A Monkey’s Best Friend

Yesterday we shared the story of Tara the elephant whose best friend is Bella the dog. Here’s another animal odd couple:

As unlikely friendships go, this one’s a doozy. Surya the orangutan was out for her daily walk with her human companions (atop a freaking elephant of course!) when she spotted a lost hound dog. The two instantly fell in love and became BFFs on the spot.

The dog followed them home and found Surya who eagerly began feeding his hungry new friend some monkey snacks. Now they’re all living happily ever after!

(Note that this clip is from the National Geographic Channel‘s program, “Unlikely Animal Friends“)

Stray Cat Can Sense When Other Cats Are Sick or Hurt

The San Jose Mercury News reports that a marmalade cat named Christopher seems to have a sixth sense. Christopher lives at the Nine Lives Foundation’s Feline Well-Care Clinic (that’s a mouthful!) and has the uncanny ability to sense when other cats are sick and hurting.

Christopher, the cat with a sixth sense.

From the article:

[Christopher] will sit outside the cages of sick felines until someone lets him in, and last month, the clinic says, he saved the life of a kitten in need of a blood transfusion.

“It’s weird, it’s really true that he seems to understand things,” said Monica Thompson, Nine Lives’ chief veterinarian and founder. “He knows when he can help. He alerts us when things aren’t right about a cat.”


“He’ll often paw at a cage door to be let in so he can clean and comfort a cat in there,” said Robert Lowery, a San Ramon resident and volunteer at Nine Lives.

But Christopher doesn’t just alert staff to ailing cats. He can also apparently tame wild strays. Last month, he asked to be let into a cage with two feral kittens who were unhandleable. The article says he “taught the kittens all about being a cat”, and within a couple of weeks they were tame and adoptable.

You can read more about Christopher (and other cats from the Nine Lives Foundation) at the Nine Lives Foundation blog.

[San Jose Mercury News: Nine lives, sixth sense: Cat at veterinary clinic seeks out ailing cats]

An Elephant’s Best Friend

What better way to kick off the re-launch of Animal Intelligence than a story of inter-species friendship?

As long-time readers know (if there are still any long-time readers remaining), and as new readers will soon learn, I have a soft spot for stories about animal odd couples. A cat who is raised by a crow? Check. Chickens who are friends with cats and monkeys? Love it. A duck and a chicken raising a family together? Perfect.

Well, here’s a two-year-old story from CBS News about another sort of animal odd couple:

On an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee, female elephants come to retire. And when they do, they form lasting friendships. They pair off with a favorite companion. But Tara’s best friend isn’t an elephant — it’s a dog.

The elephant sanctuary isn’t just home to elephants; it’s also home to more than a dozen stray dogs, most of which have no interest in the elephants. But Tara and Bella have become best friends. They eat, sleep, and play together.

Don’t believe it? Watch til the end of the video where it becomes very clear that Tara has a real and lasting bond with her dog.

As I say, I’m quite fond of stories about inter-species relationships. You’re sure to see many more in the months ahead. (And if you have one of your own, please send it in!)

Welcome to the Jungle!

After two days of hard work, I’ve managed to massage Animal Intelligence into shape, I think. If you visit the site (as opposed to reading via e-mail or RSS), you’ll see that Animal Intelligence sports a new layout and a few new features in the sidebar. What you see here is just the start, and I hope to add more in the future. If you have feedback or suggestions, please let me know. My goal is to make Animal Intelligence a fun, usable source for information on the animal kingdom.

Starting tomorrow (or possibly later this afternoon), I’ll begin what I hope will be daily updates to this site. My goal is to post any interesting animal-related stories I find when I find them (instead of waiting several days, as I usually do, which usually results in me forgetting the story…) I’ll be joined by a couple of other contributors on this journey. In fact, one — Gabby Francis — has already submitted a couple of stories to be posted.

As always, I welcome your contributions. If you have an amazing animal story that you’d like to share with readers of Animal Intelligence, please drop me a line. (For now, you can just leave a comment. I’ll get e-mail operational in a few days.) And if you want to contribute a guest article, I’m open to that, too.

I look forward to having you along as we learn more about the creatures around us.

Oscar, The Bionic Cat

It’s been a couple of years since I posted anything new here at Animal Intelligence. It’s not that my interest in the subject has waned — if anything, I’m more convinced than ever about the intelligence of our non-human friends — but that my other blogs have taken all of my time.

Lately, though, I’ve decided that it’d be a heck of a lot of fun to post here again. To make this easier, I’m going to broaden the blog’s scope. While I’ll still cover stories about animal emotion and intelligence, I’ll also include general-interest animal stories. What do I mean by that? Let’s start with this report from CNN about a cat with bionic feet:

If cats have nine lives, they may have just acquired a 10th — thanks to a groundbreaking surgery that saved the life of a feline double amputee. A British cat, Oscar, has made a full recovery after being fitted with a pair of prosthetic feet in November. The cat’s hind paws were severed by a combine harvester.

The three-hour procedure, performed at an animal hospital in Surrey, England, by neuro-orthopaedic veterinary surgeon Dr. Noel Fitzpatrick, could serve as a model for human amputees.

Oscar’s custom-made implants, ITAPs (Intraosseous transcutaneous amputation prosthetics), were modeled after deer antlers, which have a honeycomb structure that bones can grow through and skin can grow over. By using computer-generated technology, a team of veterinarians and scientists designed a feline foot that mimics the way a cat walks and runs.

