To paraphrase Thomas Hobbes: life in nature is a war of all against all – and it is (in general) nasty, brutish, and short. Competition between animals drives evolution, and will never be removed from life. Yet there are softer sides to be being alive. Many animals are sociable – at least with their own kind. Occasionally, however, bouts of bonhomie break out between animals of different species, against all the laws of nature. Here are ten of the most surprising interspecies animal friendships.
Koko the gorilla is one of the most studied primates in history. Her handlers have been examining her remarkable ability to understand language. Koko communicates in American Sign Language, and has been known to create her own terms for new items and ideas using signs she already knows (calling a ring a ‘finger-bracelet’ for instance). In 1984, Koko asked her trainers whether she might be allowed to keep a pet cat. She chose a grey kitten and called it All Ball. Koko nurtured All Ball as if it were a baby gorilla, and would appear distressed when parted from it.
When All Ball was knocked down and killed by a car, Koko was seen to mourn the cat’s death, and use signs for ‘sad’ and ‘frown’ to describe her feelings. She has since had several more pets.
When Themba the elephant was a calf, his mother fell to her death. The orphan elephant was found and rescued by rangers at the Shamwari reserve in South Africa. At the reserve Themba was placed in a pen to protect him from other animals. Since elephants are social animals, it was decided to place a sheep called Albert in the pen to offer Themba companionship. At first the elephant made a game of chasing the sheep but the two eventually bonded and could be seen sleeping together at night. When it was time to begin preparing Themba for release, Albert was removed from the pen and Themba was introduced to more typical animals from South Africa. Before Themba could be released he succumbed to a disease of the intestine. Albert has remained at the reserve.
Owen the Hippo was separated from his parents when a tsunami wave washed him out to sea. After being found by wildlife rangers, he was taken to an animal sanctuary in Mombassa, Kenya. Owen’s handlers decided that he would share a habitat with an ancient 100-year-old tortoise called Mzee. It was reported that Owen behaved towards Mzee, a male, as if the tortoise was his mother. The hippo and tortoise would bathe and sleep together, and Owen would lick Mzee’s face and become protective if anyone approached the tortoise. Hippos generally remain with their mothers for four years, and Owen stayed with Mzee until 2007 when he was introduced to other hippos.
In 2011, at Forest Lawn cemetery in Buffalo, an unlikely partnership sprang up between a nesting goose and a deer. The Canadian goose laid her eggs in an urn and settled down to incubate them. At some point a male deer joined the female goose and began to act as a guard. Whenever people approached the nesting bird he would interpose himself protectively to ward off the threat. This strange behavior continued for three weeks until the goslings hatched. As soon as the mother goose began to move around with her babies, the deer wandered off into the forest, job well-done.
When a sea otter pup was found abandoned on a building site in Wales, it was taken to a wildlife reserve to be fed and treated and returned to full health. The aim was to heal the otter and set him free again. After a few months at the reserve, the pup’s handlers decided he needed a playmate to use up some of his boisterous energy. Since otters have a nasty nip and are very inquisitive it was thought the perfect playmate for the pup would be a puppy. An eight month old Labrador called Molly was brought in and the two played together while the otter was taught to swim. The otter, called Geraint, is due to be released in the very near future.
One day in Massachusetts, a kitten in a state of some distress walked onto the property of the Collito family. At first they were concerned that the kitten might not survive – but before long, they noticed that the cat had a strange nurse. A crow was seen bring the starving kitten worms to feed on, and ushering the kitten away from harm. The crow, given the name Moses, and the cat, called Cassie, became internet sensations when the Collitos put videos of them together on youtube. Crows are notoriously intelligent birds and enjoy social interaction. Quite why Moses chose Cassie will never be known, but the friendship has since been turned into a children’s book.
While most of the animal partnerships on this list were thrown together by accident or misfortune, this unusual friendship between a tiger, a lion, and a bear came about after they were rescued from a drug baron’s house during a police raid. The cubs, in Atlanta, were moved to an animal sanctuary and were kept together despite all three species being known for their aggressive tendencies. Now fully grown, they can still be seen playing together and settling down to sleep in the same wooden shelter in the evening.
The animals had been kept by their original owner as status symbols. Some experts estimate that there are more than 5,000 tigers in private hands in the US – more than those remaining in the wild
Capybaras are the largest rodents in the world. Looking something like giant guinea pigs, they are native to South America and live in herds.
At a tourist lodge in Peru, two animals – a capybara called Charlie and a dog called Pacho – were rescued at about the same time. Until he was rescued, Charlie had been kept as a pet by a local family. Capybaras, though cute, make poor pets, and so it was the intention of his rescuers to release Charlie – but he kept returning to the lodge in search of Pacho.
These days Charlie and Pacho are inseparable companions. If Charlie goes too deep when the two are swimming, Pacho saves him – and in return, Charlie often scavenges food to share with Pacho.
Suryia, an orangutan, and Roscoe, a dog, were raised together in a South Carolina sanctuary. The two met when Suryia spotted the homeless Roscoe wandering into an animal centre. The keepers decided to adopt the dog, and allowed him to spend time with Suryia to give the primate some friendship. Orangutans are very intelligent, and prefer not to be on their own.
The orangutan takes the dog for walks around the enclosure on a lead, and swims with him. There are also pictures online of the pair being taken for a ride on the back of an elephant, which also lives in the sanctuary. The two animals have become the subject of a book being used to raise money for their shared home.
In many countries it is illegal to feed live vertebrates to other animals. In Japan, however, it is permitted to feed live rodents to snakes. In Tokyo zoo, a hamster was placed in the terrarium of a snake called Aochan, who was refusing to eat frozen rats. Aochan, a rat snake, would be expected to make a meal of a hamster but instead left it alone. The hamster does not seem afraid of his reptile chum and often sleeps on top of Aochan.
At first the keepers thought there might be something wrong with the snake, or that he would eat the hamster in time – but the two remained companions for several months. They became an attraction at the zoo, and the lucky hamster was called Gohan by his keepers, meaning ‘Meal.’