The cute illustration of elephants (above) was created by Serge Bloch to accompany an article in the New York Times by Natalie Angier about the importance of "The Spirit of Sisterhood." Her article, which appeared last month, addressed the fact that "...female friendship is one of nature's preferred narrative tools." Some of the examples mentioned include:
- Female chacma baboons with strong sororal bonds have lower levels of stress hormones, live significantly longer, and rear more offspring to independence than their less socialized peers.
- Among wild horses, mares with female friends are harassed less often by stallions and have more foals that survive than mares with no social ties.
- Female mice who get to choose a friend to be their nesting partner bear more "pups" than those who must share space with a mouse they dislike.
- Female elephants use rumbles (low-pitched vocalizations) to keep in touch with their friends.
- Female baboons with a small but devoted number of grooming companions develop fewer stress hormone (cortisol) spikes than females with more (but less intense) friendships. Three is the ideal "buddy count," according to Joan B. Silk, a UCLA Primatologist.
- Lionesses who are friends suckle each other's cubs.
- Female spotted hyenas who are friends greet each other through elaborate "trust ceremonies" that involve exposing their genitals.
- Female blue monkeys in Kenya physically injure their enemies during disputes, but then groom each other to decompress and bond.
- Female chimpanzees cultivate friendships and express affection by staying within eye contact as they forage for food by day, and rest back-to-back while they relax at home. According to Dr. Julia Lehmann (of London's Roehampton University) these female friendships often last until one member of the (bonded) pair dies.
- Female baboons are connected due to biochemistry and predictability because their friendships buffer them against the things that they have no control over--like the huge, nasty male baboons, the hungry leopards, and the scarcity of food.
- Female elephants often touch trunks, share food, play lifeguard for the day, and have even been known to rescue a friend's calf from a dangerous situation when needed.
Angier writes that long-lasting female friendships (throughout nature) turn out to be "the basic unit of social life, the force that not only binds existing groups together, but explains why the animals' ancestors bothered going herd in the first place."