Allegiances

Tanja Askani chronicles animal relationships, particularly among wolves. Askani’s series of photographs of a friendship between a deer and a game rabbit have been widely circulated, and are rather sweet. As humans, we have a tendency to anthropomorphize animals and the relationships they have with each other, especially thanks to children’s books and films that give animals very human emotions.

The story of the deer and the bunny is fairly simple: when the deer was a faun, its mother was killed by a car. Various citizens thought that the faun should be saved, if possible, and gave it a sheltered place to live along with sustenance. The bunny took advantage of the situation, at first simply grazing near the faun in safety, and later establishing a friendship with the young deer. The two started to sleep together, eat together, and take turns keeping watch for external threats. Eventually, the deer grew to adulthood and it was relocated to a game park so that it could have social relationships with other deer (and possibly provide gun fodder as well?) The friendship ended here, although Askani points out that the rabbit snuggled with the deer after it was anesthetized for relocation, “as if saying goodbye.”

Speculation on the relationship between the two animals has run the gamut. Personally, I suspect that it was an allegiance of convenience: two animals traditionally used for game pooling their resources so that they could have longer, safer lives. The deer was given a chance to grow up in a sheltered and safe environment, and the rabbit seized the opportunity.

I do wonder what happened to the rabbit, though, after the deer was taken away. Did the rabbit remain? Wander off somewhere else? Find other rabbits to live with? Other deer? Pine away in misery? Get captured and eaten by someone or something?

These photographs capture brief and interesting moments in time, but they make me wonder about the rest of the story. Askani’s photography archive includes amazing photographs of other animals in natural habitats, including eagles and owls, as well as other photo essays on animal relationships. I particularly like the set of the fox and the hound—the young fox is rather cute. In addition to being technically accomplished photographs with beautiful composition, they also tell interesting and compelling stories about the natural world around us.

I think that in our tendency to humanize animals, we do them a little bit of a disservice. Animals clearly have complex thoughts and emotions, as anyone who has interacted with them knows. But these thoughts and emotions are motivated by different things than our human feelings, because we are such different species. I think it is difficult for us to understand each other sometimes because of the huge gulf between us. Either way, we can appreciate the allegiance that the two animals formed, whether one stemming from friendship, fear, or convenience. And we can continue to be intrigued by cross-species relationships, which occur far more often than we might think.