To celebrate Valentines Day, we want to share a collection of adorable (and unlikely) animal encounters captured on our volunteer projects in Africa.

1. The Cheetah and the Armored Cricket

Captured by our in-house professional photographer, Samuel Cox, this photograph makes for a beautiful and gentle (but unlikely) encounter – an apex predator and an insect that even the smallest of animals would eat for lunch. This photo, taken close to our Wildlife Photography Project base in South Africa, epitomizes the wonder of nature. What’s more, these two animals have something in common – superpowers. The cheetah is built for super speed and the cricket for super defense.

Now, for some fun facts about these two unlikely friends. It is widely known that cheetahs are the fastest animals on the planet, reaching speeds of 70 miles per hour in under three seconds. It is this speed and athleticism that makes it such a powerful predator. A hunting sprint will only last 200 – 300 meters, but with a bite to the neck, a cheetah’s victim is killed. Unfortunately, due to conflict with humans and mass habitat loss, these beautiful creatures are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Today, experts estimate there are only 9000 to 12000 cheetahs left in Africa.

On the contrary to the cheetah’s predatory prowess, Armored crickets are built for defense. Aside from their armored exo-skeleton (as the name suggests), these insects are covered in sharp spines to protect them from other creatures who would happily dine on them. Not only this; Armored crickets bite. Perhaps that’s what is causing this curious cheetah to be wary.

2. The Black-Backed Jackal and the Hooded Vulture

We couldn’t resist this cute photo of a Black-backed jackal waving at (or attempting to ‘shoo’ away) this Hooded vulture, captured on our Big Cat and Wildlife Research Project in Kenya’s Masai Mara Reserve. These two unlikely loves are in fact not unlikely at all. If you type ‘jackal and vulture’ into Google search you will see pages of results. This is because these two animals are often found fighting over carcasses in Africa.

What you might not know is that Black-backed jackals are thought to be the oldest species of dog – they have remained unchanged for about 2.5 million years. Jackals are very clever and cunning, known for being highly vocal, and thus, are very sociable. In the spirit of love this Valentine’s Day, it is also important to note that they are monogamous – meaning they mate for life. They’re also family-orientated, with pups remaining with their parents for one year, helping them to raise their next litter. Heart-melting isn’t it?

While Hooded vultures are not the best-looking birds, they are mean machines when it comes to scavenging. With a massive, meat-hook of a bill, they’re phenomenal at getting through a carcass. Their wingspan can be up to 2.8 meters and they weigh in at an average of a whopping 11 kilograms. Sadly, this species of vulture is listed as Critically-Endangered on the ICUN Red List; their biggest threat, poisoning. Farmers often lace carcasses with poison in an effort to kill lions, leopards or hyenas that have been attacking their livestock. Unfortunately, vultures are collateral damage. Read more here.

3. The Baby Hippopotamus and Crocodiles

Those of you that have volunteered with us in St. Lucia will know this pair of friends quite well and know that hippos and crocodiles share a habitat. In the case of St. Lucia, both share a home in the famous iSimangaliso Estuary, where this photo was captured. But there is big speculation around their relationship. With videos surfacing of hippos attacking and eating crocodiles, the question arises – are they friends or foe?

Hippos are dangerous animals, there’s no doubt about it. While the hippo in the above photo may make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, when it is fully-grown it will become the most dangerous animal in the world. It’s true. These monstrous animals are one of the species responsible for the most human deaths annually in Africa. They’re also rarely on the menu for crocodiles, as their thick skin, enormous canines, and tight-knit hippo-crew mean it’s not quite worth the croc’s time and energy.

Crocodiles are the biggest reptiles on earth, so they’re also one species you don’t want to mess with.  They can be found almost everywhere, bar Europe. They are cold-blooded, which is why you’ll find them bathing on the banks of rivers when the sun is shining. Despite their size, they are incredibly quick, often surprising (and killing) animals at the waterhole by surfacing at the exact spot the animal is drinking. Crocodiles don’t chew, but swallow large pieces of meat and survive on a large meal for quite some time.

4. The Buffalo and Egret

It’s not an uncommon sight to see an Egret at the foot of a cow, or buffalo in the Greater Kruger Area of South Africa, where this stunning image was captured by Big 5 Research and Conservation volunteer Axelle Lot. But do you know why? With every footstep, these large mammals stir insects laying in the grass – an easy meal for the waiting Egret. Sometimes, you may even see them riding on the buffalo’s back, picking off ticks, and keeping these large beasts spic-and-span. A beautifully symbiotic relationship, if you ask us. Originally from Africa, Egrets have found their way to North America, and have a very flexible diets, sometimes even eating other birds!

Buffalo, on the other hand, have a pretty strict diet of grass and herbs. That doesn’t mean they’re not one to watch out for though – buffalo are part of the famous ‘Big 5’. The ‘Big 5’ – comprised of the elephant, rhino, leopard, lion and buffalo – are a famous group of animals that are considered, traditionally, as the most dangerous to hunt on foot. Fortunately, these days the ‘Big 5’ are rather shot with cameras, and not rifles. Buffalos usually weigh in at a whopping half a ton, and are temperamental animals, which aids in their reputation for being dangerous. Although they have few natural predators (thanks to their enormity), they live in herds. You know what they say, “safety in numbers”.

5. The Butterfly and the Lion

This adorable photo, captured by our Big Cat Conservation volunteer Leon Roet, shows a brave butterfly (a Yellow Pansy to be exact) landing on the paw of a male lion in the Mara Naboisho Conservancy in Kenya.

While the African lion is considered the King of the Jungle, most safari-goers in Africa will likely find these fearsome beasts sleeping. In fact, male lions can sleep for up to 20 hours per day. What do they do in the other four? Eat and mate. Sound familiar?

The Yellow pansy photographed is a beautiful butterfly found in parts of Southern and East Africa, in the savanna and grassland habitats similar to that of lions.