20 of the Animal Kingdom's Most Surprising Friendships

iagodina/iStock via Getty Images
iagodina/iStock via Getty Images

Social media is abuzz about a video that captured a surprising pair of pals—a coyote and a badger—making their way through a culvert together to safely pass underneath a California highway. While coyotes and badgers have been known to hunt together in the wild, the interspecies friendships below prove that anybody can get along if they really put their minds to it.

1. Peanut the rat and Ranj the cat

When Maggie Szpot adopted two rats, she was worried about how Ranj, the stray cat she brought home in 2008, would react. But she didn't need to worry about Ranj hunting Peanut and Mocha—in fact, Peanut became enamored with the cat, following him around, cuddling with him, licking his face, and eating food out of his bowl alongside him. The two remained besties until Peanut passed away in 2010.

2. Joejoe the capybara and his many friends

Capybaras are known for being very, very chill around other animals. They're regularly spotted happily hanging out with birds perched on their backs, puppies snuggled next to them, and monkeys climbing on top of them. (There's a whole Tumblr devoted to these capybara friendships.) JoeJoe the Capybara, perhaps social media's most famous capybara, is regularly seen cuddling with puppies, swimming with ducklings, and rolling around with the baby chicks he shares a home with in Arizona.

3. Juniper the fox and Moose the dog

Juniper is a rescued fox who made fast friends with Moose, the Australian Shepherd mix with whom she shares a home. The two sleep together, eat together, and groom each other. Their owner, Jessika, often comes into a room to find Juniper sitting on top of Moose's head as the dog patiently allows himself to be used as a couch.

4. Strong Impact the racehorse and Charlie the Pig

A lot of high-strung racehorses have companion animals that keep them calm. Strong Impact, a thoroughbred that raced for eight years, found a loyal companion in Charlie, a pig. The pig chose Strong Impact out of all the other horses in the barn, going stall to stall until he found an equine companion with whom he could cohabitate. According to a 2015 New York Times story on their friendship, they act like an old married couple and hate to be separated. (Strong Impact retired from racing in 2015 and is now part of an adoption program for retired racehorses.)

5. Anthony the lion and Riley the coyote

Anthony the lion and Riley the coyote met when both were one month old, after being rescued by Keepers of the Wild, a sanctuary for rescued exotic animals in Arizona. They immediately took a liking to each other, and their love was captured in a PBS Nature episode called "Animal Odd Couples" playing, grooming each other, and standing watch over each other during naptime. Riley accompanied Anthony when he left the sanctuary for surgeries for a birth defect because the animals experienced such intense separation anxiety that one wouldn't eat without the other present. Sadly, Anthony passed away several years ago, and Riley now lives with another coyote at the sanctuary, Dominic.

6. Simon Cow-ell and Leonardo the tortoise

Simon the cow arrived at the WFFT Wildlife Rescue Center in Thailand in February 2016 after losing part of his hind leg. He was put in a temporary space in a field while he recovered from his injury, and was eventually supposed to join two other cows at the rescue in another enclosure. Instead, he formed an intense bond with the field's other resident, a giant tortoise named Leonardo that had been rescued when a Bangkok zoo closed in 2013. Simon nuzzles Leonardo, rests his head on his shell, and follows him around everywhere. They now live together permanently.

7. J'aime the rhino and Joey the lamb

When J'aime came to the Rhino Orphanage in South Africa in March 2017, she was too young and small to be housed with her fellow rhinos. A few months later, though, she found a friend in Joey, a lamb who had been rejected by his mother and was brought to the sanctuary to be hand-raised. Joey was just a few days old at the time of their introduction, and he and J'aime quickly became best buds. They go for daily walks together and eat out of the same trough. Since May, they've also had another orphan in their little herd, a lamb named Penny.

