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My Pet World: Animal Kingdom odd couples

July 26, 2011|By Steve Dale

Animals can forge some very surprising partnerships.

"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 often 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.

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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 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, it 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 relationship lasted for several months, during which the big cat visited his bovine friend nine times.

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

The trainer 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.

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