Humans are not the only animals to care for, discipline, or defend their young. I’ve seen elephant mothers discipline their naughty juveniles by first emitting a special tummy rumble at a calf who was mock charging my vehicle. The young bull then stopped what he was doing and decided to start pushing a tree with his forehead in our direction. The mother let another tummy rumble warning go and when the calf did not stop what he was doing she picked up a stick with her trunk and smacked him on the head with it. He promptly fell in line and followed the cow into the bush with the rest of the herd. African Rock Pythons are known to coil around their young and shack to keep them warm. Nile Crocodile mothers can hear their hatched young’s calls under the sand and will dig them out and carefully carry them to the water in their mouths.
My guests and I were fortunate enough to witness wildlife parental care first hand the other night will on game drive. One of the lionesses on the Eastern Sector had cubs about two months ago and they have now started following their mother out on excursions. As we pulled into the sighting the big male lion was just starting to get mobile. Following him some 50 meters around a bend we spotted the three young cubs frolicking with their mother. The male proceeded to lie down in front of them, wiggle his behind a bit, a let out a low playful call. The cubs upon seeing him and hearing his low calls came running to him, pounced onto his back, pulled at his ears, and called mischievously back. He then rolled onto his back and the cubs jumped onto his belly playing some more. After they had had their fill they ran back to the lioness who groomed, cuddled, and played with the small youngsters as well.
When lionesses give birth they do so in a special hiding place of their choosing. When the cubs are born they are blind and helpless. After the birth, the mother will move them to another site because the sent of blood and new birth will attract predators to her young. She cautiously puts one cub in her mouth and moves them one by one to her new den. After that she will not hunt too far from them as they need to nurse every few hours. As they grow she will go farther a field for food. Her special call for them can reach up to four kilometers and when they are bigger they will come to that call. The male will tolerate and play with the young for the first year or so. After that he will start to push them away. At about a year and a half to two years the now sub-adult lions will be banned from the pride. This mostly occurs with young males, as they are seen as competition by the male in charge, but here at Kapama our four twenty month old females have also been pushed out to live on their own.
So as you can see, we as humans are not that far removed from the wildlife we view on Safari. Lion, elephant, and even reptile parents also love, clean, feed, discipline, worry for, and final push their young out into the big wide world.
Story by: Noelle Di Lorenzo-Kapama River Lodge Ranger