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Bringing Up Baby in the Wild

Bringing Up Baby in the Wild

 Bringing Up Baby in the Wild


ON THE vast grassy plains of Africa, a baby is born. With a thud it drops to the ground in the early morning sunlight. Gently, its mother reaches down and lifts her wet and shiny newborn onto its wobbly feet. Other mothers and sisters rush close to get a good look and to touch and smell the tiny baby. Weighing a mere 260 pounds [120 kg] and standing less than three feet [90 cm] tall, an elephant calf stirs excitement among other members of the herd.

Thousands of miles away, in the Americas, a miniature nest the size of a thimble clings to the branch of a tree. Here a pair of bee hummingbirds, no larger than flying insects, tend two small chicks. Flying at astonishing speeds, the colorful birds are courageous parents and will attempt to drive off large animals and even humans who get close to their minute young.

Baby animals appeal to all of us. Children are fascinated by the birth of puppies. Who is not amused by the playful antics of a kitten, the lovable appearance of a tiny monkey clinging to its mother’s fur, or a baby owl staring wide-eyed from the security of its nest?

Animal babies are not always as helpless as a human baby. Some are born with the ability to run soon after their tiny feet touch the ground. Others are left totally on their own to protect themselves and survive. However, the survival of many young animals and insects depends on parental nurturing, protection, feeding, training,  and care that result from a close bond between parents and their offspring.

Unlikely Providers

Most insects, fish, amphibians, and reptiles take little interest in the welfare of their offspring. There are, however, some notable exceptions. One very unlikely provider is the fearsome Nile crocodile. This cold-blooded reptile shows a remarkable degree of parental care. After the eggs are laid in the warm sand, the parents stay nearby to protect their future progeny. When little crocodiles are about to hatch, they begin to grunt, signaling the mother to uncover the eggs. Later, using her powerful jaws, she tenderly collects her hatchlings and carries them to the water’s edge to wash the sand from them. The father crocodile has also been known to take the hatchlings to the water to wash them. For a few days, the babies stay close to their mother in the water, following her like ducklings. They thus benefit from her formidable power to protect them.

Surprisingly, some fish also make what we would consider to be good parents. Most tilapias, which are freshwater fish, lay their eggs and then store them in their mouths for safekeeping. Upon hatching, the tiny fry swim about freely, while staying close to their parents. If danger approaches, the parent fish opens its mouth wide, allowing the babies to dart in and hide. When the danger passes, the young again emerge and resume their normal activities.

Ants, bees, and termites also show a remarkable inclination to care for and protect their young. Known as social insects, they live in colonies, build shelters for their eggs, and provide food for their young to feed on. The honeybee is a well-known example of this. Thousands of these busy bees work together caring for the young of the hive. Instinctive wisdom enables them to build, repair, and clean the nursery, even controlling its temperature and humidity.

Parenting on the Wing

Most birds make very good parents, investing enormous amounts of time and energy in selecting a nest site, building the nest, and raising their family. One devoted male African hornbill was observed making more than 1,600 visits to his nest site, delivering some 24,000 pieces of fruit to his mate during the entire 120-day breeding period!

 The wandering albatross is another dependable provider. The parent bird will literally fly thousands of miles searching for food while its faithful mate waits patiently at the nest for its return.

In desert areas some birds use an effective method to quench the thirst of their young. Flying to a water hole, they soak their breast feathers and then return to the nest, where the chicks drink from their wet feathers.

When the task of feeding many mouths becomes too great a burden, some bird species enlist the help of other birds to “chick-sit” their young. These helpers are usually grown-up offspring of the parents and are willing to assist in feeding and protecting the chicks.

Parental Protection

Protecting baby birds is also a full-time job. Avian parents will often cover the nest with outstretched wings during a downpour, keeping their chicks warm and dry. Starlings are excellent housekeepers. To protect their nest from lice and fleas, these ingenious birds collect material from certain toxic plants and deposit it in and around the nest. This acts as an insecticide that kills or deters the harmful insects.

A mother woodcock shows a remarkable degree of resourcefulness when protecting her offspring. When threatened, she grasps her chick firmly between her legs and body, opens her wings, and simply flies away carrying her precious cargo to a safer location. Some brave parents cleverly feign injury to distract a predator from approaching their chicks. Flapping on the ground as if injured, the mother will lure the predator away from the nest, only ending her act and flying to safety when the danger passes. Ground-nesting birds may use vocal tricks to scare away predators. The North American burrowing owl hisses like a snake when its hole is investigated. Early settlers were certain that the little owls shared their homes with rattlesnakes, and they stayed clear!

Maternal Mammals

In the animal kingdom, parental care reaches its highest level among mammals. Elephant mothers are devoted to their offspring, forming a close bond that can last for 50 years. The calf is very dependent on its mother. The mother shades it from the hot sun with her huge body, gently suckles it, and allows it to reach up with its miniature trunk and pluck out bits of vegetation from her mouth to eat. Regularly she washes baby down by squirting water over its back and scrubbing it with her trunk. Raising an elephant calf is a family affair, as other females in the herd play an important part in feeding, teaching, and protecting the youngsters within the herd.

 Another large mammal, the hippopotamus, may give birth to its calf underwater. Babes are well able to nurse totally submerged, come up for air, and then resubmerge and continue nursing. The mother hippo is fiercely protective of her newborn calf.

Vervet monkeys also make good mothers. After giving birth, the mother securely holds her baby during the first hours with at least one of her arms around its neck or shoulders. For the first week, the baby may spend most of its time clinging instinctively to its mother’s fur. The mother may allow her baby to be held by other females, who may spend time touching, grooming, cuddling, and playing with the cute new arrival.

Indeed, many creatures are “instinctively wise” and display a remarkable degree of aptitude in the way they care for their young. (Proverbs 30:24-28) Their ability to perceive a need or assess a situation and react to it in an intelligent way could never have resulted from blind chance. It is the result of intelligent design from an intelligent source—the Creator of all things, Jehovah God.—Psalm 104:24.

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Tilapias store their eggs in their mouth

[Credit Line]

Courtesy LSU Agricultural Center

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Crocodiles carry their babies

[Credit Line]

© Adam Britton,

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Albatross and chick

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Mother hippos are fiercely protective

[Credit Line]

© Joe McDonald

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Baboon mothers groom their babies

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Vervet monkeys

[Credit Line]

© Joe McDonald