It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Well, not literally, but competition and rivalry within the animal kingdom is fierce and generally keeps animal friendships within a species. Sometimes, a remarkable animal transcends the bounds of its biology and finds love in another species all together. We’ve all heard of common animal friendships such as between a dog and a house cat or a donkey and a duck; the friendships on this list are exponentially more bizarre, more unusual, and more unexpected.
These animal friendships are heartfelt and genuine – often between animals who are normally enemies. Could you ever imagine a dog and an elephant being the best of playmates, held together by their love of water? Or a tortoise who sheltered a baby hippo, starting an instant bond? Maybe you’ll fall in love with the story of the chimpanzee and her baby tigers. Or maybe what will do you in is the tale of a dog and his dolphin friend who swim in the sea for hours on end. All in all, the stories on this list are sure to tug at your heart strings and make you go “aww”, so check out these 25 Unlikely Animal Friendships That Are Just Too Adorable.
Featured image used with permission from Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary
Size doesn't matter for friends
Bella the black Labrador was abandoned by her owner while he built a pool at the Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina. Bella quickly forgot about the dirtbag after meeting her new – and much bigger – friend Bubbles, an African elephant. The two quickly bonded over their love of water and can often be seen playing in the pool. Bella uses Bubbles as a diving board, climbing atop the elephant’s back before jumping into the water.
Rex and the roo
Baby kangaroos – known as joeys – are pretty close to their mothers (literally). After passing by a dead kangaroo in Australia, pointer dog Rex investigated her pouch and found a joey curled up inside. His paternal instincts kicked in and he carried the baby back home. As the roo grew, Rex nurtured him, playing and hopping around the garden together.
Lions, tigers and bears, oh my!
This story of an unusual animal friendship has a much happier ending than the book Life of Pi. Appropriately named, Baloo the bear, Shere Khan the tiger, and Leo the lion were discovered when Atlanta police raided a local drug baron’s home. The trio – only cubs at the time – were moved to Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary and kept together rather than separated. These three adorable behemoths can still be seen cuddling and playing together.
Lammie the sheep and her rhino sons
Poaching in southern Africa has claimed the lives of countless elephants and rhinos, some of them mothers. After South African rhino Gertjie’s mother was taken by poachers, he fell into depression. After trying multiple ways to calm the beast, handlers found that a female sheep named Lammie took the creature many times her size under her wing, caring and supporting him and his brother Matimba as if they were own children.
The doberman and the badger
Badgers are known for being fierce fighters when put up against the wall. Not so for an orphaned and malnourished baby badger. After one dog found the cub, he brought it back to his family which gave it to an animal sanctuary. At the sanctuary, local dog Murray adopted the baby badger as one of her own.
The boxer and the runt
It’s not just female animals which can act nurturing and parental. Born in Great Britain, Lilly was a runt of a goat and likely wouldn’t have survived amongst her siblings. Once her owner started bottle-feeding the kid, the family’s dog (a boxer named Billy) saw the goat and began nurturing her, even cuddling up together with the baby at night.
A buck for a duck
When a Canada goose made her nest in a cemetery urn, a male deer realized something was wrong. Geese normally build a nest together – male and female. The buck settled near to the nest and carefully watched over the single mother and her eggs, chasing off predators and humans from getting too close.
Gandolph the owl
Owls normally destroy eggs which aren’t their own. Not so for Gandolph the owl, desperate after years of producing dud eggs. The owl was given a goose egg to care for and calm its frustration. Soon after, the egg hatched and Gandolph the owl cared for the duckling just as her own child. The two still hang out and play together despite having widely different sleep schedules.
Pumpkin, the "cat nanny"
Known as the “cat nanny” in Tennessee, Pumpkin the cat is the unofficial caretaker at a local animal shelter. The cat checks in on all the animals, including bearded dragons and a cat’s traditional prey: a rat named Batman.
She ain't nothing but a Mama hound dog
Hound dog Mama got into trouble after attempting to save some stray puppies and ended up in an animal shelter. When a couple in Connecticut saw a mother fox abandon her newborns yet again, they took the baby foxes in and adopted Mama from the shelter. Mama’s maternal instincts finally had an outlet as she took over caring for the newborns.
Shrek, the feathered ogre
Completely crossing the species boundary, a greyhound puppy named Torque took on an unlikely friend: Shrek. Far from a green ogre, Shrek is an owl who was under threat from her mother. Torque and Shrek are inseparable, even known to curl up on the couch and watch reruns of How I Met Your Mother.
