Remarkable Animal Friendships

A selection of amazing photographs from Jennifer Holland's "Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom."

By Jennifer Holland from Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom
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Never Doubt the Power of Friendship

Written by National Geographic magazine writer Jennifer Holland, Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom documents one heartwarming tale after another of animals who, with nothing else in common, bond in the most unexpected ways. Here are a few of our favorite photos from the book.

The Pitbull, the Siamese Cat and the Chicks

Sharky's human mom, Helen Jürlau, says being a dad was heaven for the pitbull who loved being surrounded by his babies, more so than their mom. The young dog had no problem expanding his family to include a Siamese cat, Max, and a group of chicks who are oddly fond of one another. Jürlau suspects Sharky has protective instincts toward creatures smaller than himself. She cherishes their bond as much as they do, and loves catching them sprawled out in the yard, sky-gazing, or mimicking one another by sitting the exact same way.

Read their whole story in Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom.

The Duckling and the Kookaburra

The kookaburra is the largest of the kingfishers, a group of birds found primarily in Australia and New Guinea. The six-week old baby pictured here, Kookie, was living on his own at England's Seaview Wildlife Encounter on the Isle of Wight until park director Lorraine Adams gave him a roommate: a tiny, rescued Madagascar duckling who quickly cuddled up to the larger bird. A kookaburra wouldn't think twice about dining on ducklings as an adult, but after seeing how well the two got along, Adams brought the little duck's siblings in. She was amazed at how they too befriended the bird, nestling under his wing as though he were their mom.

Read their whole story in Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom.

The Lioness and the Baby Oryx

It was in the Samburu National Reserve of Kenya that a union seemingly biblical occurred. A friendship the locals called a message from God. This remarkable event was the peaceful bond that formed between a baby antelope and a lion, who was given the name Kamunyak, or "blessed one."

People came, wishing to see the strange pair with their own eyes, questioning how long the predator would baby her prey. The lioness, who had no cubs of her own and had been separated from her pride, adopted the oryx. She walked with him and slept with him and developed an intimacy social anthropologist Saba Douglas Hamilton said defied the laws of nature. The pairing puzzled experts who consider the big cat an enigma.

Read their whole story in Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom.

The Gorilla and the Kitten

You may have already have heard of Koko, the 230-pound ape who used sign language to communicate to her teacher, Francine "Penny" Paterson, that her birthday she wished for a cat. Paterson was unsurprised... the two books Koko loved the most were both about cats. After a stuffed, plush kitten did not suffice, a real one was chosen from an abandoned litter, and Koko babied him until sadly, he escaped and was tragically killed by a car.

Koko's sadness lifted when she was introduced to two new kittens in need of a home: Smoky and Lipstick. Human caregivers were totally taken with Koko's rekindled instinct to mother. The adage that time heals all wounds appears to apply to animals too. Koko bestowed amazing affection to the kittens, both so small they could fit in her palm.

Read their whole story in Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom.

The African Elephant and the Sheep

When Themba the elephant lost his mom at just 6 months of age, it was hoped the herd living at the South African nature reserve would adopt him, but to the staff's dismay, none did. At Themba's age, mother-child bonding was a critical loss. The staff at the Shamwari Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Eastern Cape thought they'd try to replicate the success they'd found pairing motherless wildlife with domestic sheep, so from a nearby farm came Albert.

Sheep have quite remarkable emotional intelligence and can recognize individuals and expressions. These qualities made staff hopeful a bond would form between Themba and Albert, as elephants are characteristically bright and social.

Although it took some time, the two animals grew to become inseparable, spending their days foraging their enclosure for food, napping together, and playing.

Read their whole story in Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom.

The Seeing-Eye Cat and the Blind Dog

Meet Libby, a seeing-eye cat. Yes, a cat, self-trained to help her companion navigate a dark world when she began to lose her sight at age 12. Their owners said Libby adapted well when she was introduced into their home as a stray kitten back in 1994. Cashew, their lab mix, didn't have much interaction with the cat until old age set in and Libby's protective instincts took over. Libby would guide Cashew, walking just below her chin, to sunny spots, the water bowl, and out of harm's way. When Cashew passed 3 years later, Libby seemed forlorn and it became clear the unlikely partnership she'd shared with Cashew would never be duplicated.

Read their whole story in Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom.

The Mare and the Fawn

Bonnie, a Morgan Quarter horse, became a member of the Muth family at just 10 months old, befriending their daughter Denise until a tragic accident ended Denise's life at just 18. Bonnie served as a link to the grieving parents' beloved daughter. The horse, who had always been kind, became kinder. Bob Muth, who brought her to his family's Montana farm, claimed Bonnie to be the most affectionate horse he'd ever known, and this compassion was quite evident the day she stepped in to save a newborn fawn from a family of coyotes intent on making it their meal.

Bob witnessed the fawn's miraculous rescue, and watched as Bonnie stepped in until the female doe could safely retrieve her baby, about twenty minutes later. Within that time, the newborn was licked by Bonnie, and even confusedly tried to nurse from her. Bob says he expected nothing less from the mare, since Bonnie brought such joy into his family following such a difficult period after losing their daughter.

Read their whole story in Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom.

About the Author

Jennifer Holland is a senior writer for National Geographic magazine, specializing in science and natural history. She lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with her husband, two dogs, and dozens of snakes and geckos; none of whom, to her dismay, have crossed the species barrier to befriend the others. Learn more about the animals featured here in Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom (Workman Publishing, $13.95). See also: Zoos with Amazing Baby Animals to Visit this Summer

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