8. Leo the lion, Baloo the bear, and Shere Khan the tiger

When police made a drug raid on an Atlanta home 16 years ago, they made quite a discovery in the basement: one lion cub, one bear cub, and one tiger cub, which the drug dealer had been keeping as pets. The animals were in bad shape, but had formed a special bond. The trio was moved to the Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary in Georgia, where they were nursed back to health. Baloo's injuries were the most serious; he had to undergo surgery to remove a harness that was so tight his flesh had begun to grow around it. "During Baloo's surgery was the only time the three brothers have ever been separated from one another, and Shere Khan and Leo became extremely agitated because of it, pacing and vocalizing for the lost member of their family of three to return," wrote the sanctuary at the time. Baloo made a full recovery and the trio, who became known as BLT, remained inseparable until 2016, when Leo passed away from liver disease. Shere Khan passed away in 2018, with Baloo nearby.

9. Cleo the cat and Forbi the owl

Brazilian biologist André Costa took in Forbi as a baby, and the owl became immediate friends with Cleo, Costa's cat (you can see a photo of little Forbi just hanging out on Cleo's side here).

10. Bea the giraffe and Wilma the ostrich

Both Bea and Wilma were born and raised in the 65-acre Serengeti Plain exhibit at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida. In 2009, assistant curator Jason Green told People that the duo "seem to enjoy spending time together. Bea likes to use her tongue to explore her surroundings, and Wilma isn't fazed by those very close encounters."

11. Themba the elephant and Albert the sheep

Themba became an orphan at 6 months old when his mother died after falling down a cliff. The baby elephant was rescued by a team at Shamwari Rehabilitation Centre in South Africa, who put him in an enclosure with a sheep named Albert. "All hell broke loose," filmmaker Lyndal Davies told the Daily Mail in 2008. "Themba made a dash for the sheep and chased him around his watering hole." By the next morning, though, "Albert was clearly bored and started venturing out into the main enclosure. Themba wouldn't leave Albert's side and the two were seen exploring their enclosure together, with Themba's trunk resting on Albert's back. Ever since that moment Themba and Albert have been inseparable." Sadly, while the team at the center hoped to eventually introduce Themba back into the wild, the elephant died suddenly in 2010. You can watch a documentary about the pair above.

12. Mubi the monkey and Iain and Daisey the jack russell puppies

Mubi, an endangered drill monkey, was born at the Port Lympne Animal Park near Canterbury, Kent, but she was quickly rejected by her mother. So zookeeper Simon Jeffrey decided to hand-rear her. "During the day I take her to work and the team look after her at the enclosure where she can see her parents," he told the Daily Mail in 2014. "When I’ve finished working in the reserve, she comes home with me." There, she spends her time playing with two Jack Russell puppies, Iain and Daisey.

13. Sahara the cheetah and Alexa the dog

Cathryn Hilker, founder of the Cincinnati Zoo's Cat Ambassador Program, adopted the cheetah and the Anatolian Shepherd puppy when they were both two months old and raised them together. "They literally moved into my house and bonded with my rugs, my furniture, and each other," Hilker told Good Morning America in 2006. For a number of years, the pair toured schools in America raising awareness for the precarious position of the wild cheetah population. They even lived together at the zoo until 2010, when Alexa retired and went to live with a trainer.

14. Cassie the kitten and Moses the crow

In 1999, a tiny stray kitten appeared in Wally and Ann Collito's yard in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. The Collitos began feeding the kitten, but they weren’t the only ones: A crow also helped take care of the kitty, feeding her worms and bugs and protecting her from other animals. Eventually, the Collitos were able to coax Cassie inside, but the cat's incredible friendship with the crow didn't end there. The crow—whom they had named Moses—would peck at the door for Cassie every morning, and they'd spend the day hanging around together. The Collitos shot video and took photos of the two canoodling because they knew no one would believe them otherwise. This routine lasted for five years, until Moses stopped showing up, presumably because he had died.

