This dad might just be the ultimate househusband. Not only does this elegant water bird keep house, he also takes on all the parenting duties. The South African jacana male builds his nest out of twigs and leaves on top of floating water plants. If he does a good job, he’ll attract the attention of a female who will mate with him and lay four eggs before heading out into the wide world again. The jacana dad is the one who incubates the eggs and, once they hatch, devotes himself to raising the little ones. He is such a doting father that he will scoop the chicks up under his wings at the first sign of danger. With his babies safely ensconced among his chest feathers, the jacana male can tip toe across the lily pads to get away from predators. Yes, it might look strange – suddenly dad has five pairs of legs – but it works well to keep the littlies safe. Let’s hear it for the Father of the Year.
According to fossil records, the black-backed jackal is one of the oldest known canines. Yet this dogged hunter is a thoroughly modern male: he’s a faithful partner and an attentive father. These jackals’ mate for life and their relationship is characterised by equality: they groom each other, hunt together, share food and work together to take care of their pups. When the female falls pregnant, the black-backed jackal dad does his bit by bringing her food to the den. Jackal pups are born blind and helpless, completely dependent on their mother for milk and warmth in the early days. So, the male continues his provisioning duties, returning to the den and regurgitating food, first for mom and eventually for the little ones.
The male seahorse takes his commitment to raising a family to a whole new level. Unlike in other species, in seahorses it’s the male that gets pregnant. To do so, seahorse pairs intertwine their tails and the female deposits her eggs into the male’s pouch. The seahorse dad fertilises the eggs and carries them to maturity in his brood pouch. Like a good father, he monitors the salt levels inside the pouch to make sure they match the surrounding waters. This ensures that the little ones have a healthy start to life. After two to three weeks, Dad gives birth to up to 200 teeny tiny live seahorse babies. South Africa’s endangered species of seahorse, the Knysna seahorse, is quite unique in that it is the only kind to live solely in estuaries. Thank goodness these dads are so devoted to making babies, otherwise we’d lose this special species.
This big bird certainly pulls his weight when it comes to parenting duties. The male ostrich takes turns with the female to incubate their clutch of around 20 eggs. Dad takes the night shift, which is when many predators are out on the prowl. With his black feathers, the male is better camouflaged in the dark, plus he’s physically more capable of seeing off potential threats. Once the eggs hatch, the ostrich dad will teach his chicks how to feed and use his massive wings to shield them from sun and rain. Baby ostriches are extremely vulnerable and can come under attack from all types of animals: jackals, hyenas and vultures. If this happens, the male will try to distract the predator, so the chicks can run for safety.
Dad’s the word.
If you want to admire the brave, attentive and caring fathers of the South African wilds, visit our national parks and nature reserves. With a Wild Card you get a year’s unlimited access to more than 80 protected areas in South Africa and Swaziland.
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