A monkey and a kitten. An elephant and a sheep. They aren’t what you’d normally view as compatible creatures, but National Geographic magazine writer Jennifer S. Holland wrote about 47 such instances of animals pairing up as friends with other species in her book “Unlikely Friendships,” published earlier this year. (“Unlikely Friendships” is also a photo calendar for 2012, featuring some of the book’s heartwarming images.)
Many of us who have pets know that animals introduced to one another at an early stage of development will accept another species as one of their own kind. We’ve even seen our own children become best buddies with a pet, despite not sharing a common language nor a similar taste in food. We know we are accepted by the animals that share our homes and families, for they bring us comfort, too.
Psychologist Harry Harlow determined back in the 1950s that baby Rhesus monkeys preferred to satisfy their need for contact comfort, even before their need for food. While I despise the technique it took to conclude the research, I understand the conclusion. Animals crave being close to someone, even if only a resemblance of something living – even humans do. Maybe this is why pets are so popular.
Even my great-grandmother accepted the company of a pet. She was a strong but stern woman, widowed shortly after her tenth child was born. She wrote: “Here I am now in my 70th year going upstairs [to bed] alone after bringing up 8 children. On the bed was Tabby. I thought, ‘something alive if nothing but a cat,’ and I let her stay.”
Is it only curiosity that motivates these friendships?
Does instinct play a part in animals seeking out other living creatures, despite their differences?
We may never know what prompts the start of these friendships between different animals. But what better way is there to live than to accept each other?