15. Owen the hippo and Mzee the tortoise

When the waves of the devastating 2004 tsunami struck the coast of Kenya, a baby hippo was separated from his herd and became stranded on a coral reef. The next day, the hippo was rescued by the residents of the village of Malindi with fishing nets and taken to Haller Park Sanctuary, where the 660-pound animal—now named Owen—cozied up to a 130-year-old Aldabra tortoise named Mzee (maybe because the tortoise’s shape and color resembled an adult hippo). At first, the tortoise wasn't interested in this friendship, but eventually, they became inseparable, eating, wallowing in a pond, and even sleeping together. They lived in the same enclosure until 2007, when Mzee was removed from the enclosure because of safety concerns; Owen has since bonded with a female hippo named Cleo.

16. Sabre the mini horse and Arrow the great dane

Enjoy this video from 2013 of Sabre, a then-11-year-old miniature horse, hanging out with his friend Arrow, a 2.5-year-old Harlequin Great Dane, on a twin mattress.

17. Jet the dolphin and Miri the sea lion

Though these two animals would normally be fierce competitors in the wild, at the Pet Porpoise Pool Marine Park in Coffs Harbour, Australia, they're the best of friends. Jet and Miri met as babies and, as pool specialist Amy Carter told Today in 2012, "They struck up a friendship really early on as they are the youngest. If Jet sees Miri going past he sticks his head out of the pool to say 'hi' and they make noises to each other."

18. Pippin the deer and Kate the great dane

In 2008, Isobel Springett rescued a fawn that had been abandoned by its mother in her yard, placing the tiny animal in the dog bed with her Great Dane, Kate. "She tucked her head under the dog's elbow," Springett told People. "Her whole demeanor changed. I knew she was a good dog, but I didn't expect her to mother the fawn." Though the deer eventually returned to the wild, she still came back to visit, eventually with her own fawns. "There's a strong connection," Springett said, "but they have no idea it's a weird one."

19. Tarra the elephant and Bella the dog

Get your tissues out for this one: For eight years, Tarra was best buds with Bella, a mutt who had wandered onto the grounds of Tennessee's Elephant Sanctuary. They had such a strong bond that Bella would let the elephant stroke her on her stomach with her foot, and when Bella had a spinal injury that confined her to the sanctuary office, Tarra "just stood outside the balcony—just stood there and waited," sanctuary co-founder Carol Buckley told CBS. "She was concerned about her friend. ... Bella knows she's not an elephant. Tarra knows she's not a dog. But that's not a problem for them."

But in 2011, Bella was found dead, probably of a coyote attack. "When I looked around and saw there was no signs of an attack here. No blood, no tuffs of hair, nothing," director of elephant husbandry, Steve Smith, told CBS. "And Tarra, on the underside of her trunk, had blood—as if she picked up the body. Tarra moved her."

20. Anonymous cat and fox

Fishermen in Lake Van, Turkey, spotted this wild cat and a fox playing, snuggling, and sharing fish together—a friendship the men watched blossom for more than a year!

This story originally ran in 2014.

YouTube Star Coyote Peterson Brings 'Misunderstood' Animals to His New Animal Planet Series

Animal Planet
Animal Planet

As host of the popular YouTube series Brave Wilderness, Coyote Peterson is no stranger to going face-to-face with creatures many deem terrifying—think great white sharks and pit vipers—but that he says are simply "misunderstood."

Animals have always been a big part of Peterson's life, even before he made a career out of being stung and bitten by ferocious critters. The Ohio native studied video production and directing at Ohio State University, and then decided to combine his two passions—film and all things wild—to teach viewers about wildlife and the importance of conservation. His YouTube channel currently has more than 15 million subscribers.

Now Peterson is embarking on a new adventure with Animal Planet in the show Brave the Wild. He'll travel all over the world with wildlife biologist Mario Aldecoa and his crew, sharing creatures that aren't often in the spotlight and that viewers may find a little frightening. He recently chatted with Mental Floss about the importance of conservation, his thing for snapping turtles, and his close encounter with a jaguar and her three cubs.

You’ve said your love of animals started with snapping turtles. Can you talk about the first time you saw one and what about them fascinated you so much?

The first snapping turtle I caught was when I was only 8 years old. I was always fascinated with turtles, because at first glance they look prehistoric, almost dinosaur-like. Growing up in Ohio, I never got to see any "exotic" animals. My favorite thing to watch on TV was Steve Irwin. Watching him wrestle crocs is what inspired me to catch my first snapping turtle, the most dangerous animal Ohio has to offer.

