This month, in celebration of Mother’s Day, which falls on Sunday 13 May, we take a look at some of the loving mothers in the wild.
There’s no love quite like that between mother and child – and it’s just as true in the animal kingdom.
It’s no wonder the bond between a mama elephant and her baby is so close. She spends around three to five years suckling her little one before the ellie youngster is fully capable of finding enough food for itself. Baby elephants are dependent on their mom for their physical and emotional welfare. An ellie mom always keeps her baby close and touches it frequently with her trunk to comfort it. Although a newborn can stand within half an hour of birth, it takes much longer to learn how to use its trunk and to understand elephant society. Fortunately the mom has a lot of help. All the females in a matriarch-led elephant herd look after the youngsters, a phenomenon known as allomothering. A baby’s big sister is usually the most devoted helper, but aunties will also take on babysitting duties.
Where to see them: Addo Elephant National Park; Mapungubwe National Park
There can be no doubt that a giraffe mom is a devoted parent. To begin with, she nurtures her baby in her womb for well over a year – in fact, a total of 15 months. When the time comes to give birth, the mother giraffe will head to a calving ground, a specific place that she and other females use for this purpose. Think of it as a maternity ward in the bush. It may even be the same place where the mom was born as giraffe herds tend to use the same spot for generations. Giraffes even have their own creche. All the youngsters in a herd form a nursery group, watched over by one of the adults, so the other moms can browse in peace. Baby giraffes are extremely vulnerable, but they have a fierce defender in their mom. She will lash out with her hooves to chase away the predator. Several instances have been recorded of giraffe mothers successfully seeing off hungry lions.
Where to see them: Kruger National Park; Mokala National Park
Could there be a more touching and intimate moment than a mother springbok fussing over her newborn lamb? As the little one balances unsteadily on new-found feet, she tenderly licks it clean. This not only imprints the baby’s smell in her memory, but removes any traces that could tip off a predator to its presence. The mother springbok will even eat the afterbirth. For the first few days after birth she will hide her offspring in tall grass, only approaching it now and again to feed it. As the baby grows stronger, they spend more time together and after a month the youngster joins the herd. Springbok moms are good planners. They synchronise their baby’s birth to coincide with the rains so that there are lots of juicy green grass shoots to feed on.
Where to see them: Kgalagadi National Park
The black-backed jackal mom knows the challenge of feeding a hungry horde. These jackals can give birth to up to six pups and for the first three months of life, the little ones can’t fend for themselves. Luckily, she has a committed partner – black-backed jackals are monogamous and are thought to form a pair bond for life. Although mom initially suckles the babies, later on both parents will regurgitate food for their offspring. As the young jackals develop proper teeth, intact food items like scorpions, lizards and rodents are carried back to the hole.
Where to see them: Karoo National Park; Mountain Zebra National Park
Rhinos may look tough on the outside but on the inside they are caring mothers. The rhino mom is an attentive parent, nuzzling her baby to show affection and seeking out soft, young plants for it to feed on. Although rhinos are mostly solitary creatures, an intense bond forms between mom and baby and for the next three years they will spend every moment together. In fact, the rhino mother is so focused on her baby’s wellbeing that she won’t mate and have another calf until her offspring has reached independence. Want to know if you’re looking at a white rhino or a black rhino? Check to see if the calf is walking in front of the mother or behind her. The black rhino mom is so protective of her baby that she always goes first, keeping her baby safely behind her.
Where to see them: Kruger National Park
Want to discover some more incredible wild moms? Visit www.wildcard.co.za to browse our picture sequences and read the story of the mama elephant who rescued her calf or see a mother lion with tiny cubs.
With a Wild Card you can visit more than 80 protected areas in South Africa and Swaziland. There’s no better way to get close to Mother Nature. Find out more.