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Two Unlikely Friends
By: Brenda, Director of Education and Volunteers, Audubon Zoo
This is the story of two very unusual friends. “Pippa” the chicken and “Ralphie” the guinea pig. Ralphie and Pippa are education animals at the Audubon Zoo. Their job is to teach children compassion, life science lessons and give students and staff an opportunity to connect with nature on a daily basis.
“Pippa” the chicken was raised with and spent her days with her sister “Kate”. Kate passed away recently and Pippa was moved into the education offices where Ralphie lives. Ralphie is a bachelor guinea pig that was rescued from a family that could no longer properly care for him. He has been part of the education staff office for several years and is very vocal in his guinea pig squealing for fresh vegetable treats.
Every morning as part of their animal enrichment time* Pippa and Ralphie are placed outside to enjoy the sun and grass and given space to move freely. Staff started to notice that Pippa would stay in very close proximity to Ralphie while having free range. As Pippa ate grass and moved around Ralphie’s enclosure Ralphie would move to be as close to Pippa as he could. We noticed a bond between these two members of different non-human species. These two animals actually seemed to want to be near each other.
We started to make sure that they were near each other on a regular basis. Pippa would vocalize with low sounding clucking and Ralphie would tilt his head and stop his grazing. On occasion the roaming zoo peacocks would venture into the education lawn and Pippa would start clucking in warning and start circling Ralphie’s cage. It was clear Pippa, the chicken, did not want peacocks near her friend Ralphie. She didn’t want them in her territory at all.
Did Pippa bond with Ralphie after the loss of her pen mate and sibling because she was lonely? Is Ralphie just curious about the two legged, feathered creature that grazes beside him? We won’t really ever know. It’s only clear that for now these two social animals have found a strange kinship and they continue to teach all of us lessons about the very special traits of animals and the wonders of nature.
*(Enrichment can be defined as: “…a process for improving or enhancing animal environments and care within the context of their inhabitants’ behavioral biology and natural history. It is a dynamic process in which changes to structures and husbandry practices are made with the goal of increasing behavioral choices available to animals and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors and abilities, thus enhancing animal welfare(AZA/BAG 1999).