Animal Altruism is Real, and So is Their Appreciation

Posted on February 6, 2015


Anyone who doubts that animals can have sympathetic, altruistic emotions need look no farther than these videos.

In the news last month, I ran across a video from the Taipei Zoo, showing a tortoise very deliberately and methodically bumping an upside-down, stranded tortoise until the stranded one is back on his feet. Yay! Smiles and cheers all around. Uh… turns out that was probably not really all that altruistic, according to reptile expert David Steen:  “These animals will ram each other [and] flip each other over, so it’s not particularly unusual …. It looks altruistic, but my guess is it’s just an extension of the same aggressive behavior that the animal exhibits…. It’s possible that they’re two males fighting, but it’s also possible that they’re a male and female courting…. I know I’m kind of being a buzzkill here.”

[Sigh] So much for that. But there are plenty of other examples of altruistic behavior among other animals. Let’s look around:

From Hungary, here is a zoo bear rescuing a crow from drowning:

Remember Binti Jua, the Brookfield Zoo gorilla who in 1996 protected a young boy who had fallen into the gorilla enclosure, and carried him to the door where zookeepers could easily rescue him?

Here’s a lioness who, against all instinct, befriends a young oryx (and then another, and another…):

And another lioness who rescues a newborn wildebeest from hyenas, then guards her through the night. The little wildebeest apparently was reunited with her mother the following day:

In Macau, dolphins apparently spent hours preventing a lost dog from drowning, and made an unusual amount of noise to attract the attention of people to rescue the dog:

Dolphins are also well known for rescuing human swimmers and protecting us from sharks:

And sometimes, they might like us to return the favor, like this dolphin who seeks human help to remove a hook and line from its fin:

From Russia, here is a fox cub who approaches some humans to get a jar off his head, though he isn’t too interested in sticking around to offer his thanks:

But sometimes our animal friends can show their appreciation in spectacular ways. I leave you with this video of a humpback whale’s celebration after being freed from a near-fatal tangle of fishing nets. Enjoy: