Hippos, bonobos and sheep: 7 videos of animals who love to play

Play can improve relationships, build social skills and ensure survival — but it’s also fun!

For humans, play is an activity normally confined to our childhood. Having fun with others and playing made-up games might seem silly, but that tomfoolery is vital to developing our self-confidence and social skills.

In The Power of Play, a documentary from The Nature of Things, we learn that play is just as important in the animal world — for youngsters and adults. Here are some examples.


Horses start playing just hours after being born. Exaggerated galloping, chasing, play fighting, and tossing objects like sticks and buckets are some of their favourite games. As you can see in the video below, it brings a whole new meaning to horseplay.    


Octopuses are very smart, and many are capable of solving puzzles and performing complicated tasks like opening jars for a snack! But these boneless brainiacs also like to let loose and have fun. Researchers have observed captive octopuses playing with objects by pushing, pulling and floating them to the surface repeatedly. Other octopuses have been spotted blowing streams of water in a pushing game with empty bottles.

In The Power of Play, we watch how octopuses also enjoy playing games with other species — like us!


Elephants play throughout their lifetime, in a variety of ways: with objects, with each other, on their own and even with other species. Males like to wrestle and shove, while females are more likely to play the “enemies” game, thrashing through vegetation, whirling and trumpeting — but they’re also up for a game of soccer when they get the chance!


Lambs love to frolic. Bouncing and leaping are popular activities, especially among females. Other types of play may include rough-and-tumble pushing and butting, and a peculiar game of balancing on their mother’s backs. Sometimes, they’re even keen to take up human sports. 


Bonobos are our closest animal relatives, and they probably play a lot more than we do! The fun and games aren’t just limited to young bonobos, either — it’s also important for adults. By playing with each other, bonobos create strong social bonds and better understand the emotions of their friends and family, meaning the chasing, play fighting and acrobatics that make up bonobo play is serious business, too.

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Known to be aggressive and territorial, the imposing hippopotamus also has a lighter side. Young hippos engage in play fighting, games of tag, and hide and seek in their watery homes. As this video shows, they also don’t mind trying to play with their other toothy neighbours.


Ravens are one of the few bird species that are known to play. They like games of chase and tug of war. Play fighting and aerial acrobatics, like flying upside down, are some of their other favourite ways to play.

Watch The Power of Play on The Nature of Things. 

Available on CBC Gem

The Power of Play

Nature of Things