Everyone loves an adorable animal story, but beware: not all of these stories are exactly what they seem.
A video was released this week, showing this male orangutan adopting orphaned tiger cubs. The primate lovingly bottle-feeds the tiny tigers, as the babies reciprocate their feelings with lots of snuggles.
Unfortunately, the facility where these animals has been accused of intentionally separating tiger cubs from their mothers in order to stage scenes like this, as well as for visitor photo ops. While the affection between the orangutan and the cubs does seem to be genuine, it's possible that it could have been avoided in the first place and the cubs would have been better off by leaving them with their mother.
While seeing animals of different species is certainly heart-melting for a number of reasons, there's typically a reason that these stories are so rare. Mixing species artificially can be dangerous for one or both animals, and it requires plenty of guidance to ensure that it's being done responsibly and that the welfare of the animals comes first.
The following represent some unstaged and real interspecies connections that animals have made.
1. Owen and Mzee
In the wake of the tsunami that ravaged Asia in 2004, conservationists came across a young hippo stranded on a coral reef near Kenya. Unfortunately, other hippos at the sanctuary did not take to Owen, as the little orphan was named. Outside males are viewed as threats, no matter how little they are at the time. Keeping him in with his own kind would have led to the little guy getting attacked, and ultimately killed.
This was devastating for Owen, as hippos are incredibly social creatures. With no place else to go, Owen was housed with a 130-year-old tortoise named Mzee. Though tortoises are generally loners, Mzee had no problems stepping in to act like the mother that Owen so desperately needed. The pair would spend hours snuggling and relaxing with one another.
Owen and Mzee's arrangement wouldn't last, unfortunately. Owen grew so much over the next three years that the sanctuary staff began to worry that he would accidentally crush Mzee. Owen was rehoused with a female hippo named Cleo in 2007, while Toto, another tortoise, now lives with Mzee.
2. Tinni and Sniffer
Yes, it's an actual version of The Fox And The Hound. Torgeir Berge is a photographer in Norway who owns a German Shepherd named Tinni. While the pair were walking through the woods near Berge's house, they came across an orphaned baby fox. Tinni spent the day playing with his new friend, whom Berge named Sniffer. When it was time to leave for the day, they didn't try to adopt the wild animal; they let him remain in his woodland home. However, Tinni and Sniffer remained good friends and often play for hours at a time.
Berge brought this friendship to the public eye in order to denounce the killing of animals, including foxes like Sniffer, for their furs. Around 75 million animals are killed for their fur each year.
3. A cat and her a puppy
For wild animals, parenting is much different than it is for humans. Animals reproduce for the sole purpose of passing along their genes, so if one of their offspring doesn't look like it'll survive long due to illness or a deformity, the mother will sometimes cut her losses and reject her baby, saving food resources for those that are more likely to survive.
A puppy who was rejected by its mother was luckily taken in by a female cat who had just given birth to a litter of kittens. The cat cleans, feeds, and loves the puppy just as much as the other members of her litter.
The puppy hasn't been received warmly by his new brothers and sisters, however. While baby cats are very calm and ordered while getting milk from their mother, puppies are more rambunctious. The puppy climbs on top of the kittens and noses his way to a teat, kicking some of his siblings out of the way in the process. As all mothers have to do, the cat keeps all of her kids in line, making mealtime as peaceful as she can.
The litter is still fairly young, but it will be interesting to see how the dynamic of these baby animals changes as they get weaned off of the milk and onto solid food.
4. Dogs and cheetahs
Due to habitat destruction and poaching, the global cheetah population has experience an 85% drop in the last 25 years. It is important for the sake of the species to keep genetic diversity as high as possible, but with so few individuals remaining, it makes the ongoing conservation efforts a bit tricky. When breeding is so structured and closely monitored, it stresses the cats out to the point where they don't want to breed at all.
