Reader’s Digest compiled a list of 12 stories that show animals at their most personal: practicing yoga, driving cars and comforting their closest friends. The stories include regular pets, such as cats and dogs, and animals as wild as a lion and marmots. Here are their stories:
· Lions Care About Their Hair – According to Peyton M. West, PhD, an evolution and animal behavior expert, female lions actively court males that are more heavily and lushly maned, especially at night, which is reserved for socializing and grooming. Of course, today such bald discrimination is frowned upon by men and women, but the big cats are content to be old-fashioned. When fights break out among members of the pride, lions with flowing tresses get preferential treatment.
· Whale Says Thanks – Each winter for nearly 20 years, Great Whale Conservancy co-director Michael Fishbach has traveled with other research scientists to the Sea of Cortez off Mexico’s west coast to study blue and humpback whales. In 2011, he and his team spotted a humpback whale trapped in a fishing net and spent an hour freeing it. Afterward, in an hour-long display of thanks, the whale swam near their boat and leaped into the air about 40 times.
· Pandas Like to Cavort – Is there anything cuter than a baby panda, except maybe a human baby? Even the word “panda” is cute. In fact, cubs sometimes behave like human babies: They sleep in the same positions and value their thumbs (pandas use theirs for holding the bamboo they munch on all day). Pandas have been known to wander inside mountain homes and get into the pots and pans. And although they grow into solitary adults who roam alone and mate just once a year, they also like to snuggle. If given the chance, they’ll sleep side by side with domestic animals.
· Bear Does Yoga – Santra, a female bear at Finland’s Ahtari Zoo, entertained visitors with a 15-minute “yoga” routine following a nap. Sitting upright, Santra used her front paws to grab her right back paw, then her left, stretching her legs as if doing a One-Legged Split. Next, she demonstrated the Open-Leg Seated Balance Pose with near-perfect form, pulling up both hind legs while keeping her balance.
· Horses Are Picky Eaters – Horses have an even keener sense of taste and smell than humans do, say equine scientists. When horses wrinkle their noses and flare their nostrils, they’re activating their vomeronasal organ, which allows them to sense smells we can’t detect. Horses also have taste buds on the back of their tongues and the roofs of their mouths, which might explain why they reject stale water and meticulously move around meadows, grazing on only the tastiest herbs, experts say.
· A Cat Honors Its Owner – A sprig of acacia, paper towels, and a plastic cup are just a few of the gifts that Toldo, a devoted three-year-old gray-and-white cat, has placed on his former owner Iozzelli Renzo’s grave in Montagnana, Italy, every day since the man died in September 2011. Renzo adopted Toldo from a shelter when the cat was three months old, and the two formed an inseparable bond. After Renzo passed away, Toldo followed the coffin to the cemetery, and now “stands guard” at the grave for hours at a time, says Renzo’s family.
· Pigeons Serve Their Country – Pigeons’ speed and navigational skills made them prized military messengers in World Wars I and II and the most decorated animals in military history. Thirty-two messenger pigeons have received the Dickin Medal, a British award that honors the gallantry or devotion of animals in war. At the moment, pigeons are resting on their laurels. They’ve fallen out of military favor and are no longer used — for now.
· Dogs Drive Cars – Three New Zealand dogs recently navigated a specially modified Mini Cooper around a racetrack at about 20 mph. (Engineers raised the gearshift and pedals and added handles to the steering wheel.) The stunt was an effort by the Auckland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to show off canine intelligence and boost adoptions from animal shelters. After months of practice, Monty, a giant schnauzer, Porter, a bearded collie mix, and Ginny, a bearded collie–whippet mix, followed trainers’ commands to put the car into gear, press the accelerator, and steer with their paws. Since a video of the test drive appeared online last December, all three dogs have been adopted.
· Monkeys Do Math – If capuchins ran the world, we might have avoided the recent banking crisis. In an experiment conducted at Yale, capuchins demonstrated an understanding of pricing and budgeting, as well as a desire to avoid losses when required to buy food with tokens.
· Cat Guides Blind Dog – After Terfel, an 8 year-old chocolate Labrador retriever in North Wales, U.K., developed cataracts last year, he began to bump into walls and furniture. Soon enough, the once energetic dog was spending most of his time in his dog bed, unable to find his way around. On a whim, Terfel’s owner Judy Godfrey-Brown let a stray cat, whom she named Pwditat (pronounced Puddy-tat), into her home. The feline made a beeline for the blind dog and began using its paws and head to herd Terfel into the garden. Now the unlikely friends sleep together, and Pwditat helps Terfel find his way everywhere.
· Camel Eats Breakfast with People – The first time Joe dined with British farmers Nathan and Charlotte Anderson-Dixon, he was uninvited. The four-year-old Bactrian camel stuck his head through their open kitchen window in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, and proceeded to empty the contents of a fruit bowl. Now the couple, who rent out reindeer, camels, goats, and other creatures for television shows, movies, and photo shoots, set a place at their table for the assertive double-humped creature, where he munches on cereal and his favorite: bananas on toast.
· Marmots Befriend a Boy – A colony of marmots in the Austrian Alps has embraced eight-year-old Matteo Walch, whose family vacations there in summer. The Alpine marmots are the largest of their species, sometimes reaching 15 pounds. Typically, they beat their tails, chatter, and whistle to warn other marmots of danger, but with Matteo, they behave much differently, allowing the boy to feed, pet, and even touch noses with them.