Every time I visit Zoo Atlanta, I am always amazed by the wonderful mothering going on there. Not by the zookeepers, but by the animals themselves.
They’re not reading any books, attending classes or incessantly Googling their fears on the Internet. They’re just instinctively good caregivers.
I’m sure they don’t know it, but many of the animals practice the Dr. Sears Attachment Parenting theory. All the mammals usually nurse their babies. Many “wear” their babies. And co-sleeping is all the rage. From the savanna grasslands to the jungle habitats, mommies and babies cuddle up together – keeping warm and giving comfort to their young.
Two weeks ago, I chaperoned an overnight trip to the zoo with my daughter’s second-grade class. I loved spending time with my little girl and all her friends, and I learned more amazing facts about how the mommy animals take care of their young.
So to celebrate Mother’s Day I wanted to share with you some of my favorite mommy moments from Zoo Atlanta.
8. All the co-sleeping animals - Each time we walked by the Asian small-clawed otters’ habitat, they were all cuddled up together sleeping. They were lying so close together you couldn’t tell where one stopped and the other began. It reminded me of our bed. Sometimes I wake up and all three kids are snuggled between me and my husband.
7. The Pandas - On the morning after our Night Crawler adventure at the zoo, we had a private viewing of the pandas. We were lucky and saw them all. Mommy and Daddy were out first. Big sister was lying on her back gnawing on bamboo, and we watched new baby brother timidly step outside into view. He stood there awhile and finally the mommy panda went over to him. It looked like she encouraged him to come on out. Then she climbed a platform and encouraged him to follow. It was precious to see her reassure her baby just like we do!
6. All the nursing going on in that place - As a mother who nursed all three of her babies about 18 months each, I love all the nursing at the zoo. Even the most ferocious beasts nurse their babies. The lioness had three cubs almost a year ago and nursed them all. Gorilla mothers nurse upwards of three years! The American Academy of Pediatrics would be so proud.
5. Wearing the baby - Many animals “wear” their babies just like humans. Well not exactly like humans, they don’t need a Baby Bjorn. But starting at a very young age, many babies cling to their mommies bodies. It keeps them safe from predators, warm and close by to nurse.
Tiny baby gorillas cling to the hair on the mothers’ stomachs at first and then as they get older begin riding on their backs. Baby gorillas are weak and can’t support their necks. The mommy gorilla is extremely devoted and holds her baby non-stop for about the first four months of life.
4. Taking care of twins - The gorilla mommy Kuchi has achieved an amazing feat that any human mother would have to respect – she has cared for her twins without any help. Generally zoo keepers have to intervene and help the mommy care for twins. It is especially hard for gorillas to care for two. They need at least one hand to help them walk – the really walk on all fours. So it was very hard for Kuchi to eat, walk and hold both babies but she managed it. She developed a strategy when the twins became mobile to keep one by her foot and would pull the baby back if he wandered.
3. The multi-tasking kangaroo - The kangaroo exhibit was a new one for me, and we learned some truly amazing facts about these multi-tasking mommies. These mommies can tandem nurse! They can have an itty bitty baby joey living in the pouch nursing all the time and then have a big joey outside her body jumping around come over and also nurse! Tandem nursing is something human mommies can do too if they so choose.
2. The kangaroo is truly in charge of her reproduction - The kangaroo mommy can suspend the growth of a developing embryo inside of her (technically known as embryonic diapause) if she is already caring for two joeys! Also she can suspend the growth if there has been some drastic environmental change where she couldn’t support the growth of another baby – such as a bad drought. What an amazing adaption.
1. Orangutans have the compassion and instinct to be a foster parent – A few years back an orangutan had a baby but didn’t take care of him. Instead of just letting the baby (named Bernas) die, Madu, another female orangutan in the group, stepped in and took care of him. I love that this animal was empathetic and compassionate. I love that despite never having her own babies, her maternal instincts kicked in and she took care of him. Since she couldn’t nurse the baby, the zoo keepers trained her to bring the baby to the edge of the habitat so the baby could be given a bottle. She did such a wonderful job as a foster mother that another zoo brought an orphan to her to see if she would care for him. And she did! She has now been a successful foster mother to two babies!
Who do you think are some of the best mommies? What do you make of the similarities in parenting practices between man and beast? Happy Mother’s Day! (I want to thank Michael McClellan, one of the dads who went on the second-grade zoo trip, for letting me use all his photos. His shots were so much better than mine.)