In order for the cats to blow off some steam, they are paired with dog playmates and given ample time to play and relax. The match begins when the cheetah and dog are both very young. After a gradual introduction to make sure they'll get along, they are allowed to play with toys together and just hang out as pals. Though they are allowed to spend a lot of time together, meal time isn't shared. Oddly enough, the dog is actually the dominant friend in the pair, and will eat the cheetah's food if given the opportunity.
This situation is a total win-win. Not only does this allow the cheetahs to calm down and be more receptive to the idea of mating for the good of the species, but the dogs used in these programs are generally rescued from animal shelters as well.
5. Themba and Albert
A South African wildlife reserve came across an orphaned male elephant in 2008. He was taken in and given the name Themba, meaning "trust and hope," which would soon take on symbolic meaning. Elephants, particularly young ones, are very emotionally demanding and rely heavily on their mothers and other family members. The staff had tried to find an adoptive elephant mother for the calf, but he was rejected by the older female elephants. Because of a lack of rainfall in the area, the elephants didn't have enough resources to give him without compromising what they need to provide for their own young.
In order to give Themba the amount of attention young elephants need, he had one-on-one care around the clock. Unfortunately, it didn't lift the little guy's spirits as much as they had hoped. He began to refuse his bottle to eat and began wasting away, and his caretakers worried he would starve.
Themba was then introduced to Albert, a sheep. It wasn't exactly love at first sight, but eventually they became more curious about one another and got comfortable, and then they became great friends. Themba grew happy enough to start eating again, and he quickly started to get stronger.
Sadly, Themba was preparing to be released back into the wild when he developed colic. Though he had immediate medical attention, Themba fell into a coma and died. Though his beginning and end were both tragic, Albert was the one creature on Earth who was able to bring joy and love into his life.
6. Koko and her kittens
Koko is a gorilla who is most well known for her role in language research. She is able to use sign language in order to communicate 1,000 words with humans. In the early 1980s, Koko asked for a kitten. Because gorillas are so strong, the staff thought it would be wiser to give her a stuffed animal instead. Koko knew the difference, and signed "sad" in response to the stuffed animal.
Under careful supervision, Koko was introduced to a kitten, who she named "All Ball." Koko showed extreme care when interacting with All Ball, and was very gentle and loving. In addition to being a cuddly companion, the kitten also served as a handy scapegoat for the gorilla. Koko once pulled a sink off the wall in her enclosure, and when the humans saw it, she blamed the destruction on All Ball.
Sadly, the kitten escaped from the enclosure and was struck by a car. Upon learning of her friend's death, Koko signed 'bad,' 'sad,' 'cry,' and 'frown' repeatedly. Gorillas don't cry as humans do, but they do have emotions, and Koko seemed to be able to express her sadness.
Over the years, Koko has been given access to other kittens as pets, and always with the utmost of supervision, though she does seem to do pretty well with them.
7. The lion and tiger and bear; oh my!
No tale of extraordinary interspecies animal relationships would be complete without discussing the Baloo the bear, Leo the lion, and Shere Khan the tiger, who all live at Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary in Locust Grove, Georgia. The three, commonly referred to as The BLT, were rescued by the sanctuary from their previous owner who did not care for them properly.
As cubs, all three boys suffered serious neglect, living in dirty and cramped areas that were not befitting of their size and needs. Baloo wore a harness that was not changed out as he grew, causing it to embed into his skin. After his rescue, the painfully tight harness was removed surgically. Leo's mane did not grow in, because he was neutered at such a young age. Through these trying times, it's no wonder that they grew emotionally dependent on one another, adopting each other as brothers.
Upon their rescue and move into the sanctuary, the staff had originally given them separate living quarters. After all, lions, tigers, and bears, do not naturally live together, and it was assumed that they would fight and get injured if they were kept near each other. Quite the opposite, all three animals became troublesome when they were separated from one another. They were then brought back together and have lived peacefully as brothers for the last 14 years.
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