A mooving barnyard story
Unusual barnyard animal friendships come in all shapes and sizes. When a sheep wasn’t up to the task of caring for her two newborn lambs, a cow named Little Brown took over nursing the babies, right from her utters.
A dog and a dolphin
Ben the dog is an avid swimmer, often swimming for hours on end. He has an unlikely animal friend in a dolphin named Duggie. The two can often be seen playing together in the water, with Duggie blowing bubbles under Ben to tease his canine friend. Once Ben paddles to the point of exhaustion and can’t make it back to shore, Duggie pushes the dog all the way back to shore with his snout.
Chestnut, the wannabe kitten
Now here’s a strange one. A human mother was dropping her kids off at school when she found baby squirrel Chestnut in critical condition. She brought Chestnut home and tried to nurse him back to health but had no luck. Since her house cat had just given birth to a new litter of kittens, she put the baby squirrel with the kittens. To her surprise, Chestnut started to nurse and grow up right alongside the little felines.
A mother's work is never done
In yet another story of a baby being rejected by its mother, baby llama Mahogany was left without a food source and carer. Recent mother Rosie the pointer-Rhodesian ridgeback mix had recently weened her on puppies; her owner introduced Mahogany who happily nursed from the momma dog. Even as she grew, the two spent most of their days together, even sleeping in the family’s spare bedroom.
Bambi in real life
A scene right out of a Disney movie, a woman was driving home when she saw a young deer next to her dead mother. Feeling sympathetic, the woman took the fawn in and named her Bambi. In an unexpected turn of events, the fawn made an unusual friend amongst the woman’s other animals – a bunny named Ben. (We hear that the rabbit’s name hasn’t been changed to Thumper to keep in line with the Disney movie.)
The Mouse Princess and the Frog
Dire circumstances call for all kinds of species to work together. An unlikely animal pair, a frog and mouse in Lucknow, India, could sometimes be seen together during the monsoon season. The Mouse would rigidly ride atop the frog’s back to keep dry from the rains.
The little friends from different species
We don’t normally see animal friendships develop between birds and other species. That’s what made the relationship between an abandoned macaque monkey and his white pigeon friend so special. Living at a Chinese animal sanctuary, the two very different animals can often be seen nuzzling up with each other, the monkey resting his head on the pigeon’s back.
Pumbaa and the rhino
Baby black rhinoceros Omni is often riddled with ticks from his Kenyan surroundings. Thankfully, his friend Digby the warthog is there to eat the delicious little snacks off the beast. After taking a mud bath together, the two often wrestle despite their size differences.
A different kind of cat and dog friendship
The fastest mammal on land, the cheetah is often feared for its speed and hunting ability. That didn’t stop a baby Anatolian shepherd dog from befriending the big cat – named Sahara – at the Cincinnati zoo. The two are often seen playing and nipping at each other.
Jess the wet nurse
There’s always plenty of work to do on a farm – and Jess the springer spaniel has stepped up to the plate. Orphaned lambs often need to be fed out of a bottle, sucking time away from a farm’s human staff. Jess has taken over much of the feeding, holding the milk bottle in her mouth and trotting around the farm to feed the lambs.
Mabel the confused chicken
From poultry to puppies, Mabel the chicken is a mother like no other. Whenever the family’s Rottweiler puppies finished nursing from their mother, Mabel the chicken stepped in to nest up next to the pups, sometimes even sitting on top of them like her own eggs.
Two natural predators
After being taken in by caregiver China York, chimpanzee Anjana began mimicking her ways. The chimp is best known for adopting and nurturing two tiger cubs: Mitra and Shiva. Anjana can often be seen hugging or kissing the cubs.
The hippo and the tortoise
In one of the most bizarre animal friendships on our list, a hippo and a tortoise became friends. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami swept a family of hippos into the sea, leaving only a baby hippo – scared and afraid – stranded on a reef. Once the hippo was rescued, he was released into an animal sanctuary. Feeling his fear, a 130-year-old tortoise greeted the hippo and made him feel safe again. They could often be seen feeding and napping together.
The friendliest animal in the world
Likely the most-friendly dog on the planet, South African Labrador dog Lisha is an expert at making friends with all kinds of animals. The maternal dog lives at Oudtshoorn’s Cango Wildlife Ranch in South Africa and has adopted and cared for a wide range of the sanctuary’s guests, including cheetahs, weasels, porcupines, and even a pygmy hippo.