That’s a bunch of jargon, right? What it boils down to is this: Oscar the cat got run over by a tractor. A group of vets attached a pair of bionic feet to Oscar’s hind legs. The results are amazing! Here’s a BBC video that shows Oscar getting his new bionic body parts:

The best part of this story? Dr. Fitzpatrick donated much of his work with Oscar for free. The CNN story concludes: “He may not chase mice like he used to, but he can still scratch up the furniture.” Oscar is a cat, after all.

p.s. Yes, I know the formatting is goofy. As I resume posting here, I’ll implement a new template, one with wider columns. For now, things will be a little off, though, when I post wide photos or video. Sorry.

Gorillas and Humans Use Similar Body Language to Communicate

Gorillas and humans use similar body language to communicate, reports the U.K. Daily Mail. Researchers at the University of Sussex studied a family of gorillas in a British animal park.

Psychologist Dr Gillian Sebestyen said: “We shared 23 million years of evolution with great apes and then diverged approximately six million years ago. Gorillas have highly complex forms of non-verbal communication. I think we are looking back at what sort of communications skills we may have once had.”


She told Science Daily: “Apes, like humans, use a range of non-verbal communicative social skills such as facial expression, eye gaze and manual gestures, and tactile signals, such as grooming and huddling, which are used for social cohesion.”

The Daily Mail article is rather vague. I’d like to know more information about the types of body language that are similar. I’ll have to do more digging online…

Cat and Dog Friendships

When I was a boy, we had a Saint Bernard. Like all Saint Bernards, Charlie was a big, slobbery dork of a dog. Charlie was a good dog. We also had several cats, one of which was named Batman. (We named all of our cats after comic book characters.)

Charlie and Batman were best friends. Everywhere Charlie went, Batman went too. At night — especially on cold winter nights — Batman would climb onto Charlie’s side and curl up in his thick fur. They’d sleep contentedly for hours, best buds.

Here’s a YouTube video featuring other cat and dog friendships:

I know that cat-dog friendships are common, but just how common? And why do they occur? What are the dogs thinking? What are the cats thinking? What about friendships between other species?

Libby, the Seeing-Eye Cat

Lynn sent me an item that’s been making the rounds as an e-mail forward. Though I’m reluctant to post something that I cannot properly credit, I’m going to do so. I like it that much.

Terry Burns from Middleburg, Pennsylvania shared this photograph and caption with an unknown magazine:

The text reads:

Cashew, my 14-year-old yellow Lab, is blind and deaf. Her best friend is Libby, 7, her seeing-eye cat. Libby steers Cashew away from obstacles and leads her to her food. Every night she sleeps next to her. The only time they’re apart is when we take Cashew out for a walk. Without this cat, we know Cashew would be lost and very, very lonely indeed. It’s amazing but true: This is one animal who knows what needs to be done and does it day in and day out for her friend.

If you know where this originated, please let me know so that I can offer proper credit!

Sammy the Friendly Jay

This summer, my wife and I have made friends with the blue jays that live in our yard. We have been shocked by how brave they are, and by how much personality they possess.

I grew up with birds in the house, but they were parrots and macaws and parakeets. I know that these birds are intelligent, and have just as much personality as any other animal (or person). But I’ve always clumped wild birds into a nebulous “dumb bird” category in my head. (Except for crows, that is. I know crows are smart.)

Turns out blue jays aren’t dumb birds. And they have plenty of individual personality.

Our “main” bird is called Sammy, and he’s the boldest and most aggressive of the group. We lure the jays with peanuts, and Sammy is willing to come down within arm’s reach to get his treats. (My goal is to get him to eat out of my hand. He’s considered it before, but never acted upon it.)

If we go outside, Sammy will sometimes fly down to where we are — the rose garden, the blueberries, wherever — and squawk at us. “Give me peanuts,” he says. If we are in the process of feeding him and another jay comes nearby, Sammy will scold the interloper and try to scare it away. (This often fails, though. He can’t keep away three or four jays at a time.)

Last month, I was going a project at the picnic table. I set a pile of peanuts on a nearby bench. Despite the fact I was moving around the table (and often within just feet of the bench), Sammy continued to fly down, grab a peanut, and then fly away with the treasure.

Sammy used to fly far away to hide his peanuts and then return for more. Now he realizes that’s too much work. When we give him a peanut, he simply hides it wherever he found it in the lawn, even if that’s just a few feet from us. He tap tap taps the nut into the ground, eyes it to be sure it’s hidden, then covers it with a leaf or two. Then he turns around for more peanuts.

He’s even losing his fear of our four cats (and they are losing interest in him). If a cat is at the picnic table, Sammy will still fly down to pick a peanut off the other end.

We’ve been trying to decide what has made this bird so bold. We believe that Sammy is a youngster, one of last year’s juvenile jays. We believe he’s never had reason to fear us. One of this year’s juveniles is almost as bold, too (maybe bolder), and we expect it to join Sammy’s antics next year.

My favorite time with Sammy, though, is in the midst of “the grove”, a small clearing in the middle of a flower bed. It’s an enclosed space maybe twelve feet in diameter. Sammy feels perfectly safe there, and he comes even closer than he does on the lawn. He and I like to sit in the grove and chat, sharing peanuts.