9 Heartwarming Stories of Interspecies Friendships

From a raccoon who thought she was a dog to the real-life lion king, discover some heartwarming stories of unlikely animal friendships.

Jul 5, 2024byDonna Hobson


heartwarming stories of interspecies friendships


Believe it or not, many still don’t believe that animals are intelligent or emotional creatures. Still, it’s hard to deny their empathy, compassion, love, and kindness when we read heartwarming stories about their lives and friendships.


From a sign-language-speaking gorilla to a dog who adopted dozens of ducklings, discover the bonds within these truly unique friendships that demonstrate animals’ emotional intelligence.


1. Koko the Gorilla and Her Kittens

Koko the gorilla and her cat
Image Source: Newsweek


Koko may be one of the most famous gorillas the world has ever known. Her empathy and intelligence opened people’s hearts and minds when animal cognition and emotions were not widely researched. Along with learning sign language and taking a photograph of herself for a 1978 National Geographic cover, Koko loved to raise kittens.


She chose her first kitten for her birthday in 1984 and named it All Ball; a year later, the kitten sadly died after being hit by a car. Koko expressed her sadness through sign language. Still, she adopted many more kittens, including Ms. Gray and Ms. Black, and gained significant joy from these feline friendships.


2. Bea the Giraffe and Wilma the Ostrich

Bea the giraffe and Wilma the ostrich
Image Source: Today.com


Back in 2009, Bea, a three-year-old giraffe, and Wilma, a 10-year-old ostrich, became fast friends. They met sharing the same enclosure at Busch Gardens; still, with over 65 acres to roam, the pair certainly weren’t forced together. And reports from 2020 suggest that these animals still roam the Serengeti-like enclosure together.


3. Fred the Labrador and Dennis the Duckling

Fred the dog raises duckling
Image Source: People


In 2012, Fred the Labrador Retriever made headlines when he adopted a baby duckling whose mother had been mauled by a fox. Dennis (the baby duckling) would have died were it not for the kindness of Fred, who cleaned him, slept with him, and took him swimming in the local pond.


And the story doesn’t end there. In 2018, Fred acted as a surrogate for nine orphan ducklings, and a year later, he adopted another brood looking for a parent. In 2022, at the age of 15, Fred became a foster parent again when he took 15 ducklings into his care. This loving Labrador lets the ducklings perch on his back and even gives them cuddles.


Thanks to his kind and loving nature, dozens of orphaned ducklings at the Mountfitchet Castle have survived to adulthood.


4. Anthony the Lion and Riley the Coyote

Anthony the lion and Riley the coyote
Image Source: Netflix


Anthony and Riley were both one month old when they met at the Keepers of the Wild animal sanctuary. As they grew, they became a real-life Lion King story as they played together and bonded. Anthony would look out for Riley, who would repay the favor by keeping guard as Anthony slept.


5. Bubbles the Elephant and Bella the Labrador

dog and elephant
Image Source: Today


You may recognize Bubbles the elephant from “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls”, or maybe you’ve seen her face on one of the numerous adverts she starred in. This magnificent creature was rescued in Africa in 1983 after both of her parents were killed by poachers. It wasn’t until 2007 that an orphaned Labrador found her way into the sanctuary and formed a unique bond with Bubbles.


The pair have spent years playing together at the Myrtle Beach Safari; Bubbles will jump into the water and throw a ball, and Bella will leap across her friend’s back to catch it. Recent reports suggest these animals are still enjoying life together and that Bubbles now weighs an incredible four tons!


6. Pumpkin the Raccoon and Her Dog Siblings 

Pumpkin the raccoon with dogs Toffee and Oreo
Image Source: Facebook


Pumpkin’s story may be less of a tale about interspecies friendships and more of a case of mistaken identity. In 2014, one-month-old Pumpkin fell from a tree in the Kemp family’s back garden. Abandoned and suffering from a broken leg, the family took her in. Almost immediately, she formed a bond with their rescue dogs, Toffee and Oreo, and the trio would often play, cuddle, and take naps together.


Growing up alongside her doggie brothers, Pumpkin learned how to behave like a canine and would even walk on a harness. Still, she did retain some of her wild antics, which could be utterly unpredictable and entertaining. 


Pumpkin sadly passed away in 2019, but you can still learn more about her story via her Instagram @pumpkintheraccoon or her book – “Pumpkin: The Racoon Who Thought She Was a Dog.”


7. Simon Cow-ell and Leonardo the Tortoise

Simon Cow ell and Leonardo the tortoise
Image Source: wttf.org


After losing part of his hind leg, Simon Cow(ell) was taken in by Thailand’s Wildlife Rescue Center. The center intended to house him with the other cows, but while recovering from his injury, they decided to give him an enclosure of his own. Here, he found Leonardo, who had been rescued three years earlier (in 2013). The pair quickly bonded and began to nuzzle and follow each other around. These adorable creatures now live together in the sanctuary, where they can spend as much time together as they like. 


8. J’aime the Rhino and Joey the Lamb

J aime the rhino and Joey the lamb best friends
Image Source: catersnews.com


Perhaps one of the most unlikely friendships on the list, J’aime the rhino and Joey the lamb bonded in South Africa’s rhino orphanage. The little lamb – rejected by his mother – was only a few days old when he met J’aime, but the pair became fast friends, enjoying daily walks and meals together.


9. A Lion, Tiger, and Bear Trio! 

Baloo the bear Shere Khan the tiger and Leo the lion
Image Source: Buzzfeed


Stories of animal friendships don’t come much more heartwarming than the tale of Baloo, Shere Khan, and Leo. All three suffered abuse at the hands of a drug dealer – Baloo even had surgery to remove an ingrown harness that his owner had never adjusted. Luckily, the three cubs were found during a police raid and transported to the Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary.


Over time, they became more comfortable in their surroundings and started to play together, cuddle, groom, and have fun. While many animals form friendships as cubs, the bond between Baloo, Shere Khan, and Leo grew stronger. These beautiful animals were allowed to live out their lives together and in comfort for 15 years.


Today, only Baloo remains. He misses his brothers but is never alone at the sanctuary and even had a 20th birthday party in 2021, complete with a cake and bubble bath.

Donna Hobson
byDonna Hobson

Donna believes that keeping a pet is the key to a happy life. Over the years, many creatures have passed through her home - Sooty the cat, Millie the rabbit, Stuart (Little) the guinea pig, and Trixie the tortoise, alongside her pet goldfish, Zippy, who lived to the grand old age of 24 years! She currently resides with her black kitten Jinx and an aquarium full of fish and snails to entrance them both. When she is not looking after her pets, Donna enjoys researching and writing the answers to all your pet-related wonders.