At the Pairi Daiza Zoo in Belgium, a small family of orangutans has befriended a group of Asian small-clawed otters that swim through the river snaking throughout the zoo’s orangutan enclosure—and photographs taken of the budding friendship between the two unlikely species is absolutely adorable.
Pairi Daiza Zoo spokesperson Mathieu Goedefroy explained in an interview with CNN that the orangutans have to be kept entertained and challenged at all times, and part of the zoo’s program to ensure that happens involves permitting the otters to swim through the enclosure’s waterway.
They “must be entertained, occupied, challenged and kept busy mentally, emotionally and physically at all times,” said Goedefroy. That means allowing the orangutans to socially interact not just with one another but with other species—which in this case means the tiny furry otters.
But while the two starkly different species of animals could simply coexist, though, the otters and the orangutans have clearly decided to become fast friends.
“The otters really enjoy getting out of the water on the orangutan island to go and play with their big, furry friends,” explained Goedefroy.
The photos taken of the otter-orangutan relationship depict the orangutan family of three—24-year-old father Ujian, 15-year-old mother Sari, and 3-year-old son Berani—chattering and playing with the otters, which gather around the primates excitedly for what looks like a wholesome hello. The otters seem happy to scamper up to their much larger mammal friends, while the orangutans look clearly delighted that they’ve discovered so many other creatures to interact with during the day.
“It makes life more fun and interesting for both animal species, which makes it a very successful experiment,” he said.
Son Berani and dad Ujian, he said, have “developed a very special bond with their neighbors.”
The orangutans are also kept entertained with things like games and puzzles in the zoo, all designed to help mentally stimulate and enrich their development.
Orangutans have seen a drastic decline in their population numbers in the last century largely in part due to the destruction of their habitats for the palm oil industry. Palm oil, which is used in everything from shampoos and lipsticks to baking cookies, has become such a big-ticket item to farm that there has been massive deforestation at the hands of plantation owners in the areas native to orangutans in order to plant more palm oil plants.
Because of this, many orangutans kept in captivity are carefully tended in order for conservationists to promote the growth of their species.