Today is Mother’s Day, and a chance to celebrate formidable females in the animal kingdom. Here are just a few…
Infant gorillas have a long period of development and dependence, and gorilla mothers invest years in caring for their vulnerable offspring, just as humans do. Mothers provide most of the care, even sharing their sleeping nests with their infants for the first few years, but fathers also play an important role in socialisation. Once a female begins to breed, she’ll likely give birth to only one baby every four to six years. On some occasions, gorilla mothers may have to deal with double the trouble! Recently we recorded the first set of twin western lowland gorillas in the Central African Republic for at least sixteen years. Like the closely related mountain gorilla, western lowland gorillas are critically endangered, so these newborns are a great sign of hope for the species.
A female tiger has a big responsibility, bringing up two to four cubs alone. As you can see from this camera trap film, tiger cubs can get quite large before they’re ready to start hunting for themselves, around the age of 12-18 months. This is when they get their permanent canine teeth. The mother has to work hard to find enough food for her and her large cubs until they’re 18-20 months old. Once the cubs have left to find their own territories (at around two years old), the mother could give birth after another year, and the cycle starts again.
Orang-utans are the ultimate hard-working mothers. During the first two years of its life, an infant orang-utan is completely dependent on its mother for food and other basic needs. She carries it around on her body and they share the same nest. Orang-utan mothers stay with their young for six to seven years, teaching them how to survive on their own, including where to find food, what and how to eat and the technique for building a sleeping nest.
4. Giant pandas
Panda cubs are very small and fragile when they’re born so panda mums need to keep a close eye on them – just like this wild panda that was filmed with her youngster in Sichuan’s Anzihe Nature Reserve. The young panda walks behind its mum before stopping and sitting down. Its mum then pulls the cub by the scruff of its neck, to hurry them on their way.
Pandas give birth around every two years, and often in rock dens or hollow trees. Their cubs are weaned by around nine months old and will stay with their mothers up to a year-and-a-half.
5. Amur leopards
The Amur leopard gives birth to two or three cubs; they’re born blind and weigh around half a kilo. To protect them from danger, she keeps them in hiding until they’re six to eight weeks old, when she can start teaching them survival skills. After a year-and-a-half, the cubs must then go it alone. This video shows an Amur leopard in Russia who has provided her three cubs with a good meal. She keeps watch while they tuck in, followed by a masterclass on how to hunt. And when she senses danger, this attentive mother leads the playful cubs away to safety. It seems Amur leopard mothers know best!
6. Marine turtles
But even under ‘natural’ conditions, relatively few young turtles survive their first year of life. Predators such as crabs, foxes and birds often kill the hatchlings as they make their way from the nest to the sea. And when they reach the shallows, many more small turtles are taken by fish.
It’s the ultimate ‘tough love’ approach to motherhood! But even in their absence marine turtle mothers leave their mark: once the hatchlings are old enough to reproduce, the female turtles return to the same beach where they once hatched to lay their own eggs.
You can help protect these incredible species by adopting an animal for yourself or your loved ones.
What are your favourite females in the animal kingdom? Leave us your comments.