Animal people won’t be surprised to hear that a new study has shown animals form strong friendships just like people do--and, just like us, sometimes it’s with someone from the wrong side of the…kingdom.
Recognising and accepting that animals form ‘bonds’ isn’t new but recent studies are challenging our understanding of these and suggesting relationships that are far closer to human friendships than just to the evolutionary family- and pair-bonds traditionally accepted.
Understanding why non-human animals form friendships is important for us to understand why mankind developed similar but much more subtle and sophisticated social systems.
(Blah blah blah. Why is it always about the humans? Why can’t some scientist somewhere study a bunch of animals just because what they do—for their own reasons—is interesting? But I digress…)
The news-streams are saying that evidence of friendship and loyalty are found in horses, dolphins, elephants, lions and rodents as well. And that fostering and maintaining close relationships means less stress and a longer life. Maybe the adage ‘safety in numbers’ works with just two, too. If you have a partner in (evolutionary) crime you can work together to hunt or forage more successfully, sooth and console each other in bad times or watch each other’s backs. Those are the animals that are more likely to survive long enough to create a new generation.
But…studies are now widening their focus to look at evidence that some animal friendships are done purely for the joy. The same hormone that is called ‘the bonding hormone’ in humans is present (and similarly functional) in other animals. In humans, oxytocin is the ‘hug drug’—its connected to how relaxed and ‘well’ we are and it’s closely connected to trust and generosity. If non-human animals are similarly affected by oxytocin then they’ll have the same, deep seated, evolutionarily necessary yearning for ‘a trusted companion’.
I have such a pair-bond in my household. Between my two dogs who, for the purposes of public consumption I call ‘big dog’ and ‘small dog’. Pictured here.
Previously we had a different little white dog and our big fella got on well with him. He liked having someone to tell him what to do. But when Small Dog came on the scene (someone else’s cast-away) the bond between them was immediate, very different and very sweet.
These two ADORE each other. They play, they ‘kiss’, they forage, they rest—all in close cooperation. And they complement each other perfectly. Small Dog runs the show and Big Dog does the heavy lifting.
But the interweb is full of examples of animals who—despite all the reason in the world not to—form a bond which is so enduring and exclusive it goes past ‘bond’ into ‘BFF’ territory.
B(F)FF - Best (furry) friends forever.
You can see some of them here but here's a small sample...
Golden Retriever, Chino, has a special three-year friendship with a 15-inch koi, Falstaff, who surfaces to nibble on his paws and kiss his nose. Chino wags his tail madly when Falstaff comes to the surface.
Do you have a BFFF story? Maybe in your house? Your town? Is it a one-way friendship or do you see evidence of it being reciprocally beneficial?