In my blog post of 17th March I said something about love towards people have towards animals. But it is also interesting to consider that animals, at least higher animals, are not just recipients of love, but that they can express towards humans and in ways that humans can sense. And gratitude, helpfulness and warn familiarity. Occasionally we read in the papers stories of dogs that saved their owners in some way, of cats that alerted their owners of fires in the house, or even of dolphins who saved or tried to save floundering swimmers. I know from personal experience that there is some basis to stories about relationships between people and wild animals.
Once I stayed for a few months in a Sri Lankan forest hermitage, the abbot of which was a noticeably kind and sage old man. Every day after breakfast he would go to a certain nearby tree and feed several dandu lena, a type of large squirrel. These animals would always come to meet the abbot, climb all over him, snuggle under his neck or in his robe and act in other clearly affectionate ways. That the squirrels’ fondness for the old abbot went beyond the food he gave them was demonstrated by the fact that for several weeks after he died, they would come when the other monks tried to feed them but take no food from them nor climb onto them. It looked very much like they felt a sense of loss at their friend’s absence.
Next to the leopard the most feared creature in the Sri Lankan jungle is the bear, a creature notorious for attacking without provocation. Once I visited the hermitage of a group of nuns, where the smiling abbess invited me into their small refectory, offered me a seat and then went into the kitchen to get me some water. As soon as she disappeared, I heard her sternly rebuking someone. Her tone contrasted so much with its benign gentleness of just moments before that I got up and peeped around the corner to see what the trouble was. There was the abbess wagging her finger at a huge bear. “I have told you before that you are not allowed to come in here,” she said in mock anger. “Now go home and come again after lunch.” She sternly pointed to the kitchen’s back door and the huge animal lumbered out and disappeared into the forest. When the abbess brought my water, I asked her about the bear. She told me the bear had been the nuns’ friend for several years and even came to show them her cubs when she had them. She occasionally raided the kitchen but this was more than compensated for by the fact that the woodsmen who used to lurk in the forest around the hermitage, and steal from it, stopped doing so. They were too frightened of the bear.