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Unlikely Friendships: Animal Odd Couples


By Steve Dale

If these guys can do it, so can Democrats and Republications…”Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom,” a new book by Jennifer Holland (Workman Publishing, New York, NY; $13.95), offers stories of improbable and mysterious friendships.

Take the dwarf hamster and the rat snake. They first met at a Japanese zoo in a rather awkward manner; the hamster was meant to serve as the snake’s dinner. However, when the snake coiled, he had no intention of eating the hamster; instead he allowed the rodent to curl up on top of him as if he were a bed. The pair actually seemed affectionate toward one another, at least as much as a snake can be.

The book doesn’t detail how long their relationship lasted, or how it ended. To the author’s credit, he did attempt to offer some sort of scientific explanation for their surprising friendship. Rat snakes hibernate in winter, and they simply aren’t naturally hungry during this time. The hamster came into the snake’s life in October, so perhaps the snake just didn’t have lunch on his mind.

But then how do you explain the Asian Leopard and the cow in India, who came to a mutually acceptable agreement detailed in the book. Typically, when a cow meets a leopard, she’s about to also meet her maker. However, this leopard was by all accounts seeking a friend. It would tentatively greet the cow, rub its head against the cow’s (like domestic cats rub against us or other cats), then submit to being groomed by the cow.

While the leopard was young, this was by no means a cub. Adult leopards (unlike domestic cats) are solitary, and therefore rarely groom one another. Cows, of course, aren’t particularly known for giving other cows “a bath.” The curious relationship lasted for several months. On their last night together, the leopard visited the cow nine times before wandering off for good.

Some of the stories offered in the book are well known. In 1984, in Woodside, Calif., Koko, the Lowland Gorilla famously taught sign language, told her keeper, Penny Patterson, what she wanted for her birthday. She drew two fingers across her cheek, the sign for a kitten. But could this really be?

Patterson had been reading kitten stories to Koko, so perhaps this really was the gorilla’s wish. Koko not only picked out the kitten she wanted, but she also named her All Ball. Koko seemed to derive much the same pleasure from having a kitty that most people do. Sadly, All Ball escaped one day and was hit by a car.

Koko was distraught. If onlookers didn’t understand her cries, she clearly her articulated her emotions via sign language. In time, Koko later adopted two other kittens, Lipstick and Snowball. Both trusted the ape. Even though Koko could have crushed a kitten at any time, this never came close to happening.

An Asian Elephant named Tarra at the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN, just couldn’t find the right pachyderm personality type to match hers, Holland writes. Tarra was considered a tad anti-social until one day in 2008 when a stray dog showed up. Tarra and Bella became inseparable. Remarkably, Tarra sometimes gives her friend belly rubs without crushing her.

This relationship isn’t all that surprising. Tarra had grown up on the road, traveling with circuses. Dogs were always around, and both elephants and dogs are social animals. However, how do you explain this relationship what happened when a young Rhesus monkey turned up lost at a nature reserve in China and soon chose a white ring-necked dove as a best friend. The bird showed up at reserve, apparently lost. .

The monkey – too young to return to the forest – began to snuggle up to the dove. (Who knew doves could snuggle?) Not only didn’t the bird fly off, but it seemed to enjoy the attention, cooing contentedly. The pair even slept together, until one day keepers encouraged the dove to fly away, which it did, and returned the monkey to its troupe.

We all don’t have to be the same to be friends is one lesson from a similar book to Holland’s, containing many of the same stories, but geared for children: “Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships,” by Catherine Thimmesh (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, MA, 2011; $16.99). Indeed if a cow and a leopard can do it, we can too!

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services



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