Some of the best moms live at Zoo Atlanta!

The Asian small-clawed otters love to co-sleep. Here they are waking up. Photo by Michael McClellan of Designs In Motion, Inc.

This family of Asian small-clawed otters love to co-sleep. Here they are waking up. Photo by Michael McClellan of Designs In Motion, Inc. -- One of the dads on our class zoo trip!

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.

Top 8 Animal Mommy Moments

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.

Baby brother panda felt shy or tired. He wasn't sure about coming out to play. His mommy went over and encouraged him. Photo by Michael McClellan of Designs In Motion, Inc.

Baby brother panda felt shy or tired. His mommy came over to encourage him. Photo by Michael McClellan of Designs In Motion, Inc.

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.

I'm not sure if this is the baby orangutan with the foster mom, but he sure is cute. It looks like he's eating an orange like my baby does.

I'm not sure if this is the orangutan with the foster mother, but he sure is cute. It looks like he's eating an orange just like my baby. Photo by Michael McClellan of Designs In Motion, Inc.

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.)

24 comments Add your comment

Sherry

May 10th, 2009
12:44 am

My sister’s dog mothers abandoned kittens!

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

May 10th, 2009
12:53 am

Isn’t that amazing!! It’s all instinct! Sherry – I hope you have a great Mother’s Day!

Valstake

May 10th, 2009
7:41 am

Don’t compare human and animal behavior. Mammals, marsupials and some other animal species care for their young until they’re ready to survive on their own. On the other hand, most reptiles (alligators and rattlesnakes are exceptions) bury their eggs and forget about them. And most animals (primates excepted) do not live in “family” units… in many species the male’s responsibility ends at mating. And in zoos, it’s usually not necessary for a “mother” animal to kill the weakest of her offspring to provide food for her others, or eliminate the “defective”. Survival of the species and reproduction is the raison etre for all organisms on earth, and is the reason for the care shown by mammals (and others) in raising their young. The “mothering” instinct in animals is simply “survival of the species.”

DB

May 10th, 2009
12:21 pm

And of course, my family’s favorite animal observation with regards to the treatment of unruly children: “This is why some animals eat their young!”

s

May 10th, 2009
4:18 pm

It’s much easier to care for your young when you don’t have to work, do laundry, clean the house, take anyone to baseball practice, etc.
I only wish we had time to snuggle in bed and sleep the day away.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

May 10th, 2009
4:53 pm

Good point! there’s lots of time to play when you live in a zoo!

CJ

May 10th, 2009
9:31 pm

As a mom who struggled with nursing all three of her babies, I’m very glad I’m not an animal. Of course, Dr. Sears implies I’m a bad parent for feeding them formula, but I guess I’ll survive. BTW, they will too. :-)

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

May 10th, 2009
9:34 pm

You’re not a bad mom! Some people don’t choose to and sometimes you just can’t no matter how much you want to. And they do all survive!!

John

May 10th, 2009
10:26 pm

Naked Mole Rats Rock!

momtoAlex&Max

May 11th, 2009
8:24 am

OK, I know this is unrealted but, did anyone watch the new Star Trek movie? Why is it PG13? Too much violence, sex, adult situations? My kids (6 and almost 9) really want to see it, but I worry about that rating. I haven’t seen it.

Can anyone give me advice?

JJ

May 11th, 2009
8:27 am

Did anyone watch National Georgraphic’s “Animals in the Womb”? That was truly fascinating. I couldn’t stop watching it. I’m glad I recorded it.

[...] 11, 2009 by Susie The animals would keep on doing what they’re doing. Here’s a post about how the animals at the Atlanta zoo do a lot of things people are embracing more and more, [...]

Lori

May 11th, 2009
9:28 am

To momtoAlex&Matt, Star Trek is not for small kids. I saw it this weekend. Yes there is some language, one bedroom scene, and a lot of violence. Not to mention that little kids aren’t going to understand the story so they’ll be bored or if like my son, they would ask unending questions throughout the movie trying to get the plot. I’d go see it yourself and then you can consider what you wish for your kids when it comes out on DVD.

sd

May 11th, 2009
10:10 am

The zoo always makes me sad. I know they do a lot of good for conservation, but seeing those apes sitting on big concrete blocks with those sad looks, just makes me want to free them all.

One time while I was there, a plastic bag blew in to the Orangatan exhibit. An older male took the bag, wrapped it around the electric fence, and started shaking it. He wanted out so badly.

