Can animals be kind?

Animals often make selfish decisions to survive, but there are good deeds throughout the animal kingdom

Kindness in animals is something that has been debated for a long time, and the argument isn’t likely to be settled any time soon. ‘Altruism’ is used to describe behaviour that decreases the fitness of an individual but benefits another. While this isn’t uncommon, there are often ulterior motives when animals act kindly towards another.

Animals are most likely to behave altruistically when they stand to reap the benefits in the future. This is most common with kin, because keeping relatives alive or allowing them to produce offspring continues the family genes into the next generation. Another motive for lending a hand is one common in our own species – expecting to receive something back in return.

While altruism can often be explained by animals playing the long game and secretly behaving in their own interest, there are examples of animal behaviour that really do seem genuinely kind. We may never know the true thought processes behind these actions, but, in a world of ruthlessness and selfish survival instincts, the stories are heart warming.


Humpback whales come to the rescue

Female humpback whales will defend their calves from attackers, but they’ll also protect other calves in the pod. This system of reciprocity makes sense; if every adult in the group looks out for every calf, each mother stands a better chance of keeping her offspring safe.

What has baffled researchers is the fact that there have been multiple reports of humpback whales intervening when other species are being attacked by orcas. They seemingly stand to gain little from putting themselves in harm’s way to help these animals, so altruism can’t yet be ruled out as a motive.


Vampire bats share food with friends

Vampire bats feed on the blood of other mammals, earning them a bad reputation. While it’s true they’re not particularly kind to their victims, these bats do look after each other. On returning to their cave, successful females will regurgitate some of their blood meal and share it with roost-mates that were unlucky on that night’s hunt.

Vampire bats will starve if they go more than a couple of nights without food, so the females keep each other alive. It’s not entirely selfless though; bats are much more likely to give blood to those that have shared meals with them in the past.


Desert spiders make the ultimate sacrifice

Many mothers are devoted to the care of their offspring, but the female desert spider really gives her all. As her eggs develop, her abdominal tissue begins to break down, so by the time the spiderlings hatch she’s got a supply of nutritious liquid in her gut ready to regurgitate for their first slushy meal.

Aſter two weeks, regurgitated meals cease to satisfy the young spiders. They attack their mother, pierce her abdomen and suck out everything leſt inside. This sacrifice seems extreme, but it allows the female to give her offspring the best possible start to life in a challenging and arid habitat.


For more animal acts of kindness, pick up the latest issue of World of Animals!