Goats have lots of unusual friends.
There’s the goat and the hippo.
And the goat and the giraffe.
I’ve done research on relationships between animals of different species, and goats are often in the mix. So perhaps the time has come to ask: Why are goats stepping out with all kinds of other critters?
Maybe goats just make good friends, so other animals are happy to hang out with them. They certainly have many of the key traits we all look for in a BFF.
On the farm, goats are loyal — to each other, at least. Researchers have observed evidence of real friendship between goats. “The data seems quite strong,” said Elodie Briefer, a behavioral biologist at the Institute of Agricultural Sciences in Zurich, in an email. “Two social affiliates, so ‘friends,’ can be observed for almost the whole day side by side.”
Whether that applies to cross-species buddies isn’t known, she said, though anecdotal evidence suggests so. For instance, in Unlikely Friendships, I reported on a hippo at a South African wildlife reserve who seemed lonely, so the staff offered him a buddy, a pygmy goat. The two became inseparable. And in Unlikely Loves, I wrote about a very shy giraffe who shared his pen with a goat. The latter became not just a constant companion but a wingman — getting the female giraffe’s attention and then “handing her off” to his buddy. At least that’s how it appeared to the keepers.
Goats are emotional, too — and everyone likes a friend who’s in touch with his or her feelings. Studies have shown that farm animals, including goats, are often sensitive to the moods (good and bad) and stress levels of others. And goats put those feelings out there by tilting ears forward, holding tails up and sounding off a lot when feeling sunny.
Goats are also smart. Just take a look at this study: “Goats excel at learning and remembering a highly novel cognitive task” (which involved going through many steps to get some grub).
Like elephants, they don’t forget. Even after 10 months, they remembered the steps that led to a meal. They also recall their kids’ calls long after weaning. And we all want our friends to remember our birthday, or at least to recognize our voice.
Interestingly, despite strong bonds to the herd, goats aren’t “social learners.” That means they are pretty independent when it comes to problem solving, Briefer said. Maybe it’s inefficient not to learn from your peers, but let’s stretch and call that a good trait in a friend: No one likes a copycat.
And don’t forget, goats are acrobatic clowns, happy to leap up on things (e.g., resting hippos) in a comical way. It must be fun to hang with a goat on a Saturday.
It doesn’t hurt that goats are cute, with those little beards. And they’re not too big to be cuddled (if they’re not in a hoof-kicking or head-butting mood). So maybe that’s why humans (and superhuman supermodels) are attracted to them.
No wonder Chrissy went with a goat for her photo shoot! Or maybe the cow refused to say “cheese.”