Unlikely friendships


ANIMAL WELFARE

Unlikely friendships

One of the most beautiful things nature has brought into being is friendship

Good friends stick by you through thick and thin. True friends will never let you down, whatever scrapes you get yourselves into. True friends are friends for life. Friendship can have so many beautiful facets, and it’s always astounding to learn where and how friends find each other. Here’s an example of how friendship is not limited to a single species, or even limited to human beings. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the goose.

“Goose, Highland bull together 10 years”

this was the title of an article in the Gisborne Herald.The small, New Zealand-based regional daily newspaper wrote: “Gisborne’s oddest couple celebrate 10 years together this month. The friendship between a Highland cattle beast and a goose was forged in January 2001 in the paddocks of Knapdale Eco Lodge (…).”  

Friendship is defined as a relationship based on mutual affection, characterized by liking and trusting one another. Can this definition be extended to animals? Indeed, why should it only apply to humans?

The story of the goose and the Highland bull (named Hamish) certainly seems to be a case of friendship. The inter-species couple are inseparable. 

In the Gisborne Herald article, the farm’s owner and „head gardener“, Kees Weytmans, said all the animals used to be in the same area – there were geese, Highland cattle, 10 emus, a pig, 10 deer and other animals. „One night there was an almighty fight and the goose’s mate was killed. It took the goose a couple of days to come right. Then two weeks after its mate was killed, Hamish was born. I can remember the goose lying in the paw of the calf and they’ve been mates ever since.”

From then on, the goose became the constant shadow of Hamish, who is now a fully grown and powerful bull. „They just hang out together. The goose normally keeps the other animals away from Hamish – she is exceptionally jealous,” Weytmans says.

Geese are one of the species of birds that forms bonds for life. But there are probably not very many geese who decide to spend their lives with a long-horned Highland bull. 

This story from New Zealand is just one example of how animals can form emotional bonds with each other and of the fact that social contacts are very important to them, even beyond the bounds of their own species. There are so many creatures which can develop deep attachments – not only to humans, but also to animals of the same species and other species. The knowledge that this is the case is pitted against another way of viewing things which, unfortunately, has shaped how we treat our fellow creatures for a very long time – and still does to this day. 

For a very long time, it was claimed that there were many emotional and social capabilities which farm animals, in particular, did not have. They were considered to be inferior in terms of their emotions, and their feelings were not taken into account – especially in terms of the way they are kept. However, many studies have since proved the opposite, and more and more often, behavioral and neuroscientists in particular are coming to the conclusion that animals have a lot more feelings and personality than might be assumed from the point of view of humans, and as has been ignored by humans for too long. 

„Unlikely friends“

“Of course it’s difficult to talk of animals, feelings and friendships. While we are not able to say how they perceive these feelings (as they are not able to talk to us), due to what they are able to express through their body language, it is beyond doubt that animals have almost the same repertoire of feelings at their disposal as humans do,” says journalist Jennifer Holland. Holland grew up side-by-side with a range of different animals, and still today, she does not want to go without their company. Her love for and interest in our fellow creatures led her to write an unusual book about animal relationships. in “UNLIKELY FRIENDSHIPS”, she shows and tells 47 remarkable stories of animals which, at first glance, you wouldn’t expect to be found together. Dog and leopard, dog and elephant, cat and black bear, goat and hippo pairings are to be found in the book, as well as many other remarkable relationships. And there are many more examples of friendships between all the creatures in our world – many, many more. 

Feelings, emotional and social competence – that is to say, friendship – are therefore not the preserve of us humans alone. There surely must be a reason why we as humans are touched by animals’ ability to transcend the boundaries between species.  Perhaps it even signifies a hidden yearning – a yearning to live in greater harmony with all of nature: to which, after all, we belong. 

Social selection is the conscious decision to choose a certain person to be friends with – or not, as the case may be. What is it that makes that person different and special in our eyes? What makes him or her different from the others?

Understanding and identifying these differences is a complex process. Doing so requires empathy in order to recognize, understand and relate to behaviors and feelings, as well as social behavior towards the beings around you in order to be able to communicate with others and express feelings – in other words, being able to understand personalities. Without an understanding of one’s own feelings – and those of other individuals – friendship is not possible. The ability to make friends shows that animals perceive themselves and others in a complex way, and have their very own personalities. Perhaps the differences between animals and humans are not as great as was often believed in the past? After all, social behavior, empathy and an understanding of personality are what makes humans human. If animals also have these characteristics, then they are much more similar to us than some people think they are. Perhaps this knowledge will help them to rethink how they perceive and treat animals, and to approach the topic in a whole new way. After all, when you have friends, you can achieve anything!