Greater Love Hath No Man . . .

Greater Love Hath No Man . . .

The male and female coyote live in an enviably harmonious family relationship. They hunt together, share the care and feeding of the pups, doze on a sunny hillside, and sing duets to the moon. They are most cooperative on the hunt.

Since rabbits can outrun coyotes, the latter often hunt in relays. One chases the rabbit toward a specific place, where out pops its partner to chase the rabbit in a new direction. Zigzagging at a leisurely pace, resting to regain its wind, the first coyote cuts in again. This continues until the rabbit is exhausted and easily caught.

The lifetime commitment in the coyotes' relationship is so compulsive that they may even choose to die together. If one coyote is caught in a trap, its mate will frequently join and attend to it, bringing it rabbits, squirrels, and other small animals to sustain it. The free mate will even soak in a nearby stream and lie next to the captive so that the trapped mate can chew on the wet fur to relieve its thirst. Some trappers take ruthless advantage of this loyalty and will leave the trapped coyote alive to attract its distraught mate. Unfortunately this stratagem works all too often.

The suffering of the trapped coyote is difficult to imagine, since the traps used are steel—jawed leg—hold devices that crush the animal's bones. In many instance animals caught in such a trap have been known to gnaw off the entrapped limb to escape. They frequently die anyway, from either shock or blood loss.

Family loyalty to a trapped animal is definitely not restricted to the coyote. One documented case recounts an Alaskan lynx that was caught in such a trap for almost six weeks while members of its family continued to feed it. When the trapper finally showed up to put the trapped animal out of its misery, he was able to include several of the attending relatives in his bounty.

Sperm whales are another group of animals with strong family ties. As parents they are particularly conscientious. A sick or wounded calf may be held above water until it recovers or die. As long as a flicker of life remains in the young whale's body, it will not be abandoned.

A harpooned female sperm whale is often supported by the male, who will remain with her even though he himself is in danger of being killed. Whalers from early times through most of the twentieth century have been aware of this family loyalty, and it has been a significant factor in reducing the sperm whale population.

What passes through the mind of the person who can fire in spite of the vision of a huge, grieving sea mammal trying to sustain the life of its mate? Perhaps the gunner asks for mercy as he fires his harpoon gun.

Animal loyalty is also common among several of the feline carnivores; even the solitary leopard at times displays devotion. A hunter in East Africa put out some poisoned bait to exterminate a leopard that had taken to killing cattle. Unfortunately the poison was most effective; the next morning he found a female leopard lying dead across the bait. She was not alone; her mate was beside her, quite alive, with his head lying across her body in a caressing manner. He would let no one near, and nothing the hunter could do would induce the male to leave his dead mate. It almost seemed merciful when he was finally shot.

An unselfish act of mercy has been detected in an unlikely species — the vampire bat. With blood as its only food, it must drink half of its body weight nightly. To do this it must land on a mammal, find blood vessels near the surface, shave away the skin, lace the wound with anticoagulant saliva, and drink for about 20 minutes. Many of the younger bats in a female colony are unsuccessful, but routinely some of the bats with a full stomach will come to their rescue and regurgitate life—saving blood for a starving companion. The only benefit for the blood—donor bar is that someday, in its own time of need, the act of mercy may be returned.

Occasionally animals are able to rescue their fellow creatures without their loyalty ending in a double tragedy. In a recorded incident just off the coast of southern Florida a group of fisherman were being entertained by the frolicking of three large porpoises. The sea mammals seemed to know that they had captivated a human audience. They swam around and around the boat, frequently leaping high into the air as porpoises typically do when following a boat or at play.

A large coral reef grew nearby, a fact that one of the sea creatures seemed to have forgotten. This porpoise, carried away by the increasing intensity of its play, swam headlong, and at great speed, into the solid reef. It must have hit its head violently, for it was rendered unconscious and began to sink. Surely the porpoise would have drowned had it not been for the rescue efforts of its two buddies. As they realized their companion was injured, they quickly positioned themselves on either side of the unconscious porpoise. Together they buoyed it up so that its blowhole was always above the surface of the water, enabling it to breathe.

The fishermen who witnessed the event continued to watch an even more amazing incident as the porpoises held their unconscious companion above the water for at least fifteen minutes. They all began to cheer when it was evident that the injured porpoise was regaining consciousness. Some insisted that, when it began to move, the rescuing sea mammals swished it through the water as if to hurry its return to the living with only a porpoise—sized headache.

From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth