Odd Couples of the Animal Kingdom

Whether you love or hate V-Day, the animal kingdom is here for you. Want to show your main squeeze that you can’t fathom life without them? Let us suggest a card featuring a creature that mates for the long haul: You can choose from classically romantic swans, playful penguins, or offbeat beavers, or even seek out albatrosses, gibbons, wolves—the list goes on.

Not feeling the heart-shaped Hallmarky bona fides this year? Know that the zoos in El Paso and San Antonio will name a cockroach after your ex and ceremoniously feed it to a meerkat on Valentine’s Day. You don’t even have to live in Texas (where they really do seem to know a thing or two about exes)—both zoos are offering the chance to savor the cathartic munching via livestream. For a $20 donation, San Antonio will even upgrade the recipient of your ex’s roachy counterpart to a reptile! The Bronx Zoo, meanwhile, has a totally different take on cockroaches—for a $15 donation, you can honor your and your partner’s long-lasting love by naming a roach (one presumably not fated to become meerkat dinner), that most indomitable of survivor insects, after your beloved.   

It all shows that in the end, the love you make is equal to the love you take—and that applies to the love between coyotes and badgers, too—not to mention, cheetahs and dogs, and wombats and wallabies. Animals in cross-species relationships can teach us humans about everyone’s favorite four-letter word. They remind us that Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate all the kinds of love we’re lucky enough to have in our lives—not just that of the coupled variety, but familial love, love between friends, love of ourselves, and of course, love of animals.  Watching a video or Instagram story featuring multiple adorable species is arguably the quickest way to turn your brain into an oxytocin fountain this V-Day.

Here are eight examples that show how even in the most fraught times, love and friendship truly abound.

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Bear The Koala Detection Dog and the Koalas of the Australian Bushfires

Australia’s recent wildfires and the half-billion animal lives they took might put your most recent heartbreak into context. While it feels crass to seek silver linings from such a cataclysmic loss, there’s often hope to be mined from tragedy—and Bear the blue-eyed border collie/koolie mix brought it in spades this past December. Surrendered by his family to the pound as a puppy due to his obsessive-compulsive tendencies, Bear got a second chance when academics from the University of Sunshine Coast’s Detection Dogs for Conservation program recognized his quirks as qualities that would be ideal in a detection dog. They took him in and trained him to sniff out sick, orphaned, and injured koalas, helping him to become one of the few animals on this planet who can detect not only koalas’ feces, but also their fur. At the end of 2019, Bear rose to the immense challenge at hand, locating scores of injured koalas who were then relocated to rehab centers, and even going viral for his life-saving work. (NBD Bear, but Tom Hanks wants to make a movie about you.) 

“Bear has helped us locate sick and injured koalas and has recently been called to search for koalas in habitats ravaged by fires,” USC Detection Dogs for Conservation senior research fellow Dr. Celine Frere said in a news release. “Because they can smell what we can’t see, dogs can be used to track rare animals, detect pest species, and locate threatened native plants, so they have such an important role to play in conservation.”

As they say, not all heroes wear capes—some of them wear heat-protective booties. Keep up with Bear and his koala pals through his Instagram page.

Burrowing Wombats and Fire-Fleeing Kangaroos

Teamwork is a beautiful thing, even when it’s accidental. Another hero from down under can be found in the southern hairy-nosed wombat, thanks to the fact wombats build and maintain wombat warrens, which are networks of large, complex, and interconnecting burrows that are shielded from above-ground conditions, with cool, stable temperatures. Ever since the bushfires broke out, Australians have spotted kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos, and butterflies, among other species, taking shelter in wombat burrows. Not only are the wombats tolerating these sudden, surprise neighbors, but some have been helping thirsty creatures access water by burrowing further into water holes than they normally would, opening up access to other species. While more empirical research is needed, it seems these pudgy marsupials provide invaluable refuge during fire—making them the climate heroes we sorely need in the Anthropocene. In any case, they have our vote for “Roommates/Environmental Engineers of the Year.”

