Cartoons notwithstanding, we are generally raised with the knowledge that animals kill one another. The process is messy, but it's all a part of an intricate balance; the death of one creature provides life for another.
But just sometimes, vicious carnivores of the world take an appraising look at centuries of biological necessity, then turn their back on it and say, "Screw that noise, let's be friends."
Hamsters, like most rodents, are the meal of choice for many snakes. So much so, in fact, that escaped snakes have been caught in hamster cages because their freshly gained hamster-shaped belly lump prevented them from slithering back out between the bars. Snakes are so intoxicated by the mere thought of sweet hamster cutlets that they will happily ignore their surroundings and neglect their personal freedom just to fill their bellies.
Aochan is a Japanese rat snake held at a Tokyo zoo. As the name suggests, these particular snakes are even more prone to rodent-related shenanigans than most. In that capacity, they are used by some farmers as a form of pest control because, hey, not everyone is a cat person. So it was a bit of a surprise when Aochan flat out refused to eat the frozen mice commonly fed to captive snakes. The zoo staff scratched their heads at this surprising turn of events, until one of them had a revelation: Of course, the snake wants fresh meat!
So they took a female dwarf hamster, dropped her into Aochan's cage and waited for nature to take its course. But instead of the usual panicked squeak-gulp-burp course of events, the hamster was totally cool with the yard-long hamster-eating snake whose home it had been dropped into. It padded straight to Aochan, who watched with interest. Then it climbed onto his back, curled happily into a ball and went to sleep.
Then pulled the blanket over his head and gave him a Dutch Oven.
Did Aochan fly into a mindless rage, seeing his pride as a rat snake being torn to shreds by this overtly friendly furball? Nope, he was totally OK with it, and they have been best friends ever since.
We feel it's worth noting that Aochan wasn't just a random snake that likes to eat rodents. During this first meeting, he was a starving snake that hadn't eaten for weeks. The situation was, from a biological standpoint, not unlike offering a five-course meal to a starving man, only to watch him turn it down because he wanted to hang out with the potatoes. There wasn't anything biologically wrong with Aochan either -- when it became apparent that he wasn't going to eat the hamster, the zoo staff gingerly tried again with frozen mice, and he gulped them down no problem.
He was literally starving, sure. But more importantly, he was starved for friendship.
There's no viable explanation for the relationship of the snake and the hamster. The hamster just happens to be OK with snakes, and Aochan responds in turn. The snake really, really seems to like having the hamster around, despite the zookeepers' passive aggressive efforts to get the critter eaten (they named the hamster Gohan, which basically means "meal").
Some of you may have seen the email forward containing this picture.
If you suffer from cuteness epilepsy, avert your eyes to avoid adoraseizures.
Yes, that's a tiger, with five piglets that are for some reason wearing tiny tiger costumes.
The dubious attached story usually describes a tigress in California who lost her cubs from complications during labor. The tigress unsurprisingly fell into a depression, and panicked doctors suggested dressing up newborn piglets in tiger-striped jackets with the hope that the tigress wouldn't notice the difference. Somehow, it worked (according to the legend, anyway), and a heartwarming email forward was born.
Complete with humiliating bows that make the pigs look like male strippers.
Now, there are exactly two possible reactions to this story: either a quiet, teary smile right before forwarding the story to all your relatives, or a high-pitched, nasal cry of "fake!" before rushing online to find evidence of Photoshopping. Both reactions are valid, but the conspiracy theorist can squint at the pixels all he can: While the above story is, in fact, complete and utter manure, the images themselves are 100 percent authentic.
The photos were actually taken at Srirachi Tiger Zoo in Chonburi, Thailand. Srirachi is a peculiar instutute that follows a practice of, we kid you not, switching the newborns of different species during nursing periods. In fact, the mother tigress from the pictures was herself nursed by a mother pig until she was four months old.
It works, too -- they say that even if the staff removed the tiger jackets (which appear to be there for our sake), the tiger mother would still recognize its "children" and continue treating the piglets as her own young. The end result is that the animals are more docile toward not only each other, but also staff and visitors somehow.
It thinks it's people!
It's not just a tiger/pig deal, either: The tigress has at least one similar thing going on with a dog that resides in the zoo. And since Srirachi also houses camels, elephants, snakes and other exotic animals, we can't help but wonder what other arrangements are going on in its cages. We guess they're not the stuff of adorable email forwards, though.
In December 2001, staff at Kenya's Samburu Game Reserve were astonished, and slightly confused, when they came across an adult lioness walking through the plains with a baby oryx. This was a surprising turn of events, because oryx are antelopes and the very game of choice for large African cats -- they're smaller than other species of antelope and fairly easy kills, yet just large enough to make a full meal.
Oryx. The sorta white meat.
To make things even more baffling, the lioness (nicknamed "Larsens" by the reserve staff for some reason) originally frightened off the young oryx's mother, who pissed off just as promptly as an antelope chased by a lion should. But instead of chasing the mother for a kill or even snacking the terrified calf as an easy meal, Larsens decided to flip logic the bird and raise the little oryx as her own cub.
Keep in mind, it makes sense from the young oryx's situation -- having a lioness as a mom isn't just badass, it's also a sound protection strategy. The African wilderness is a difficult place to survive even when you're not a newborn, and having Larsens around automatically made it the winner of every "my parent could beat up your parent" argument in the playground. But nobody could ever quite figure out what the lion got out of the arrangement, other than raised eyebrows at parent-teacher meetings.
But whatever she was in it for, Larsens treated the oryx no differently than any lioness would her cub. She even put herself at risk to protect the little guy from other predators. Several times. One of said predators being a goddamn leopard.
And not the one-armed-drummer kind.
The only thing Larsens couldn't do, by the way, was nurse the oryx properly. Remember this -- it will be important later.
Sadly, not all lions were as understanding as Larsens. One afternoon, while she was having a nap, a male lion happened upon them and decided that, hey, if she's not eating, he'll just help himself. Larsens woke up to the horrifying sight of her slain oryx-child. The damage had been done, so there was no point in fighting the male lion, but rest assured she roared at him so much that he damn well stayed roared.
Larsens then mournfully wandered off into the African plains in a tragic anti-Disney ending, having learned a tragic lesson about the nature of life in the wild.
Ha, just kidding! She totally showed up again two months later with another baby oryx in tow. When wardens took the second oryx into their care, she just went and found a third. And this time, having figured out the nursing thing, Larsens allowed the original mother brief visits for feeding, thus handily solving the nutritional concerns.
The wardens just sort of gave up forcing Larsens to conform after that, so we're forced to assume she now wanders the Kenya plains with a whole pride of oryxes in tow, just daring anyone to mess with her crew.
"Yeah, just keep walking, bitch."