Stories of unusual inter-species friendships are certainly not rare in the animal kingdom, but what if such a relationship takes on the hierarchical pet-owner dynamic? Monkeys, especially, seem to have a real affinity for feline friends. We’ve found some amazing images of macaques, gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees that were rather fond of cats they seemed to take on as companions for their own pleasure. The cats, in turn, had nothing against the special attention.
In this photo, the chimpanzee cradles the tiger cub like a doll. The little tiger seems to enjoy it and is nuzzling the chimpanzee’s neck. Surprisingly, the adoption didn’t happen in a zoo setting, but in the wild (more on this story later in the post).
Here, we witness what seems to be a moment of sheer bliss between this unlikely pair – if the cat’s closed eyes are anything to go by. While the macaque is busy eating what looks like a juicy fruit, the cat’s head is nestled comfortably on the monkey’s cradling arm. Aww!
As we will see, friendships between macaques and cats occur quite frequently. Macaques are known for their complex social structures and hierarchies – but what's less known is that this seems to occasionally include keeping a pet as well.
Here we have another amazing display of affection, with the macaque spooning the ginger cat. It makes us wonder which has the pet role in this case! Photographer Erika Tanith explained the Malaysian street encounter: "It was quite cute… He hugged it, petted it, stroked it and tried to be its friend until the monkey's owner tempted him with a bit of cucumber and took the kitten away while his guard was down." Aww!
These 'stray' encounters seem to happen frequently on the streets (and in the wilds) of Thailand, India, Indonesia and other South East Asian countries that are home to the macaque. Here, one of the cheeky monkeys is hugging a stray cat on the shady part of a street. Though not all cats are known for spontaneously liking strangers, this one is comfortably nestled in the monkey’s arms.
Cats are solitary hunters that do not rely on a social survival strategy, but they will live in colonies with each other – and teaming up with monkeys sure works, as both species engage in an activity called social grooming. According to the old motto “you scratch my back, I scratch yours,” body maintenance like licking, scratching and delousing is a great way for animals to relax and bond with each other – even if they belong to different species.
Another way of looking at the cat-monkey- relationship is that it’s just an extension of that which exists between cats and humans – a “symbiotic social adaptation" whereby cats show affection towards their companions in exchange for the same (plus a little extra!) in return.
Some cats can even be coaxed into a sitting position, making it look as if the monkey is cradling the cat. This monkey’s arm around the cat’s neck and its head resting on the cat’s make for an adorable sight!
In this image, we can see a group of four particularly well kempt Balinese long-tailed macaques extending their grooming skills to a street cat – which certainly seems to be enjoying the attention. Photographer Jack Cranley, who was passing by this pleasant scene, made the following observation: “These monkeys in Bali had somehow gotten ahold of a stray kitten and were grooming it as one of their own!” One of their own or a pet they just couldn't help stroking? We’re curious as to how long the unusual friendship lasted.
Here’s another example of a macaque closely inspecting a cat’s fur. The white cat, meanwhile, is coolly nestled on the monkey’s lap, perhaps keeping an eye out for mice or the like.
Cases of one animal keeping another as a pet usually occur among animals that are kept in captivity, but as we’ve seen with macaques, maybe this rule also extends to other animals that are simply used to being around humans. Keeping a pet – that is, an animal from another species – is generally considered a luxury and, who knows, might elevate the animal’s social status among its peer group. As we’re seeing, it can be observed quite often amongst monkeys and apes, which are known for their intelligence and intricate social structures and hierarchies.
The desire for company can also be a reason for keeping a pet or companion. This orangutan apparently lost his mate before this picture was taken. Orangutans are known for living relatively solitary yet also social lifestyles – and this one here must have been looking for a bit of affection. With the relaxed manner in which it’s lying in the grass and the way the cat is licking its hand, it looks like a very comfortable arrangement indeed.
Monkeys and other apes don’t just stick to domestic cats when looking for a pet; tigers, the largest cat species, also appear to be attractive to them as companions or pets. Well, young tigers, we should specify; with grown ones, the logistics might just get a tad difficult. In this astonishing case from South Africa, two tiger cubs that had just lost their mother appealed to this chimpanzee’s maternal or pet-keeping instincts. In this image, the surrogate mother appears as though she’s almost whispering comforting words to the little tiger cub.
Last but not least, there is the curious case of Koko, a female gorilla from the San Francisco Zoo who became famous for her ability to understand and use sign language. Over the years, she has had various kittens as companions – some more as babies, others as pets. As we can see in this image, Koko gets very attached to them and likes to hug and hold them tight.
Monkeys and apes, our closest relatives, show the need for companionship in times of loss or loneliness just like we do, or may just keep a pet because it is the “in” thing to do in their peer group. Cats, with their solitary nature, are independent enough to take care of their own, yet they are social enough to enjoy the affection. Their preference for extensive grooming and almost regal demeanor makes them the perfect candidates for being spoiled as pets. A win-win situation for both sides!