Friday, 6 December 2013

Animal Odd Couples - Friends For Life

Animals. They're fascinating and always find a way to constantly amaze us. Take Animal Odd Couples. This two-part series aired on BBC One explores the relationships they hold for one another, even if they are both at the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to their species.

What's fantastic to see is they don't judge each other like humans do when it comes to size, colour, race or gender. They accept each other unequivocally and it's beautiful to watch how close a relationship they hold with one another. Whether it's friendship or maternal instinct, a different species or even a stuffed toy, sometimes these bonds can even help to save an animal's life.

For instance, take these guys. All three are animals you wouldn't expect to see this close to one another in a million years, yet here they are nuzzling each other and showing real affection towards each other.

Kept at Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary in America, Leo the lion, Baloo the Asiatic black bear and Shere Khan the Bengal tiger all share the same territory, but amazingly get on like a house on fire. While they would also share the same territory in the wild, it wouldn't be as on a small scale like this and one would end up either seriously injured or killed.

Their background is very sad, because as youngsters they were all kept illegally as pets. What makes it difficult to comprehend is that usually when they are kept as pets this young, they have been taken out of the wild and their mother has been killed in order for the poachers to seize the babies.

I don't understand why people would want these animals as pets. I know they're exotic and that no one else has a pet like this, but they are wild animals. They should be treated as such, because one day they may have a bad day and someone ends up hurt or killed.

However, back to Leo, Baloo and Shere Khan. As youngsters, they were kept in a basement before they made their way to the sanctuary. They had never been separated and when the sanctuary tried, they cried and refused to eat until they were reunited. In this case, their friendship helped them attempt to come to terms with their early childhood and reduce the stress they felt when they were not together.

Inter-species friendships can incredibly also help to save certain animals from extinction. Sadly last year in South Africa, 688 rhino were killed for their horn. This animal is usually killed simply because traditional Chinese medicine believes that the horn holds special powers and will help cure people from illnesses. When the adults are needlessly killed, many orphan calves are left behind.

Filming in a secret location at a safe haven for wild animals, the orphan calves are given a second chance of life, using an unconventional friend if another orphaned calf is unavailable. Baby rhinos, in particular, have a very close relationship with their mum and are actually dependent on their mothers for the first two years of their life. In fact, they are so reliant on a mother figure/companion, that it is likely that they will die without them due to stress.

When it comes to pairing up the calves, humans aren't the first choice because they are not able to stay with the babies 24/7. At the centre most of the young rhinos are actually paired up with a sheep or foal instead. As well as teaching the babies to graze properly, the sheep or foal help to make the rhino feel more secure in their environment when out and about in the safe haven. This is because rhinos, especially white rhinos, have very poor eyesight and without a companion they are very insecure and nervous.

In this case, the sheep or foal help the orphaned rhinos to continue with their day to day routine and offer a life-saving solution to the threat of their extinction.

Different species can also develop a maternal instinct towards other animals and even take them in as their own. In the case of Kate, a great dane, she took in Pippin a wild, black-tailed fawn when Kate's owner discovered Pippin in the woods as a baby.

Although she left her for a couple of days initially in case her mum came back, she heard Pippin crying and so took her in. With nowhere else to put her, she laid Pippin on Kate's dog bed. As soon as she did this, Kate looked up at her as if to say "I'll take over from here." This story is so heartwarming to hear because in any other circumstances, Kate would probably have killed Pippin as her other doggy instincts took over.

However, at two-weeks-old, Pippin insisted on sleeping outside in the woods on her own as her wild nature kicked in. She would continue to come back every day to visit Kate and soon their maternal relationship developed into friends. At this time, Kate would tone down her aggression in play and Pippin was rougher than what you would normally expect during play. Amazingly, they both comprised and altered their behaviour to prevent the other one from being hurt.

However, it's not just real life animals that can be friends and even save their lives. In the case of this tiny Dartmoor foal, a teddy bear helped to save his life.

At just a few hours old, this summer Blaze was found wandering around the Dartmoor National park without his mum and was suffering from shock and dehydration. Rescuers took him to the Mare and Foal sanctuary and because he was missing his mum, he was given a four foot bear to keep him company. At night he would cuddle up at night to this giant teddy and started to be much happier in himself.

It's heartwarming to see such a tiny animal curled up with a teddy bear and in this case, Blaze didn't need another animal to help him. He just needed a presence to help him remember his mum and a teddy bear was just the right man for the job.

Here's a video of Blaze with his teddy.

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