When it comes to cross-species love, the ancient Greeks were way out ahead a long time ago. The title image of Géricault’s “Leda and the Swan” offers one possibility. To remind you: Zeus transformed himself into a swan and seduced Leda. Well, sure. Gods can do that. Or Zeus anyway. He became a cuckoo when he ravished Hera and a bull when he carried off Europa.
The ancient Greeks also imagined half-man/half-horse centaurs. They must have had some idea of the process by which such creatures came into existence.
And fairy-tale princesses have been known to kiss frogs. Of course, they’re hoping a handsome prince slumbers beneath the warts. Disney didn’t shy away from the smooch.
I acknowledge the gap between Disney’s representation of a kiss and the full-on eroticism of the Leda image. And that’s the point. Cross-species relationships can span the distance from friendship to zoophilia.
What are the possibilities?
Cross-Species Love: Bob and Amy the Elephant
Bob Norris was a rancher – and the original Marlboro Man. A young elephant, Amy, whose family had all been killed in Africa, turned up on his ranch one day. An animal trainer had come by, wanting to rent a few stalls from Norris until the trainer could sell his animals. Over the next few months, Norris ended up taking a shine to Amy and then bought her.
Orphaned and abused, Amy responded to Norris’s patient and diligent efforts to nurse her back to physical and psychological health.
The two became fast friends. That is, until Amy literally outgrew the ranch facilities, weighing in at 2000 pounds and standing five feet tall – and still growing.
Although it broke his heart, Norris sold his beloved Amy to another well-known animal trainer. Some years later, he went to one of Amy’s performances. He was seated in the audience. When she first came into the tent, she sensed him and went directly to him and laid her head in his lap. The description of that moment is completely touching.
I loved this story of friendship.
Cross-Species Love: Irene and Alex the Parrot
Irene Pepperberg is a scientist noted for her work in animal cognition and particularly her studies of Alex, a grey parrot.
Parrots are well-known for their gift of mimicry. However, Irene was able to teach Alex enough language to convince skeptics that Alex was not merely mimicking her speech, he was actually talking.
Don’t believe me? Watch:
Alex died unexpectedly in 2007. He had been healthy the day before and showed no signs of distress. The autopsy also revealed nothing. He was 31. His loss was all the more tragic since parrots can live into their 60s, and Alex was still learning. Irene and her team mourned him.
This is a remarkable story of cross-species collaboration and collegiality.
Cross-Species Love: Margaret and Peter the Dolphin
Now things take a turn for the weird, that is to say, sexual.
In 2014 the BBC debuted the documentary, The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins. The girl in question is Margaret Howe Lovatt, and the dolphin is Peter. The documentary is about a NASA dolphin experiment from the 1960s. Like Irene and Alex, the NASA experiment was designed to teach dolphins language. Unlike Irene and Alex, Margaret became more to Peter than a colleague. When the experiment lost its funding and Peter was separated from Margaret, he essentially died of a broken heart.
Read all about it in The Atlantic: How a Science Experiment Led to Sexual Encounter Between a Woman and a Dolphin
So, clearly a tragedy here. And another lesson humans need to learn when reaching out to make connections with other species: Think about when and how the experiment will end. And what will happen to the animals you’ve been working with.
Above all: animals have feelings.
Cross-Species Love and Romance Writing?
We’re in the age of genre-mashing. Decades ago romance was romance, science fiction was science fiction, and murder-mystery was murder-mystery. Now there’s no problem was a sci-fi romance murder-mystery.
So why not species mashing? Of course, while taking all due care with the species’ feelings. Some science fiction and fantasy novels already depict cross-creature hanky-panky.
Am I ready for a cross-species Romance mash? I almost got there in Buy Me Love, a British police procedural crossed with werewolf story – a genre mash, sure. However, the only sex the hero and heroine had was when the heroine was in her human form, not her werewolf form.
What I’ve learned? If I do go the cross-species erotic route, I will consider Margaret and Peter a cautionary tale.
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen