At Busch Gardens in Florida zookeepers embarked on a strange journey. They had a new 8 month old male Cheetah cub (now named Kasi), but no other cheetah cubs. For the animal to have a companion they introduced the cub to a puppy, a 16 week old rescued lab mix (now named Mtani). The animals developed a friendship, learning how to communicate together. At first they spent only supervised time together, and now they live and travel together all the time.
Here is a video of them together as babies:
Now that they are older, Busch Garden uses them to help educated the public about Cheetahs, rescuing exotic animals, and the importance of rescuing domestic animals like Mtani. The two can be seen on display in their enclosure at the Cheetah Run. They do actually run the cheetahs (and Mtani) using a lure system that pulls a lure along the ground on a line. If you visit make sure to find out what time the Cheetahs will run because it is something to see!
Here are Kasi and Mtani all grown up:
A video of them on their first year anniversary, explaining the relationship and showing off their running skills:
Do animals have the capacity for friendship? I never really thought otherwise until I realized most biologists studying animals have only recently considered the idea worth studying. Of course, animals do not communicate or express emotions the same way people do. Even if it were flawlessly possible to prove what an animal is thinking or “emoting” it would not always be for the same reasons we do. That does not make what they experience any less, only different. But if you have ever owned an animal you can see each has their own personality and seems to display love, affection, or “friendship.”
A human animal relationship in and of itself is already an inter-species relationship that demonstrates the ability of an animal to bond with a creature not like itself. Inter-species friendships are especially interesting because I think it does point to the ability or desire of an animal to be with others, even if not the same species. Most often these relationships occur when humans have intervened – at animal preserves, zoos, or even in your own home (dogs and rabbits for example). Yes, we placed the animals in those situations but they could just as easily decide to not remain in a relationship (your dog eating your pet rabbit for example). These relationships might occur less frequently in nature because they would be hard to find and observe, and because it is probably much more rare for an animal to not have another of its own kind to bond with.
Do you think that animals experience friendship?