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A goat saves a chicken and goes viral: social animals are popular

Seychelles reed warblers save each other when they get entangled in the sticky seeds of a tree. Long-tailed tits warn each other about enemies and help each other with the education of the young. Crows rescue each other from a piece of plastic wrapping around their legs. Birds of prey are less social, they mostly live alone.

Which animals are social and which are not? And are they doing it for themselves or really to help the other? You will hear the answers to these questions in the latest episode of the podcast Early Birds and Other Animals. Our guest is Martijn Hammers, teacher at Aeres University of Applied Sciences, behavioral biologist and researcher into the social behavior of birds. Leen Dresen, cultural historian, will also be present. She has conducted research into wildlife journalism between 1850 and 1915, including stories about helpful birds.

For yourself or for the other?

“It is the eternal debate whether altruistic behavior really exists or not. Unfortunately, most social campaigns are for personal gain,” says Martijn Hammers. “Other animals benefit too, but it usually won’t be at the expense of the helper.”

According to Martijn, there are two possible explanations for the video with the hawk, the chicken and the goat: “Number one is that the goat chases the hawk to protect itself and coincidentally the goat also saves the chicken. Number two is that the chicken and goat have been together in the pasture for so long that they feel like ‘family’ and they want to protect each other.”

Popularity

Stories about animals helping each other were also very popular around 1900. Leen Dresen has researched these kinds of stories. “At that time, people still had to get used to Darwin’s theory of evolution. That theory made nature suddenly seem very hard. Stories about animals that help each other show the other side: nature is also cooperation and love,” says Leen.

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Now you see again that these kinds of stories are popular, especially videos or photos go viral. Martijn Hammers notices this too: “My research on animals that help each other in particular gets a lot of attention. People like to see it.”

Want to know everything about social animals? Listen to the latest episode of the Early Birds and Other Animals podcast. Every Friday you can listen to the new episode in your favorite podcast app.

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