but this place is just right.
If you want to check out the most wholesome Wikipedia page on the internet, look no further than Interspecies Friendship. Here you’ll come across stories like those of a timber wolf who befriended a pair of goats in San Diego Zoo, and would downright refuse to return to its enclosure after playtime until the goats had been safely herded into theirs. These wonderful phenomena are affecting for us bipedal charlatans. They allow us to sympathize with friendships that shouldn’t exist but, even against the will of natural order, do anyway.
Besides being overwhelmingly cute, such friendships also have real-world utility, as evidenced by the San Diego Zoo's practice of pairing lone cheetah cubs with dogs. The Wikipedia page for Interspecies Friendship (IF) mentions companionships between cats and dogs, but focuses on the smaller, household feline species as opposed to the fastest land animal in the world. According to IF, some dogs even engage in nose-sniffing with their kitty pals, which is something they would never normally do. People often say that cats and dogs can’t be friends with one another, but IF exists to prove such naysayers wrong.
After becoming enraptured by the various IF entries on Wikipedia, I decided to ask an expert about the specific interspecies friendship between cheetahs and dogs. It was my favourite one of the lot, because seeing a labrador nudge a full-grown cheetah until it gives them attention is unparalleled in terms of endearment. Dogs are too pure, and cheetahs are the dogs of the African Big Cats.
So I reached out to Janet Rose-Hinostraza, an animal training supervisor at San Diego Zoo. She told me that cheetahs are “instinctively quite shy,” which makes them quite uncomfortable in social situations. But dogs are comfortable in social situations, which is why this particular brand of interspecies friendship is such a special one. The puppies patiently exhibit their comfort via body language and demeanour, putting their cheetah pals at ease and making them feel at home. Some cheetahs can really struggle when acclimatizing to domestication, Rose-Hinostroza said, especially when they’re a cub who lacks any siblings to cavort with. But, courtesy of IF, their brothers and sisters don’t necessarily have to be cheetahs. They can be dogs!
According to the IF page, there’s a kind of mutualism shared between dogs and us undeserving humans, where we both receive love, companionship, and loyalty from one another. This is what helps them teach their young and sprightly cheetah pal how to play and be comfortable around us, which sometimes causes the speedy predators to show affection towards their keepers. Cheetahs aren’t social animals, Rose-Hinostraza said, but they would spend time with their siblings and mother at least until they reached maturity. It’s like the ram and blind cow mentioned on the IF page: The ram would make sure his bovine pal didn’t accidentally bump into anything that could hurt her head, and even took care of her calf like it was his own. This lucky calf had a ram for an uncle and a cow for a mother, and their wonderful interspecies friendship ultimately provided it with a loving family, where the ram became an important influence on it from an early age.
Interspecies friendships can blossom between all sorts of animals, though. IF mentions three birds — a Long-billed curlew, Whimbrel and Marbled godwit — who met up in Vancouver to keep each other company every single winter. Just three big ol’ birds, shooting the shit and reminiscing on old times.
The same goes for San Diego Zoo’s resident dogs. Rose-Hinostraza mentioned that dogs have also managed to befriend camels, warthogs, and hyenas. It’s kind of weird that we refer to dogs as “man’s best friend” when they’re pretty much “[insert animal]’s best friend.” And although hyenas and dogs may seem like a bit of an odd match, the IF page mentions a phenomenon where coyotes and badgers become hunting partners in the wild, even though coyotes have traditionally been known to prey on badgers. Even predators can be convinced to turn a blind eye to the food chain if a potential pal twists their arm. Coyotes and badgers have even found lying next to one another with their bodies slightly touching, a.k.a. hugging!
Some interspecies friendships might seem a little impractical. Rose-Hinostraza joked that a Chihuahua might not be the best bet when considering a canine companion for a cheetah. But hey, stranger things have happened — there’s even been a report about a horseriding wild turkey. Rose-Hinostraza explained that for a successful interspecies friendship to be formed, they need a dog with a reassuring “hey buddy, hey pal!” kind of personality. “An animal that is truly looking to befriend the cheetah,” she said. That’s the beauty of interspecies friendships: They’re formed by two animals from totally different worlds who just want to have a fun time together.
Of all the stories about interspecies friendship, however, the loveliest of all isn’t on the Interspecies Friendship page… yet. In San Diego Zoo, Rose-Hinostraza said, there’s a cheetah named Ruuxa who made friends with a Rhodesian ridgeback named Raina when they were little ones. Ruuxa had no siblings, so Rose-Hinostraza asked if he could have a puppy pal to grow up with as soon as possible.
“This is a big ask because every cheetah born is critically important to the overall population of cheetahs,” she added. To put this into perspective: According to the African Wildlife Foundation, there are only about 6,674 cheetahs left in the wild today. That’s why it can take months for a cub to be introduced to its new pal. The cubs need to be vaccinated, while the puppies need to be quarantined until they’re deemed sufficiently healthy. Rose-Hinostraza and the vets broke protocol in order to pair Ruuxa up with Raina, a ridgeback only six days older than her lifelong friend. “Those two were raised together in our nursery and are more like brother and sister than any of our other pairs,” Rose-Hinostraza explained.
So here’s the best part: When an unexpected medical condition caused a young Ruuxa to need an operation on his front legs at only four months old, Raina stayed by his side the whole time. “The surgeon couldn’t believe it,” Rose-Hinostraza said. “His first recommendation post-surgery was to keep the two separated for at least three weeks. That lasted 15 minutes.”
Apparently Ruuxa was upset without his “puppy/sister,” and it wasn’t until Raina entered his recovery pen that Ruuxa laid down to get some well-needed R&R. The two siblings snuggled comfortably, but Raina made sure to avoid touching her brother’s bandages. The surgeon was shocked by their friendship, Rose-Hinostraza said, but ultimately agreed to let Raina stay with her brother until he got better.
Interspecies friendships are some of the most wonderful things in the world, so it’s no surprise that Interspecies Friendship is the most wonderful Wikipedia page on the internet. If a puppy can befriend a cheetah and a goat can pal up with a wolf, we’ve really got no excuse to be mean to one another. Horses and turkeys, birds of all shapes and sizes, and a ram with a calf for a kid: These interspecies friendships are a testament to friendliness, cuteness, and kindness, and provide us with a valuable lesson on what it means to be a good friend.