Animals Exhibit Altruistic Behaviour

Donna Antoinette Coleman and Vernon Coleman

Animals don't just show love; they frequently exhibit behaviour that can only be described as altruistic. Animals can suffer, they can communicate and they can care. There are numerous well-authenticated stories of animals putting their own lives at risk in order to save their loved ones.

1) Elderly lionesses who have lost their teeth and can no longer hunt, and who are too old to have young are, theoretically, of no value to the rest of the pride. But, nevertheless, the younger lions will share their kills with them. An older lioness may live out her old age – 20 years or more – being looked after by younger females.

2) A three-year-old chimpanzee is able to recognise when an adult chimpanzee (even one who is a complete stranger) needs help. And he will provide the required assistance even when there is no benefit to be gained – without expecting a reward or praise of any kind. The young chimpanzee helps simply because it wants to. For example, young, agile chimpanzees will climb trees to fetch fruit for their older relatives. Old age brings respect. Older male chimpanzees are only rarely threatened by younger animals and are tolerated without aggression. Older chimpanzees are given more grooming than they give.

3) Foxes have been observed bringing food to adult, injured foxes. When one fox was injured by a mowing machine and taken to a vet by a human observer the fox's sister took food to the spot where the injured fox had lain. The good Samaritan sister fox made the whimpering sound that foxes use when summoning cubs to eat (even though she had no cubs).

4) Whales have been observed to ask for and receive help from other whales.

5) Author J. Howard Moore described how crabs struggled for some time to turn over another crustacean which had fallen onto its back. When the crabs couldn't manage by themselves they went and fetched two other crabs to help them.

6) A gander who acted as a guardian to his blind partner would take her neck gently in his mouth and lead her to the water when she wanted to swim. Afterwards he would lead her home in the same manner. When goslings were hatched the gander, realising that the mother would not be able to cope, looked after them himself.

7) Pigs will rush to defend one of their number who is being attacked.

8) When wild geese are feeding, one will act as sentinel - never taking a grain of corn while on duty. When the sentinel goose has been on watch for a while it pecks at a nearby goose and hands over the responsibility for guarding the group.

9) When swans dive there is usually one which stays above the water to watch out for danger.

10) Time and time again dogs have pined and died on being separated from their masters or mistresses.

11) Author Konrad Lorenz described the behaviour of a gander called Ado when his mate Susanne-Elisabeth was killed by a fox. Ado stood by Susanne-Elisabeth's body in mourning. He hung his head and his body was hunched. He didn't bother to defend himself when attacked by strange geese. How would the animal abusers describe such behaviour other than as sorrow born of love? There is no survival value in mourning. It can only be a manifestation of a clear emotional response - love.

12) Coyotes form pairs before they become sexually active - and then stay together. One observer watched a female coyote licking her partner's face after they had made love. They then curled up and went to sleep.

13) Geese, swans and mandarin ducks have all been described as enjoying long-term relationships.

14) One herd of elephants was seen to be travelling unusually slowly. Observers noted that the herd travelled slowly so as not to leave behind an elephant who had not fully recovered from a broken leg. Another herd travelled slowly to accommodate a mother who was carrying her dead calf with her. When the herd stopped to eat or drink, the mother would put her dead calf down. When they started travelling she would pick up the dead calf. The rest of the herd were accommodating her in her time of grief.

15) Vampire bats will regurgitate blood into the mouth of a sick bat.

16) Gorillas have been seen to travel slowly if one of their party is injured and unable to move quickly.

17) When animals die their relatives and friends will often bury them. A badger was seen to drag another badger - which had been killed by a car - off the road, along a hedge, through a gap and into a burial spot in nearby woods. Elephants won't pass the body of another elephant without covering the corpse with twigs, branches and earth. After scientists and park officials culled elephants in Uganda, they cut the ears and feet off the dead animals and stored them in a shed ready to be made into handbags and umbrella stands. But during the night a group of elephants broke into the shed and retrieved and then buried the ears and feet. Elephants have even been seen burying dead buffalo and dead lions.

18) If adult foxes are killed (for example, by a hunt) and they leave behind an orphaned cub, relatives of the slaughtered foxes will look after the cub. They take on responsibility as though the cub were their own.

19) Penguins keep warm in groups. When the birds on the outside begin to feel the cold they go into the centre of the group to get warm while the warm birds, who have been huddled inside, take their turn on the outside.

20) Geese fly in changing formations to protect one another.

21) Grooming (picking fleas and bugs and mud from one another's fur) is an essential part of family life for gorillas.

22) A dwarf mongoose in the Taru desert of Kenya was badly injured. Her group stayed around her, grooming her and bringing her food until she was able to walk again.

23) Elephants will pull spears and darts out of themselves and out of each other. They will pull one another to their feet if they are having difficulty in rising.

24) Elephants have been known to rescue captured elephants in hunting raids.

25) Swiss researchers studying rats at the University of Bern discovered that rats demonstrate altruism towards strangers in much the same way that people sometimes do. People are more likely to lend a hand to a perfect stranger if they have benefited from kindness in the past and rats are just the same.

26) A researcher from the University of Parma in Italy, has shown that in Rome, where there are 350,000 stray cats in 2,000 separate colonies, male alley cats let the weakest individuals in their colony - small female cats and their kittens - eat first. The researcher concluded that the male feral cats, although normally aggressive, recognise that the weaker females and the young kittens need to be given precedence in order to survive. Of course, the cats may just have surprisingly good table manners. Whatever the explanation may be, their actions can undoubtedly be described as altruistic.

27) When around 80 whales beached themselves on New Zealand's Tokerau Beach one September day in 1983, locals tried to keep the whales alive by splashing water over them to help keep their skins moist. When the tide finally came in, the whales started to float in the right direction but soon became disorientated and beached themselves again. There seemed to be no hope until a school of dolphins came to the rescue and successfully led the whales into the safety of the sea.

From the `Wisdom of Animals’ by Donna Antoinette Coleman and Vernon Coleman

Copyright Donna Antoinette Coleman and Vernon Coleman September 2022