They say opposites attract, and some animals are proof that innate differences are no match for the power of friendship. These are some of the most unusual pairings of animals on record:
This first tale of exceptional animal friendship is one that has been told on IFLS before. Baloo the bear, Leo the lion, and Shere Kahn the tiger are collectively known as BLT. As cubs, they belonged to a drug dealer who did not properly care for the animals. Eventually, they were rescued by Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Georgia. The three boys* had experienced great neglect early in life and had become very dependent on one another as a result.
When the staff at Noah’s Ark separated them, due to concerns that they would fight, the three became moody and uncooperative. The staff reunited them, and they have been living happily together for the last 12 years.
*Yes, Leo is a boy. Because he was neutered very early in life, he never grew a mane.
Cheetah conservation is serious work. Though their numbers have been in decline for the past century, the global population has dropped by about 85% since 1990. Conservationists must match individuals for mating very carefully to avoid inbreeding depression. With only around 7,000 individuals left, conservationists are desperate to stabilize the population so it can rebound. Understandably, this puts a lot of stress on the cheetahs, which can result in cats refusing to mate.
To make the cats more relaxed, they are given a friend. From the time they are very small, cheetahs are matched with puppies, typically from rescue shelters. The animals are slowly introduced and bonding is encouraged through shared toys. Eventually, the friends are allowed to run and play, and the cheetahs are able to blow off some steam and relax from the pressures of trying to repopulate the species. Cheetahs who are given some playtime with a dog are more willing to accept a mate.
Though the cheetahs can easily overpower their canine friends, the dogs are the dominant ones in the relationship. The two cannot be fed at the same time, otherwise the dog will eat both of the meals.
After the 2004 tsunami devastated Asia, an orphaned hippo was discovered stranded on a coral reef off the coast of Kenya. Conservationist rescued him, named him Owen, and brought him to an animal sanctuary. Unfortunately, he couldn’t be placed with the other hippos. As a strange male, the other male hippos would have viewed him as a threat and would have attacked him. Instead, he was placed with Mzee, a 130-year-old tortoise, where he would be safe.
Hippos rely heavily on social interactions, though tortoises tend to be solitary creatures. Owen was in great need of a motherly figure, and surprisingly, Mzee was happy to oblige. The two became inseparable friends. While relaxing, they would snuggle close and even made sounds in an attempt to communicate.
Unfortunately, Owen became too large to remain with Mzee. It became a real danger that Owen could inadvertently crush his dearest friend if they continued to snuggle and play as they had been doing for the last three years. In 2007, Owen was moved into a new habitat with Cleo, a female hippo who would provide companionship. Mzee was also given a new friend, Toto, who is also a tortoise. At last report, all of the animals were alive, doing well, and very happy in their new homes.
Orphaned at a young age, an orangutan named Suryia was rescued by an animal sanctuary in South Carolina. Initially, he did not do well at the sanctuary. He became socially withdrawn and did not eat. Fortunately, he came around. Suryia’s caretakers would try to cheer him up by taking him on an elephant ride down to the pond to play and swim. On one of these trips, Suryia spotted a stray dog. Immediately, he ran to the dog, and the two seemed like old friends reuniting.
After playing in the water together, they said goodbye to the dog. The pooch, however, was not ready to leave his friend, and kept finding ways to get through the sanctuary’s fence and locate Suryia’s habitat. The sanctuary workers tried to locate the dog’s owner to no avail. They renamed the pooch Roscoe, and he and Suryia have been incredible friends ever since.
A wild male elephant named Themba was orphaned at a very young age. The staff at a South African game reserve tried to find an adoptive mother for him, but none of the female elephants were willing to accept the job of feeding and comforting the young orphan. They had been facing a drought, and they couldn’t spare the resources. The staff took on the responsibility themselves, giving Themba undivided care and attention.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough, as Themba became incredibly stressed out and refused to eat. Fearing that he would starve, the staff tried to find another animal companion for him. A nearby farm provided the solution: Albert, a sheep.
Initially, the two didn’t get along very well, much to the game preserve’s dismay. Slowly, though, they began to warm up to one another and became inseparable friends. Themble calmed down and regained both his appetite and health. The two friends spent their days walking around and grazing, and Themba often strokes Albert with his trunk. Unfortunately, just a couple weeks before Themba was scheduled to be released back into the wild, he showed signs of a severe case of colic. Despite prompt veterinary treatment, Themba slipped into a coma and passed away.
Basically straight out of a Disney movie, an orphaned fox named Sniffer has become best friends with a German shepherd named Tinni. Torgeir Berge, a photographer from Norway, was walking with his dog in the woods when they discovered the fox cub. He searched for the mother fox, but was unable to find her. Tinni immediately took to the fox, and the two spend a great deal of time playing with one another.
Berge has not adopted Sniffer; the fox is still very much a wild animal who is free to go wherever he’d like. He does come when Berge whistles, and spends hours playing with Tinni. The two friends have become animal ambassadors for a group that hopes to bring attention to the fact that an estimated 75 million wild animals, like foxes, are killed every year solely for their furs.
Chito, a fisherman from Costa Rica, was in his boat in the Parismina River when he found a crocodile that had sustained a gunshot wound to the head and was nearing death. Though the large predator was 17 feet long (5.2 meters) and still could have posed a threat if he became frightened, Chito and other fisherman pulled him into the boat and ensured that he received medical attention. The crocodile was malnourished at the time, and there’s no information about how long he had been injured before getting rescued.
Over the next six months, Chito provided food and rehabilitation for the crocodile, who he had named Pocho. Though Chito was initially very cautious not to get too close to Pocho, it didn't take long for Pocho to begin following him around like a puppy. After very carefully becoming more comfortable with one another, the two forged a very close and unique friendship. For the next 20 years, they became local celebrities and would perform shows that highlighted how docile Pocho was with Chito.
Unfortunately, Pocho passed away in October of 2011. Though American crocodiles can live up to 70 years, Pocho was nearly 60 when he died of natural causes. Chito held a funeral for him that was attended by many locals. Since he had taken in other crocodiles during the years, many began to wonder if Chito would begin looking for “the next Pocho.” The distraught fisherman broke into tears when speaking about his friend, saying "Pocho is Pocho, the only one. There is no more Pocho. He will be the only Pocho there ever was.”
After the funeral, Pocho’s body was preserved and put on display at a local museum. Chito continues to advocate for crocodiles.
Wildlife photographer Norbert Rosing experienced a once in a lifetime encounter when visiting a dog sled kennel in Manitoba, Canada. A wild male polar bear seemed to appear out of nowhere and approached a dog. Obviously, Rosing and Brian Ladoon, the breeder, assumed that his dog was doomed. They were quite surprised that instead of apprehension and hostility, the bear and the dog interacted playfully right off the bat.
For the week that Rosing was visiting, the polar bear came back every night. Eventually, a second bear came to play with the dogs as well. Rosing photodocumented the interactions, thinking nothing like it would ever be seen again. Ladoon, however, had other ideas and has opened up his property to facilitate interaction between polar bears and his dogs. Tourists travel from great distances to see the animals interact. This has not been without criticism, as some feel Landoon is exploiting the animals and potentially creating a dangerous situation, while others bemoan the fact that his land is uniquely situated to offer such an attraction. However, Ladoon feels that giving the animals a safe place to interact has cut down on the number of violent attacks from bears onto the dogs.