Coyote Peterson with a gigantic snapping turtle
Animal Planet

In Brave the Wild, you introduce animals that are often feared or misunderstood. What's the importance in exposing viewers to these creatures?

One of my goals through this series was to inspire people to overcome their fears of these seemingly dangerous animals and learn to admire them from a safe distance. The more you understand these creatures, the less you are afraid of them. One of the messages I try to convey in every episode is the importance of conservation.

What’s the most "misunderstood" creature you've encountered?

The most misunderstood creature that comes to mind is the carpet shark, which we filmed in season one. As I always say, people’s biggest fears are the three S’s (sharks, snakes and spiders). The carpet shark is found off the coast of Australia. They only bite humans in the case of mistaken identity. To some of these sharks a person’s foot might look like a fish. Any time you enter a new environment you need to be aware of what you need to look for, not only to keep yourself safe, but the animal as well.

What goes into preparing for each encounter to make sure you and the animals come out alive?

With any new expedition, you need to come into the environment knowing exactly what to expect. When encountering a new animal, I try to stay as calm as I can and have no hesitation. If I stay calm, the animal stays calm, [and] I'm creating a safer interaction for myself. I use different tactics when I encounter different animals. It also depends on whether the environment is land or in water.

How do you keep your composure on camera when you're in a potentially dangerous situation?

Any situation I find myself in, I look at it as my job. For example, I would be afraid operating a crane, because that is something I don't do. If it's part of your job, it's something that you get used to. When I do my job, I make sure I'm focused and never hesitate. Before I encounter any animal, I know what I'm going to say to the camera. I say that, for the best show, we always need to have the camera rolling so the audience can see what is happening.

Coyote Peterson with a kangaroo
Animal Planet

You were in Australia filming Brave the Wild during bushfire season. What was that like?

Visiting Australia was one of the best experiences I had filming the show. Australia is a fascinating country that has so many unique environments. We spent over 50 days in Australia and encountered more than 35 different species. We were there right before all these devastating fires started, and we got to witness the severity of the drought and all the different animals it impacted.

What was your favorite animal encounter in upcoming series?

Each encounter I have in the wild is special. I would have to say that the most exciting moment for me was when we were filming in Brazil and I saw a jaguar and three of her cubs up close. Not only did I get to see this in real life, but my amazing team was able to capture this special moment on tape. It is just so amazing seeing these animals survive and thrive in the wild while dealing with not only the dangers of the wild but human encroachment as well. Hands down, this was my favorite episode that we got to film.

Catch new episodes of Brave the Wild on Animal Planet, Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

10 Secrets of Seeing Eye Dog Trainers

Seeing Eye instructors with the dogs they are training.
Seeing Eye instructors with the dogs they are training.
The Seeing Eye

Founded in 1929, The Seeing Eye is a nonprofit in Morristown, New Jersey, that trains guide dogs to help their blind owners navigate the world safely. In order to make sure each dog is ready for all the obstacles and challenges that come with leading the visually impaired, instructors train them in both real-world settings and simulations at The Seeing Eye's campus. It's a system that has worked for over 90 years.

“It’s the oldest guide dog school, and we’ve been honing this very specific process of training a dog to do very specific tasks,” Brian O’Neal, a guide dog mobility instructor with The Seeing Eye for nine years, tells Mental Floss. “We have a road map.”

Seeing Eye dogs are venerated; in January 2020, New Jersey proclaimed them the official state dog. And legally, no guide dog can even be called a "Seeing Eye dog" unless it graduated from the school itself. Though the dogs that come out of the school have garnered plenty of attention, the dedicated instructors who prepare them for working life are less well-known. We spoke with three trainers from The Seeing Eye about why certain breeds make great guide dogs, how they keep their owner’s safe from low-hanging branches, and whether or not they can read cross signals (spoilers: They can’t).

