Book Review Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer S. Holland

unlikely friendships


Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom
By Jennifer Holland

Written By: Jennifer S. Holland and published by the Workman Publishing Company on June 30, 2011, 210 pages.

The nature of friendships has to do with caring about your friend’s welfare, and this is certainly true in Unlikely Friendships (47 Remarkable Stories From The Animal Kingdom). Replete with amazing full- color photographs, we see interspecies pals feeding each other, protecting each other, and sleeping next to each other, just because they’ve decided to do so.

Did you know that both dogs and elephants are emotional and form close bonds? But little did we know how close, until hearing the story of The Elephant and The Stray Dog, where at the Elephant Sanctuary at Hohenwald, Tennessee, a female elephant, Tarra, became upset when her mutt friend Bella was ill and taken inside to be helped, and when finally reunited with Bella, Tarra “lifted one immense foot into the air and carefully rubbed the belly of her friend.” A young rescued stray cat in Georgia named Lucky became friends with Coco, “a brash and outspoken cockatoo,” because they lived in the same household. Coco the cockatoo rubs Lucky the cat with one foot and massages her body, and both end each day by sitting in their owners’ laps together. A Rhodesian Ridgeback, a dog “that’s bred tough enough to hunt boar, bobcats, and bears” mothers a Vietnamese potbellied piglet in Hoerstel, Germany. And a Koi fish in Oregon called Falstaff pokes his head out of the water to touch noses with Chino, a golden retriever.

Unlikely Friendships also tells us the classic tale of the famous 230-pound gorilla, Koko, who could communicate in sign language and had a kitten, All Ball, as a pet. After All Ball ran out of the gorilla enclosure and was hit by a car, Koko “showed tremendous sadness as clearly revealed in hand gestures, her silent language of grief, and her crying calls,” although eventually she bonded with two new kittens, Lipstick and Smoky.

This book tells us the wild stories of The Diver and the Manta Ray, and the Photographer and the Leopard Seal. In the first, Sean Payne was trying to photograph an 800-pound grouper fish off the coast of Florida when an adolescent black manta ray “asked” him repeatedly for a massage, even though the “thing about rays is usually you have to chase them just to get a closer look.” In the second story Paul Nicklen, on assignment for National Geographic magazine, came across a huge 12-foot leopard seal who hunted down penguins and tried to feed them to him on his camera dome, and was exasperated when he wouldn’t accept her food offering.

Science and nature journalist Jennifer S. Holland writes that “the task of collecting these stories opened my eyes to just how often animals can surprise us with their depth of caring,” and notes that Jane Goodall, the famed primatologist who lived among chimpanzees, has said, “You cannot share your life in any meaningful way with an animal and not realize they have different personalites. Are they capable of emotions similar to ours? Absolutely.” She also quotes Barbara King, “I believe people crave examples not just of cuteness, and not just of tolerance – but of true compassion, and showing these stories helps us get in touch with the best in ourselves.”

Jennifer S. Holland is currently a senior writer for National Geographic magazine, and she approaches this subject matter in a scientific manner, listing kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species for all the animals involved. A coffee table book extraordinaire, and easy to read in snatches (each story is a short chapter), Unlikely Friendships is a unique book, and I highly recommend it to everyone.
More by Jennifer Holland


Reviewed by Christina Zawadiwsky

Christina pictureChristina Zawadiwsky is Ukrainian-American, born in New York City, has a degree in Fine Arts, and is a poet, artist, journalist and TV producer. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Award, two Wisconsin Arts Boards Awards, a Co-Ordinating Council of Literary Magazines Writers Award, and an Art Futures Award, among other honors. She was the originator and producer of Where The Waters Meet, a local TV series created to facilitate the voices of artists of all genres in the media, for which she won two national and twenty local awards, including a Commitment to Community Television Award. She is also a contributing editor to

the annual Pushcart Prize Anthology, the recipient of an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association, and has published four books of poetry. She currently reviews movies for , music for, and books for


  1. I love the idea of this book! We as humans should be just as tolerant and nurturing and caring as these animals who would normally be enemies or not around each other at all!

  2. I wonder why these animals help each other? It just goes to show that the need for friendship and warmth is inherent in every living creature.

  3. Sounds like a wonderful book that must have taken a long time to compile. I’ll tell everyone I know about it!

  4. We’ll probably never know why these animals choose to bond with each other, when sometimes they are enemies. I would love to read this book.

  5. Joan Colby says:

    As an animal lover, horse breeder and trainer of German Shepherd Dogs, I am always interested in books about animals, and this one sounds like an absolute winner. I will definitely read it.

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