JJ

May 11th, 2009
10:20 am

I don’t like the zoo either, and don’t get me started on birds that are in cages…….I hate going to the pet stores. I want to open the cages and let them fly!!!!!

I want to release the lobsters at the grocery stores too. I can’t stand to see them in that tiny tank, with their claws taped……

jct

May 11th, 2009
10:42 am

I am not much for the zoo either. However, I do like national geographic specials and animal planet showing animals in their more natural environment. I like to see how different species raise their young.

On the off topic, I saw Star Trek twice this weekend. The movie is not for small children. Even though it is mostly fantasy violence, very mild sexual situations it is solid PG-13 rating. I would bring a more mature 10 or 11 who can follow quick plots changes but this movie moves really quick. You may want to review on DVD before letting your children see this movie.

DB

May 11th, 2009
3:41 pm

Re: “Star Trek”; I’m not sure how much an under-13 would relate to the movie. It’s a fun romp for those of us who grew up on “Star Trek”, and it’s hard for me to divorce my own familiarity with the material and look at the movie as just another sci-fi movie. There is some violence, but nothing hideous. Some heavy “making out”, but no nudity. Basically, nothing much worse than they would find on the Disney Channel. People die, but you don’t see the blood-spattering gore of so many movies these days. Very little blood, in fact, except for the beginning when Kirk gets beat up in a bar brawl, and then there’s a bloody nose and cut-up mouth. If someone didn’t know the emotional history of Vulcans, the backstory on Spock may not make much sense. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, but my 20-year-old son was only mildly entertained — and even then, more entertained by my reaction than by the movie, itself! The older movie-goers would chuckle at the references to the series that went right over the younger viewers. I agree with jct — mature 10 or 11 year olds only, younger than that, and it’s a waste of money.

I have to admit, though, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to connect the new “Star Trek” to the series and the movies that I know. Maybe a new, younger viewer would be more able to take it at face value. I am still annoyed at the relationship that seemed forced on Spock and Uhura, and walked out of the theatre thinking, “But she (undefined here, for purpose of spoilers) couldn’t die, she showed up in the series later!” And it’s work trying to sort out what we HAD known of Spock’s relationship with his parents to what the new movie now purports to put forward as their re-tooled relationship. It redefines Spock quite a bit.

FCM

May 11th, 2009
3:57 pm

CJ your not a bad mom. My Pediatrician said “Will nursing your baby get them into Harvard? NO. Will get get them Valedictorian? NO. Will get them head cheerleader or captain of the football team? NO. Will get them CEO of a Fortune 500? NO.” What is imporant is that the baby is healthy, cared for, and nurished in ALL ways (social, emotional, physical ect).

According to the Ped (and she is a lactation specialist) nursing has shown some antibodies of the mother helping the baby for a short term (3 months). She also said that the closeness and need build a dependency in the baby that sets up the bond of mother to child.

I sat with both my babies and cooed, sang (feel bad for my voice is horrible) etc while they fed from a bottle. I held them where the could hear my heart as they went to sleep. When my babies cried, Mommy showed up….I give them my love and support everyday….

One of them is showing great promise on the Soccer Field…..but I doubt it was the formula ;o)

DB

May 11th, 2009
8:52 pm

CJ, Dr. Sears is a MAN. What the hell does he know about nursing a baby? It’s a lot of work, and some babies just don’t take to it, causing hours of frustration for mom and baby alike. I nursed my first baby for about six months — teeth came in, and the Dairy Queen closed forthwith! The second baby, although she slept through the night at five days old, was a very fussy nurser, and we fought for three months before I finally said — “Ok, you win”. It was not worth my getting uptight and frustrated. So, an early lesson learned: Pick your battles. :-)

Lori

May 12th, 2009
10:00 am

Not everyone can nurse a baby and not every baby can nurse. My son was a little premature, any he was very tiny. I tried and tried but he never learned to latch on. On top of that my milk didn’t come down for several days, which can happen for premature births. Even with pumping, he just wasn’t getting enough to eat. It was either give him a bottle or let him starve.

David S

May 14th, 2009
10:16 am

Zoos are nothing put prisons for animals. That these wonderful creatures have the courage to breed in this kind of captivity shows their resiliance, but doesn’t diminish the thoroughly exploitive nature of the environment or the people that run and patronize these horrible places.

Every one of these moms would be even better moms in the wild where they belong.

The only worse animal exploitation venue in Atlanta is the GA Aquarium.

If your kids want to see animals in the wild, buy a DVD, check out the Discovery Channel, or go to the internet (or go on an ECO safari somewhere).

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