1. It takes years of apprentice work to become a Seeing Eye Instructor.

Being a Seeing Eye instructor isn't a volunteer position anyone can sign up for—it's a full-time job. If you meet the basic requirements, such as having a four-year Bachelor’s degree, you can apply to become an instructor. Once you make it through the application process, you go through a three-year apprenticeship program in order to become an official trainer. The apprenticeship includes classes and exams, as well as hands-on training with dogs and students, The Seeing Eye’s name for blind people preparing to become guide dog owners.

The work doesn’t become any less intense when apprentices graduate to full-fledged instructors. From 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., they train, exercise, and care for eight dogs total—four in the morning and four in the afternoon. If you aren’t ready to commit to working for The Seeing Eye full-time, you can volunteer to be a puppy raiser and foster future guide dogs in your own home.

2. Seeing Eye dog instructors also train the dog owners.

The dogs and their trainers aren’t the only ones working hard at The Seeing Eye. Before a blind person can take a guide dog home, they must live on the campus and go through weeks of training to learn all the intricacies of working with their dog, including navigation and bonding.

“A student is someone who’s applied to our school and [has] been accepted to our program, and we’ve flown them here or provided travel to come here,” O’Neal explains. “We match them with a dog, and over 27 days, we teach them how to safely and effectively work with this dog and vice versa. Once they’ve completed the program, they become graduates.” But to get there, the instructors, students, and their dogs have to put in long hours.

“Class is emotionally and physically exhausting," Sarah Indano, who's been in the apprenticeship program for two and a half years, tells Mental Floss. "It's like boot camp to really train these people for everything they need in a limited amount of time."

3. The Seeing Eye instructors only work with dogs bred by the organization.

The Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey.
A photo of The Seeing Eye campus in Morristown, New Jersey.
The Seeing Eye

The Seeing Eye breeds all its own dogs at a center in Chester, New Jersey, and each must meet a strict set of requirements to become a part of the breeding program. “All the dogs are medically tested and their temperaments are also tested,” Ruthanne Dewey, a guide dog mobility instructor at The Seeing Eye for more than six years, tells Mental Floss. “The best of the best are selected to go into that breeding program.”

Even with the proper pedigree, not every dog the organization breeds is fit to be a guide animal. At 7 weeks old, dogs are sent to live with volunteers called puppy raisers who provide them with care and teach them basic commands. When the dogs are about 14 months old, they receive medical testing to determine if they’re fit enough to train to be guide dogs. From there, the training, which O'Neal says involves a lot of "repetition and consistency," lasts four months.

4. Instructors typically work with a handful of choice breeds.

Seeing Eye instructor with a yellow Lab.
Seeing Eye instructor Ruthanne Dewy with a yellow Lab she trained.
Seeing Eye/Ruthanne Dewy

Seeing Eye dogs almost always belong to the following groups: Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, German shepherds, or any mix of those breeds. Both physically and personality-wise, these breeds produce the best dogs for the job. “They are working breeds,” O’Neal says. “They have a long history of work and working alongside humans in varying capacities. So it comes down to their drive to work as well as their incredible temperament.”

This drive to work often translates to a desire to please their humans. As O’Neal states, trainers can only teach dogs so much, and an animal’s need to keep their owner happy is what ultimately allows them to do their job well. “They want to get the praise from that person. They want to figure out, ‘what does this person want me to do? Because I’ll do it.’”

These breeds also fit the physical requirements for a guide animal: They’re big enough to lead a person down the street or block them from traffic, but at the same time, small enough to fit on public transportation or beneath an office desk.

5. Praise is crucial during the training process.

Seeing Eye dogs may not know the directions to the supermarket, but they're trained to learn other tasks that enable their owners to move through their environments with confidence and security. These include stopping short of curbs, moving around objects, and blocking people from walking in front of vehicles. Dogs learn these skills through positive reinforcement—as much as it takes to make the behaviors second-nature.

“When the dog does something right, we’re showering it with love and affection telling it did a great job, and if it didn’t do a great job, we’re telling it ‘no, we don’t do it that way,’ and we’ll always go back and give them the chance to be successful,” O’Neal explains. “That’s important, because if we just said 'no' and moved on, I could see animals being discouraged by that."

