DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Sep 6 2018

Unlikely Friendships

by Camille B

We’ve probably all heard the expressions, fighting like cats and dogs, or being as scared as a mouse. These popular sayings are most likely derived from the knowledge that many species generally do not get along well together. As a matter of fact the entire premise for the cartoon, Tom & Jerry is based on it–a cat and mouse who fight and torment each other at every chance they get.

Lions and zebras, bear and fish, foxes and rabbits–alongside each other these animals are seen for the most part as predator and prey–left together for any period of time, one can quickly become food to the other.

The book Unlikely Friendships puts this theory to the test with true stories of animals who you’d never expect to be friends under any circumstances. Jennifer Holland, science writer and author of the book says, “It is about animals who, with nothing else in common, bond in the most unexpected ways and thrive on the warmth, closeness, and trust that come with being true friends.”

While reading some of the stories in this book, I was totally fascinated by one in particular about a 230 pound ape called Koko who is taught to communicate in American Sign Language, and who asks for a cat for her birthday after being read the stories “The Three Little Kittens” and “Puss in Boots.” Not satisfied with just a stuffed animal, she is finally allowed to choose from a litter of abandoned kittens. Koko calls her new friend “All Ball.”

I cannot begin to fathom how a gorilla would befriend a cat, but Koko does so with ease, treating Ball as gently as she would one of her own babies. When asked if she loved her little Ball, she signs to her teacher “Soft, good, cat.”

I was curious for an explanation to all of this. What would make a snake befriend a hamster? Or cause a golden retriever to be fascinated by a fish? Why would a tiger cub want to take care of orangutan babies or an elephant become pals with a stray mutt?

Holland, narrates each of the stories in the book, explains, “Sometimes there are plausible scientific explanations: an orphan seeking comfort from an older animal; an adult yearning for a younger creature to nurture, as in the case of the lioness who befriended and protected a baby oryx- unexpected, but not inexplicable. Sometimes a friendship is about need, as in the case of the blind Lab and her “seeing-eye” cat. But sometimes it’s just a lovely mystery, like the story of Owen the hippo and Mzee the tortoise, two notoriously surly creatures who became bosom buddies.”

In another book “Raising the Peaceable Kingdom: what animals can teach us about the social origins of tolerance and friendship” the author Jeffrey Masson conducts an experiment to try and determine if several different species- some, natural enemies- raised together from an early age could live peacefully side by side. He takes into his home seven young animals- a kitten, rabbit, two rats, two chickens, and a puppy- and sets about observing the process of socialization.

Says Masson, “At first the animals displayed typically what was expected of them, but as time went by and they began to adapt to their environment, they began to change in startling ways, I wondered then, can animals, including humans, truly change when direct experience tells them it’s safe to do so?”

Is it true? Can we learn a thing or two about relationships and peaceful coexistence from animals? If they can get along, how much more should we be able to no matter what our differences.

Unlikely Friendships is truly a lighthearted and entertaining read, guaranteed to be enjoyed, whether you’re an avid animal lover or not.

Each story reveals the true power of friendship and, to some degree, the many forms of “love” that seems to exist in the animal kingdom. Yes, scientists might scoff at that notion, but readers may feel a little differently about the world after they finish this book.” – Jennifer Holland

DCPL carries both books in its Library System.

Unlikely Friendships: 47 remarkable stories from the animal kingdom/ Jennifer Holland

Raising the peaceable kingdom: what animals can teach us about the social origins of tolerance and friendship / Jeffrey Masson

 

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