Animal Stories: When Beasts Act Like Humans

They practice yoga, drive cars, and comfort their closest friends. These twelve animal stories show these curious creatures at their most personable.

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Wales News Service

Cat Guides Blind Dog

After Terfel, an eight-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever in North Wales, U.K., developed cataracts last year, he began to bump into walls and furniture. Soon enough, the once-energetic dog was spending most of his time in his dog bed, unable to find his way around.

On a whim, Terfel’s owner Judy Godfrey-Brown let a stray cat, whom she named Pwditat (pronounced Puddy-tat), into her home. The feline made a beeline for the blind dog and began using its paws and head to herd Terfel into the garden. Now the unlikely friends sleep together, and Pwditat helps Terfel find his way everywhere.

Meta Penca/BNPS

Bear Does Yoga

Santra, a female bear at Finland’s Ahtari Zoo, entertained visitors with a 15-minute “yoga” routine following a nap. Sitting upright, Santra used her front paws to grab her right back paw, then her left, stretching her legs as if doing a One-Legged Split. Next, she demonstrated the Open-Leg Seated Balance Pose with near-perfect form, pulling up both hind legs while keeping her balance. Meta Penca, who happened to be at the zoo and snapped photos of Santra’s performance, said the bear “looked focused and calm.”

iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Dogs Drive Cars

Three New Zealand dogs recently navigated a specially modified Mini Cooper around a racetrack at about 20 mph. (Engineers raised the gearshift and pedals and added handles to the steering wheel.) The stunt was an effort by the Auckland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to show off canine intelligence and boost adoptions from animal shelters. After months of practice and, we’re guessing, many bags of treats, Monty, a giant schnauzer, Porter, a bearded collie mix, and Ginny, a bearded collie–whippet mix, followed trainers’ commands to put the car into gear, press the accelerator, and steer with their paws. Since a video of the test-drive appeared online last December, all three dogs have been adopted.

Tim Flach/Abrams Books, AbramsBooks.com

Lions Care About Their Hair

According to Peyton M. West, PhD, an evolution and animal behavior expert, female lions actively court males that are more heavily and lushly maned, especially at night, which is reserved for socializing and grooming.

Of course, today such bald discrimination is frowned upon by men and women, but the big cats are content to be old-fashioned. When fights break out among members of the pride, lions with flowing tresses get preferential treatment.

Michael Fishbauch

Whale Says Thanks

Each winter for nearly 20 years, Great Whale Conservancy codirector Michael Fishbach has traveled with other research scientists to the Sea of Cortez off Mexico’s west coast to study blue and humpback whales. In 2011, he and his team spotted a humpback whale trapped in a fishing net and spent an hour freeing it. Afterward, in an hour-long display of thanks, the whale swam near their boat and leaped into the air about 40 times.

Tim Flach/Abrams Books, AbramsBooks.com

Pandas Like to Cavort

Is there anything cuter than a baby panda, except maybe a human baby? Even the word panda is cute. In fact, cubs sometimes behave like human babies: They sleep in the same positions and value their thumbs (pandas use theirs for holding the bamboo they munch on all day). Pandas are shy by nature (the Chinese have nicknamed the animal “Miss Panda” for its coy behavior such as covering its face with a paw or ducking its head when confronted by a stranger).

They're also playful. According to one Chinese travel site, pandas have been known to wander inside mountain homes and get into the pots and pans. And although they grow into solitary adults who roam alone and mate just once a year, they also like to snuggle. If given the chance, they’ll sleep side by side with domestic animals. Just like us!

Tim Flach/Abrams Books, AbramsBooks.com

Horses Are Picky Eaters

Horses have an even keener sense of taste and smell than humans do, say equine scientists. When horses wrinkle their noses and flare their nostrils, they’re activating their vomeronasal organ, which allows them to sense smells we can’t detect. Horses also have taste buds on the back of their tongues and the roofs of their mouths, which might explain why they reject stale water and meticulously move around meadows, grazing on only the tastiest herbs, experts say.

iStockphoto/Thinkstock

A Cat Honors Its Owner

A sprig of acacia, paper towels, and a plastic cup are just a few of the gifts that Toldo, a devoted three-year-old gray-and-white cat, has placed on his former owner Iozzelli Renzo’s grave in Montagnana, Italy, every day since the man died in September 2011. Renzo adopted Toldo from a shelter when the cat was three months old, and the two formed an inseparable bond. After Renzo passed away, Toldo followed the coffin to the cemetery, and now “stands guard” at the grave for hours at a time, says Renzo’s family.

Tim Flach/Abrams Books, AbramsBooks.com

Pigeons Serve Their Country

Pigeons’ speed and navigational skills made them prized military messengers in World Wars I and II and the most decorated animals in military history. Thirty-two messenger pigeons have received the Dickin Medal, a British award that honors the gallantry or devotion of animals in war. At the moment, pigeons are resting on their laurels. They’ve fallen out of military favor and are no longer used—for now.

Tim Flach/Abrams Books, AbramsBooks.com

Monkeys Do Math

If capuchins ran the world, we might have avoided the recent banking crisis. In an experiment conducted by Keith Chen at Yale, capuchins demonstrated an understanding of pricing and budgeting, as well as a desire to avoid losses when required to buy food with tokens. Makes sense—this one looks like it’s checking its stock portfolio on a smartphone.

iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Camel Eats Breakfast with People

The first time Joe dined with British farmers Nathan and Charlotte Anderson-Dixon, he was uninvited. The four-year-old Bactrian camel stuck his head through their open kitchen window in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, and proceeded to empty the contents of a fruit bowl. Now the couple, who rent out reindeer, camels, goats, and other creatures for television shows, movies, and photo shoots, set a place at their table for the assertive double-humped creature, where he munches on cereal and his favorite: bananas on toast.

Caters News Agency

Marmots Befriend a Boy

A colony of marmots in the Austrian Alps has embraced eight-year-old Matteo Walch, whose family vacations there in summer. The Alpine marmots are the largest of their species, sometimes reaching 15 pounds. Typically, they beat their tails, chatter, and whistle to warn other marmots of danger, but with Matteo, they behave much differently, allowing the boy to feed, pet, and even touch noses with them. “Watching them makes me feel a connection with nature,” says Matteo.

Matteo’s mother, Michaela, has taken photographs of her son’s interaction with the marmots since he was four years old and a lot closer to the same size as the furry creatures.

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