6. Seeing Eye instructors can’t teach dogs to read street signs.

Seeing Eye instructor with a black Lab.
Seeing Eye instructor Brian O'Neal with a black Lab he trained.
Seeing Eye/Brian O'Neal

A Seeing Eye dog can navigate obstacles on a sidewalk, or stop a person from stumbling off a curb, but Seeing Eye instructors can't train them to replace a GPS. “I get asked all the time how the dog can read the stop light and know that green means go and red means stop,” Dewey says. “I always explain to people that it is not the dog that decides when to cross the street. The dog doesn’t know how to get to the grocery store. All that falls on the person. The blind person has to be able to cross the street safely.”

7. The Seeing Eye has escalators and Priuses on campus to simulate real-world obstacles.

The more advanced stages of Seeing Eye dog training take place in urban areas, starting in the center of Morristown and culminating in trips to New York City. But before the dogs are ready to enter the real world, trainers find ways to recreate those environments on the campus.

“We have our own maintenance department and mechanic that is in charge of our own fleet of vehicles,” O'Neal says. These cars are used to prepare dogs for the type of traffic they'll encounter when guiding their owners in public. “We also have Priuses so we can make sure the dogs are learning to steer clear of cars that are silent as well.”

The campus also has plenty of indoor obstacles designed for training, like staircases and an escalator that's housed on the grounds.

8. Some obstacles require some surprising training equipment.

Training a dog to look out for objects in front of it—like cars or pedestrians—is fairly straightforward. Making sure they’re aware of obstacles above ground-level poses more of a challenge to instructors. For these lessons, trainers use some unexpected equipment. “We have an obstacle course with overhead pool noodles that stick out to make sure the dogs are watching out for the top part of the person, too,” O'Neal says.

Instructors don’t know what size a dog’s owner will be during the training process, but that hasn't been a problem so far. Incredibly, the dogs are able to figure out the height and width of their humans on their own. “If you’re an instructor that’s really short, but that dog goes to a person that’s really tall, that dog quickly learns and adapts that they have to look out for [obstacles] that are much higher,” O'Neal says. “To me that’s one of the most amazing parts of the job; how much the dogs adapt and do on their own that we don’t teach them and can’t teach them.”

9. Seeing Eye apprentices take classes on the human eye to learn more about visual impairments.

Every instructor’s apprenticeship includes courses on dogs and dog training, but they also take classes to learn about the vision issues faced by the students. “I’m currently studying for my second exam, which is on the human eye and diseases and disorders of the eye and optic nerve,” Indano says, likening these classes to a college course. “It gives us the basis of the language we use to communicate with our students. We’re reminded that not only do our students see us as dog professionals, but they also see us as vision professionals, as well.”

This level of understanding is made even greater during Blindfold Week—which exactly what it sounds like. “We wear a completely dark blindfold for one week, and we live with the students for the first week of class,” Indano says. “We’re given some prep on how to effectively use a cane for travel for the first two days of class, and are taught how to cross streets, how to judge traffic, and keep ourselves safe."

The apprentices are even paired with a dog during Blindfold Week, effectively putting them through the same training as the students. "It gives you a lot of insight into what these students are going through," Indano says.

10. Seeing Eye instructors don't prepare dogs to work 24/7.

Seeing Eye instructor with a black Lab.
Seeing Eye instructor Sarah Indano with a black Lab she trained.
Seeing Eye/Sarah Indano

Seeing Eye dogs don’t have the time to chase squirrels, accept pets from strangers, or sniff trash cans when they’re on the job, but that doesn’t mean they never get to enjoy being a regular dog.

“People think these dogs don’t ever get a break,” Indano says. “They put on their business suits, which for them is their harness, and they’re at work. When they go home, their business suit comes off, and they get to be a dog that their person can snuggle and give pets to and play fetch with ... They live and love to work for their owners, and they get to go home and get even more love.”

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