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Photo by Smyk/iStock

Coyote and Badger

Scientific studies and Native American records have long indicated that coyotes and badgers have figured out that when it comes to catching common prey like ground squirrels, teamwork makes the dream (meal) work. But the below video, captured earlier this month by conservationists with Northern California’s Peninsula Open Space Trust, is the first documentation showing as much. A product of the 50+ remote sensor cameras the organization uses to better understand how wildlife move across the Santa Cruz Mountains, this footage shows a wily coyote and playful badger joining forces on a hunt, and joyously traveling together through a small tunnel. “With the information we’re collecting from this research, we are building a robust data set to identify the areas where wildlife can safely move across roadways, as well as the areas that need to be enhanced for safer crossing,” writes Matt Dolkas of POST. “It’s all part of our work to build a network of protected landscapes.” This footage also reinforces what we already know—that wild animals often have big personalities, and enjoy robust friendships. 

Raina the Rhodesian Ridgeback and Ruuxa the Cheetah

In 2014 a male cheetah cub resident of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park had to undergo surgery to repair a growth abnormality that caused his legs to bow. While convalescing in the zoo’s veterinary hospital, a female puppy named Raina became concerned about the anesthetized cheetah. “She licked him and nuzzled him, and when he awoke she lay with him and seemed very content to know her cheetah was okay,” Susie Ekard, animal training manager at the Safari Park, told the Times of San Diego. The San Diego Zoo is known for pioneering a type of buddy system, now used at zoos across the country, that pairs cheetahs with dogs for play and companionship. It all started in 1980 with a male cheetah named Arusha and a golden retriever named Anna, both of whom helped zookeepers realize that dogs have a pacifying effect on the big felines. Six years later, Ruuxa (who made a complete recovery from surgery) and Raina remain constant companions and one of the park’s most closely bonded pairs. Hearty thanks to these good-looking pals for proving once and for all that dogs and cats really can love each other. 

Emmett the Piglet and all The Kitten Lady’s Kittens

Hannah Shaw aka “The Kitten Lady” is a cat rescuer, humane educator, and the author of Tiny But Mighty (Penguin Random House, 2019) and the children’s book Kitten Lady’s Big Book of Little Kittens (Simon and Schuster, 2019). Shaw shares inspiring and adorable images from the daily life of a kitten advocate on her Instagram and Facebook, and educational videos about kitten care through her YouTube channel. The best part, in our humble opinion, is that she also fosters piglets—which has led to the worldwide realization that pigs and kittens love playing together. Be prepared to squeeee. 

Peri the Blind Chicken and Gracie the Pitbull

Christa Hubbard of Phoenix rescued Peri the chicken when she was only two days old. At six months, Peri suffered a sinus infection behind her eye that over time left her blind. Hubbard and her family accommodated the house hen by putting her food bowls on a throw rug that makes sounds, setting her up with her own sofa and bed in the master bedroom, and even getting her a seeing-eye pitbull named Taj. For nine years, until Taj passed away from cancer in 2018, the pair were inseparable. After Taj passed away, Hubbard rescued two pitbull puppies: Bodhi and Gracie, now a year old. “I believe Gracie has begun to notice Peri’s handicap and is taking up where Taj left off,” Hubbard told Sierra. “She can be found checking on Peri throughout the day. I think she thinks Peri would like some toys, so she brings her at least one each day.” Talk about a full-service seeing-eye pal!  

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Baboon and Lion Cub

It’s rare, yet also straight out of The Lion King: Earlier this month in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, a male baboon was spotted carrying and grooming a lion cub. According to the safari operator who captured it all on video, the baboon took the cub up into a tree and preened it as if it were its own. Despite his concerns for the cub’s survival under the care of this unnatural mother, he said it was important not to intervene. “Nature has its own ways. We cannot get involved.”

Emerson the Deaf Puppy and Nick the Deaf Man 

People are a species, too! Last year, a deaf shelter lab mix puppy named Emerson found his forever-human: a hearing-impaired man named Nick, who has since used sign language to teach Emerson to sit, lie down, and come. If Nick shakes Emerson’s ear lobe, the pup knows to bark. Today, Nick and Emerson have a joint Instagram account, through which Nick documents the pair’s adventures and training, with a following of over 22,000 people. They also have their own children’s book: I Picked Him: A Nick and Emerson Story—a portion of proceeds for which are channeled to animal rescues/shelters, as well as services for the hearing impaired/disabled. We can’t think of a cuter pair of role models. Happy Valentine’s Day!