Motherhood in the Wild
Moms are generally the ones responsible for caring for their offspring. It’s no different in the animal kingdom. Whether goose, hen, giraffe or dolphin, mom rules the roost.
From the jungles to the oceans, from the rainforests to the frozen poles, mothers in the wild can bear some similar resemblances to mothers in the city. They bring us into the world, nurture us, love us, teach us the skills we need to survive and protect us from harm, until we are ready to go off on our own. And with Mother’s Day just around the corner, what better way to celebrate motherhood than by looking at how the motherly instinct runs through the wild.
Giraffe Mother (Doe) and her Baby (Calf)
After a 14 to 15 month pregnancy, the female giraffe leaves her pack of four to 32 adult females to give birth to her baby, alone. The mother gives birth standing, and the calf enters the world having fallen two meters to the ground. Its first lesson learned the hard way, the calf is already on its feet and walking within a few minutes. Growing as fast as it learns, the calf can grow over two inches in a day. The mother and baby will spend 2 to 3 weeks away from the group. When they return, the baby will spend the next one to 2 years with its mother, until it has matured and is ready to go off on its own.
Penguin Mother (Hen) and her Baby (Chick)
Emperor Penguins are the only species of penguins that do not share incubation duties among males and females. The female penguin produces a single egg and transfers it to her mate, who tends to it while she goes to sea. During her many months away, she eats and stores enough food to feed her chick with when she comes back. When the egg hatches, the male only has a small meal stored to feed its newborn, relying on the female’s return, otherwise having to abandon its chick to go feed itself. When the female penguin returns, she feeds her young, and the male goes back to sea to feed itself. This gives the mother a chance to bond with her young one.
Lioness Mother and her Cubs
In lion prides, lions assume specific roles. Females are in charge of cub rearing as well as hunting. The lionesses in the pride (consisting of approximately five or 6 females) are usually related: Mothers, grandmothers, and sisters. They also give birth around the same time. There are typically one or two males who mate with the adult females and they are known as the coalition. They tend to linger on the outskirts guarding and patrolling the territory. Cubs not only nurse from their mothers but also from other females in the pride. Cubs are highly playful creatures and their mothers are docile with them, letting their cubs jump and nibble on their ears. Cubs cannot hunt until they are 18 months old. When male cubs have matured, (two to three years of age) they are forced out of their prides. Usually they will venture off to find themselves another pride, attacking old male leaders, killing their generation and mating with the females to form their own pride.
Hen Mother and her Chicks
The hen is a most unyielding defender when it comes to her eggs. While brooding, it is rare for her to leave the nest to eat, drink or dust-bathe (def: to squat in dusty soil and fluff dust through the plumage: probably performed to combat ectoparasites). The hen maintains the nest at a constant temperature and humidity, and turns the eggs regularly during the first part of incubation. She will continue to sit on her nest for the next two days after the first egg has hatched. Once the chicks are ready to leave the nest, she leads them to food and water by calling them over. The hen typically won’t feed them directly. At night she keeps her little ones warm by returning to the nest.
Walrus Mother and her Calf
Like the giraffe, the mother walrus keeps her calf away from the herd for approximately two weeks while feeding. Still trailing its umbilical chord hours after birth, the calf can swim and nurse under water almost immediately, packing in over one pound a day. The female walrus is affectionate with her little one, and frequently hugs her baby. She nurses her calf for over a year before weaning. A young walrus can spend up to three to five years with their mothers.
Elephant Mother (Cow) and her Baby (Calf)
When a new calf is born, it is usually the centre of attention among the elephant herd, who touch it and caress it with their trunks. Though baby elephants can’t see very well at birth, they recognize their mothers by touch, scent and sound. For the first couple of months, the elephant mother and her calf are practically inseparable. The calf will drink its mother’s milk for over two years, and drink up to three gallons a day. An elephant’s childhood tends to last quite long, as they are not born with survival instincts as apt as other animals.
Like lionesses, female elephants spend their entire lives in family groups made up of mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts, and are led by the eldest female. Adult males live mostly solitary lives, though they do form loose associations with other males called bachelor herds.
Pig Mother (Sow) and her Piglet
A sow will give birth to a litter of piglets about twice a year, each litter containing between six and 12 piglets. Weaning occurs after three months, but the young piglet will continue to stay by its mother’s side. Mom and piglet will usually join with two or more sows to form an extended family.
Mother Monkey and her Baby (Infant)
The attachment between the female monkey and her infant is nearly identical to that found in human nature. When a monkey begins its life, it is completely dependent on its mother for survival. She nourishes it, cares for it and gives it love. The infant will spend its first month of life, either in direct physical contact with her or at least at arm’s reach. Monkeys are curious creatures, especially when they are young. In the infant’s second month of life it will already begin exploring its surroundings, “and like human infants, once they have become attached to their mother they quickly learn to use her as a secure base from which to organize the exploration of their immediate environment”.
Dolphin Mother (Cow) and her Baby (Calf)
Mama knows best! When baby dolphins are born, they mimic and mirror whatever their mother does, shadowing her every move and learning the tricks of the trade. Using called echo location, the mother teaches her calf the most basic and necessary skill: finding food. But the dolphin mother has some other nifty hunting tricks up her fin. Some years ago, researchers discovered something strange on the snout of a dolphin in Shark Bay, Western Australia. Believed to be a tumour, after analyzing the foreign object, they realized it was actually a marine sponge broken off from the seabed. Apparently, the sea-sponge is used as a hunting technique, passed on from mothers to their daughters, which originated in a single female. This finding is also the first evidence of a tool-use culture in marine mammals.
A mother’s nurturing instinct can come in unexpected places sometimes. After the mother of these two cubs failed to feed her newborn tigers, a local resident’s dog became the adoptive mother of these striped cats.