We are so excited to have Jennifer S. Holland, author of Unlikely Friendships: 50 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom, answer Christina’s questions today on Bookroom Reviews. You can read Christina’s review of Unlikely Friendships here. Isn’t her dog beautiful!
“The photo credit for the cover is CNImaging/Photoshot and the author image is by John Holland.”
1. Why do you think that in just some cases (although perhaps in the wild there are many others that we’ll never see or hear about) animals who would normally be enemies become friends? Is it because of their individualism?
I suspect that when this happens in the wild, it is most often under unusual circumstances–when one animal is stressed or “out of its element” or has lost its care giver or role model. Animals have strong instincts and “typical” behaviors for a reason, to improve their chances of survival, and they’ll usually act based on those instincts. In captivity, of course, it isn’t as surprising that animals living together might form a bond–in part because of their proximity and in part because they enjoy companionship, play, etc. I do believe animals, particularly mammals, share some of our emotions and seek companions for the same reasons we do.
2. In your story about the Oriental Sweetlips and the Puffer Fish, did you ever see any of the Sweetlips approaching the Puffer Fish? Or was their obliviousness to their “invader” their form of acceptance?
I never saw the sweetlips approach the puffer or really respond to it in any way other than by letting it be among them. It was a rather one-sided relationship.
3. How did you first conceive of gathering the stories for Unlikely Friendships?
These types of stories have become so beloved–that’s obvious just by how often they make their way around the Internet and how many people comment on them. It seemed to me if one story can bring joy, imagine what dozens can do. These are hard times in the world and I think people need some relief. Unlikely friendships can offer that.
4. Do wildlife rehabilitation centers “force” these unlikely friendships?
I think “force” is a strong word, but certainly having varied species together in captivity creates the perfect context for unlikely pairings.
5. A friend of mine once save a young opossum who had been hit by a car, and later, when the opposum recovered, set him free. The opossum was very affectionate towards my frined, licking him and thanking him for food. Yet I’ve read that opossums have little brain capacity and are likely to bite you. Was this opossum unusual, or is the literature on many animals wrong?
I suspect few wild animals will offer much affection under duress, though clearly there are times when an animal, such as the injured opossum, seem to appreciate the care they’re given or to realize they are being helped. I don’t know much about the brain power of that particular species, but clearly your friend had an amazing experience that suggests the critter not only didn’t feel threatened but was soothed by your friend’s actions.
6. My father once told me about a woman he knew in Ukraine who kept finding a feather on top of her laundry when she was hanging it out to dry, until one day she noticed a bird fluttering above the basket. The woman followed the bird to a nest nearby that contained baby birds, and after that she set out food for the mother to help feed them. Do birds often enlist the help of humans?
I can’t say I’ve heard of birds enlisting human help, though certainly many birds are quite intelligent! Typically, though, parent birds are quite efficient at foraging for their families without any assistance.
7. As a child I loved the book Rascal by Sterling North (a true story about a boy who finds a baby raccoon), and later in life I raised a raccoon myself (whose mother had been torn apart by some wild animal in the woods). When the raccoon became wilder and rambunctious I set him free near my parent’s property in the Kettle Moraine (Wisconsin), and he always came back to my parents’ house and visited my father, although he wouldn’t go near any other humans. Do wild animals often return to people who’ve helped them (in your experience of reading these stories)?
I think it does occur, but it depends on the type of animal and how long it was among humans. My husband also had a raccoon as a child, and their relationship was very much like that of brothers. I would expect that, if parted for a long while, the animal would still have known and felt close to my husband. Some animals have amazing memories and hold relationships very dear. I’m not surprised that sometimes that applies to a bond with a human. We are animals too, after all.
8. I once saved a robin who had been clawed by a cat (and a wildlife expert told me that because of the clawing the robin would definitely die). Yet it lived and when it was better I set it free. How can this be explained? Do animals respond to the caring energy of humans similarly to how humans respond to this sort of care?
It sounds as though your care was very effective! Offering the animal a safe and comfortable place to heal was probably as important as any specific treatment you could offer.