The Web of Life (125-8) Friendship


Friendships between individuals are amply documented in people, chimpanzees, baboons, rhesus monkeys, rodents, horses, hyenas, lions, elephants, and dolphins. Elephants are notable for the lifelong bonding between a mother and her daughters. Sharing food, providing emotional support to others, comfort to the injured, and grieving upon the death of friends are all on display within the animal kingdom.

Numerous bird and mammal species are known to mate for life; beyond the needs of parenting, these couples are the most intimate of friends until death parts them.

Via sustained proximity, friendship comes naturally among relatives. But unrelated animals often have enduring bonds.

Males are particularly prone to have long-lasting buddies from relationships which typically formed as youngsters: playmates of the same age, not necessarily siblings. If a wolf leaves his pack, for whatever reason, his friends howl and howl from the loss. The departure of a less valued packmate does not elicit such a mournful reaction.

Generally, while females have friends, being a mother also brings strong emotional rewards and bonding with brood. Nature’s ruse for the sacrifices of breeding come in emotional payoff by attachment to offspring.

Among baboons, the strongest social bonds are between mothers and daughters, followed by sisters and other female relatives, including aunts, nieces, and cousins.

Females have more fluid bonds during their fertile years but tend to cherish tight bonds with a few other select females after the last possible offspring have been reared. Horse mares form long-lasting alliances, in part to keep aggressive stallions at bay.

Grooming is a common expression of friendship. It is both beneficial to the receiver and an act of intimacy, not to mention it feels good to receive and to give.

Ruby¬†was a young, low-ranking baboon female who lost all of her kin in a leopard attack. Because baboon social support is commonly kin-based, Ruby’s prospects were poor.

But Ruby was gregarious. She spent hours grooming Sylvia, a high-ranking baboon who befriended her. By her temperament, Ruby was able to climb the social ladder, gaining access to the best food and most desirable resting places.

Friendship is as simple as seeking comfort or companionship from another to improve one’s own life experience. ~ American author Jennifer Holland

 Interspecies Bonding

There are numerous stories of animals of different species forming social bonds. One is notably well-known.

In Kenya, a 1-year-old hippopotamus named Owen formed a close bond with a century-old tortoise named Mzee (Swahili for old man) after they came together at a wildlife sanctuary in Mombasa. They slept and ate together, inseparable friends.

2 baby red pandas born at Amsterdam’s zoo were abandoned by their mother. The zookeeper’s house cat, which had just given birth, let the 2 panda newborns nurse alongside her kittens.

Timur is a goat given as a live meal to Amur, a Siberian tiger at a Russian safari park. The stubborn goat refused to be eaten. Instead, the two became the best of friends. Amur gave up his sleeping spot to Timur, who, when awake, follows Amur wherever he goes.

In her captivating book Unlikely Friendships, Jennifer Holland chronicled 47 interspecies animal friendships of abiding affection. Many were quite unlikely, including: Sumatran tiger twin cubs and orangutan babies; a rat and a cat; a little Dorcas gazelle and a protective zebra (zebra are known to be aggressive toward antelope, even killing newborns, making this friendship especially surprising); an iguana and a house cat (lots of snuggling, not a known lizard proclivity); a leopard and a Brahmin cow (the leopard cuddled while being cow-licked); a sled dog pup and a polar bear (roughhousing play; such interspecies playfulness between sled dogs and polar bears has been seen numerous times; polar bears have even acted protectively toward the dogs); a baby oryx and a motherly lioness; a hamster and a rat snake; a rhinoceros, a warthog, and a hyena; a lion, a tiger, and a bear (oh my!).

Dogs figure regularly in interspecies relationships, numerically because they are so commonly around humans, but mostly because of their innate bonding sociality, which is what makes them a most popular pet in the first place. But then, the cat family too figures in prominently.

Many of these odd pairings came about in an environment of a nature park, wildlife sanctuary, or zoo. The wild is a different setting. Close contact between different species, where such friendships might arise, is seldom seen in the wild; though it does occur, and more often between social species. The awareness that comes with sociality affords realization that friends bring value to life regardless of their origin.