“There is in all animals a sense of duty that man condescends to call instinct.” -Robert Brault
A different kind of Mother’s Day story is playing out in a Buffalo, NY cemetery. A female Canada goose who apparently lost her lifelong mate, has chosen to build her nest in one of the cemetery’s empty urns. With no mate to assist in guarding the nest or providing protection, both mother and eggs are more vulnerable to predators.
Enter an unlikely hero; an adult deer who has befriended the mother-to-be and assumed the role of protector. The deer spends its days grazing near the nest and putting itself between the incubating brood and any possible danger.
Much is being made of this unusual interspecies friendship. The newscasters call it highly unusual because “there’s no known way that deer and geese can communicate.” Yet they have clearly formed a close-knit bond that goes beyond instinct or mutual need. Does the deer sense her vulnerability and through empathy, take measures to protect her?
Science will likely say I’m anthropomorphizing by “attributing human personality to things not human” yet what benefit does the deer derive from its protective behavior towards the goose?
Henry David Thoreau said: “The language of friendship is not words but meanings.” True friendship isn’t measured by verbal communication. Our truest and most trusted friends are those who choose to be present in moments when words are meaningless; to share our pain through presence, offer solace and support in silence, and accept our moments of unknowing and powerlessness.
Christine Dell’Amore, senior writer for National Geographic Magazine has written a book titled Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom, featured in an article Weird & Wild Q&A: Unlikely Animal Friendships. While the book contains 47 stories, she says she was initially pursuing between 80-90. Many didn’t make the final cut due to the unavailability of photographs or other logistical issues that couldn’t be resolved prior to deadline.
Are unusual animal alliances really all that unusual? Might this behavior seem out of the ordinary because it’s rarely captured in photos and videos? Perhaps the wonder is to be found in our gift as witness. The magnificence of life lies not in the known or explainable, but rather the mysterious and miraculous moments which defy it.
“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mythical concept of animals … We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not breathren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.” -Henry Beston