Inter-species friendships in the animal kingdom are undeniably adorable, and make us humans think that if such different species can get along, why can’t we as humans be at peace with each other. It makes us think that sometimes animals really are “better people” than people. However, the real situation is a little more complex than that.
Inter-species friendships usually occur among animals in captivity; it is rare for it to happen in the wild. This does not include mutual symbiotic relationships in the wild, where both animals are getting some sort of concrete physical benefit from the other, like the Egyptian plover bird in Africa which eats the decaying meat stuck on a crocodile’s teeth. The bird gets a meal, and the crocodile gets its teeth cleaned. Inter-species animal friendships are interesting because they seem to occur for purely social reasons, which makes the animals seem more human and relatable to us.
Scientists are just now beginning to take the subject seriously as something beyond a cute YouTube video or Super Bowl commercial. The subject was recently discussed in this article from the New York Times. As a psychologist quoted in the article says, “There’s no question that studying these relationships can give you some insight into the factors that go into normal relationships.” However, commenting on the fact that most of these friendships occur among animals in captivity, another psychologist quoted in article says that, “It ceases to be directly a story about animal behavior and becomes a story about human impact on the environment, like the difference between gardening and and the beauty of natural landscape.” However, a growing number of scientists are beginning to see the value of studying these relationships even if they are in a human-controlled environment. Dr. Barbara J. King, an anthropologist quoted in the article, has said that the first thing the scientific community must do is define what qualifies as a “friendship” in these situations. She suggests that the relationship must be sustained for some period of time, it must be mutual with both animals engaging in the interaction, and some sort of accommodation behavior must take place, like a change in behavior or communication.
In the meantime while we’re waiting for scientists to study it more, here are some great examples of animal friendships to brighten up your week. You can also check out a book we have on the subject (with lots of photos!) at the McAllen Public Library.
Boxer and Goat
This goat was the runt of a litter born on a farm in the U.K. It was not doing well so the owner bottle-fed it, and then the owner’s boxer adopted it.
Gorilla and Cat
The most famous inter-species friendship is Koko the gorilla who learned to sign about 2,000 words. When she became bored with stuffed animals, the researchers caring for her gave her a kitten. She cared for it as if it were her own baby. It was tragically killed by a car, and when her handler signed this to her, she signed the words “bad, sad, bad, frown, cry-frown, sad,” and later mourned in her cage by wailing and bellowing.
Elephant and Dog
Bubbles the elephant and Bella the black lab live on a safari reserve park in the U.S. Bubbles was brought there after being rescued from ivory poachers in Africa, and Bella was left there by the contractor who built Bubbles’ swimming pool.
Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my…
You would think this could not end well, but apparently these three were rescued together from a drug dealer and had suffered horrible abuse. They now live together at an animal sanctuary park in the U.S.
Giraffe and Ostrich
This giraffe and ostrich live together at the Busch Gardens in a 65 acre enclosure. So they have plenty of space to be apart, but choose to be together.
The list goes on and on, but to see other websites that have compiled stories and photos like these, check out these links:
And check out this book from MPL!