in Birmingham had a surprise when they went to investigate a noise and found a cat struggling to give birth in the guttering above their conservatory.

They called the RSPCA and fire service for help on April 12, with the forecast predicting heavy rain which would not have been pleasant inside the gutter.

RSPCA Inspector Adam Bailey said: ‘The mum cat had decided to give birth to her five kittens in the conservatory guttering of the property and with heavy rain due to set in we knew we had to get to them fast.’

Adam got onto the roof and managed to catch the mum and bring her and all of her kittens to safety.

The cat – named Storm – was microchipped but rescuers couldn’t reach her owners so she was taken in by the charity along with her new babies.

Outfoxed by an abandoned wheel

Another fox ended up in a fix when he got his head stuck in a car wheel in Selly Oak, Birmingham.

Animal rescue officer Ash Moore and trainee Baljit Dharmia were called to help on May 24.

As the cub became more distressed the rescuers called for help from the fire teams who used special equipment to cut him free.

He was taken to a nearby wildlife hospital to be monitored before he could be released back into the wild.

What are ewe doing?

A sheep needed a helping hand after getting stuck between the bars of a metal field feeding station.

Rescuer Helen Chapman was called to a field in Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester, on June 27 after the stricken sheep was spotted by a walker.

Helen said: ‘This sheep appears to have been carrying a little too much weight and got wedged between the bars of the field shelter.

‘The metal structure is designed to allow the lambs and young sheep inside to reach supplementary food while keeping the adults out.

‘But this greedy ewe decided to push her luck and try to get the extra feed, getting her back end stuck outside the bars!’

Helen was able to unscrew a mechanism and widen the gaps to free her and she ran back to the flock.

Mystery over how snake got in bin

A man ‘jumped and screamed’ when he went to put his rubbish out and then found a snake in his wheelie bin looking back at him on July 7.

Aclas Ighodaro came face-to-face with the corn snake when he went to sort out the normally-standard chore at his home in Stoke-on-Trent.

He called the police who told him to contact the RSPCA and inspector Dawn Burrell attended to collect the snake.

Aclas said: ‘I’ve only ever seen snakes on television, never in real life, so when I lifted the lid and saw his body crawling through a hole in the bag, I jumped and screamed and ran! I didn’t know what I was going to do as it was my rubbish collection the next day, but I didn’t want to open up the bin again, so I’m really grateful that Dawn came to help me out.’

The snake was taken to a local vet and then into care.

Dawn said: ‘It’s a bit of a mystery as to how the snake got into the wheelie bin as he said he put a rubbish bag in it earlier in the day and the reptile definitely wasn’t there then.’

Toad slides to safety

A toad who hopped into trouble managed to get stuck between two decking boards in Willenhall, West Midlands, on August 2.

Rescuer Ash Moore said: ‘The poor toad was very distressed. He had become wedged in between two pieces of decking with most of his body squeezed through the gap and his legs trapped on the other side.’

Ash used the classic trick of using washing-up liquid to get something stuck to give way.

It made the toad more slippery, and this combined with a screwdriver to widen the gap allowed him to pop free. The toad was checked by vets before being released.

Frog stows away in bunch of bananas

A tree frog made a 4,300-mile journey from its home in the Dominican Republic to the UK disguised in a bunch of bananas.

Iain Holloway and his family made the surprise discovery when they were unpacking their food shopping after a delivery at their home in Tamworth, Staffordshire.

The tiny 3.8cm amphibian, who is now in the care of the RSPCA, was in good condition despite being inside the bag of bananas which would have been wrapped up for some time.

Mr Holloway said: ‘We were unpacking the shopping in the kitchen and my wife turned to me and said “look there’s a frog in the bananas” and I said “sorry, there’s a what in the bananas?”‘

Rescuer Jonny Wood, who is specially trained to deal with exotics, collected the Hispaniolan common frog on September 24.

Wake to snake

It seems that unexpected encounters with snakes are more common than you might expect, as another person had a fright.

This time, a woman woke up to find a 3ft serpent slithering in through her open bedroom window on October 8,

She leapt out of bed, slamming the door behind her and calling the RSPCA for help to her home in Basildon, Essex.

Animal rescue officer Enola Evans said: ‘It’s not every day you get woken up by a snake trying to get into your bedroom through a window – the woman was terribly shocked!’

She couldn’t initially spot the snake and searched the woman’s bedroom before spotting the brightly-coloured reptile as she closed the window, coiled around the rim.

‘He had been very well-hidden, so I was really pleased to find him,’ she added.

The snake was taken to an expert boarder nearby and the charity launched a search to find his owner.

Fox in a tin can 

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A final fox needed some help after getting his head stuck inside a large can of dog food that had been thrown away in Barking, London.

RSPCA inspector Dale Grant was called to help on February 2, and said: ‘The silly fox had the can well and truly wedged on his head.

‘Thankfully I was able to catch him, release him and set him free again uninjured.

‘It just goes to show how dangerous litter can be so we’d urge people to ensure they responsibly discard of their rubbish and try to keep bins wildlife-proof.’

A Christmas angel

A little finch moved into a Next store in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and took up residency among the Christmas displays.

It looked quite at home perched on top of the tree – but staff and customers knew it wasn’t an angel bauble, as it started flying between all three floors.

After getting in through an open window on November 13, it became trapped in a gap between the store’s glass frontage and an internal wall, until eventually getting out and exploring the whole store.

Rescuer Rachael Hurst said: ‘She just couldn’t fly back out and was flitting around the displays over three floors. No doubt the bright decorations in the Christmas displays attracted her and at one stage she’d landed on top of a tree and seemed very happy to stay there too.’

She and fellow rescuer Lucy Green finally caught her two days later behind some men’s coats on the top floor.

‘Fortunately, she was unharmed, so we took her straight outside and released her near an area where there were a couple of trees,’ Rachael said.

And thousands more…

In 2022, RSPCA officers were called to thousands of incidents when birds, wildlife, pets and farm animals found themselves in need of help.

Dermot Murphy, who heads the animal charity’s frontline rescue teams, said: ‘With our teams out rescuing animals from danger and suffering 365 days a year, we are often their only hope.

‘It’s an honour to be able to lend a hand to animals in desperate need and we hope people enjoy seeing some of the weird and wonderful places animals have found themselves in need of our help.’

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