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Motherly Love Across the Animal Kingdom

Photos from zoos around the world display the unique bond between mothers and offspring.

Apr 17, 2015 5:00 AMNov 20, 2019 10:12 PM


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Photo Credits: Daniel Zupanc/Zoo Vienna

Where would we be without our mothers? Well, quite frankly, nowhere.

Moms bring us into this world, embrace us in their arms and nurture us into adulthood. In the animal kingdom, mothers' roles are much the same: many species rely on mom for nourishment, comfort and protection. As babes grow up, mothers teach them survival skills like hunting, grooming and socializing. That's why modern zoos and aquariums rely on animal mothers to raise their babies whenever possible. 

These photos, from the newly released book ZooBorns: Motherly Love, capture the unique bond that exists between mothers and their offspring in zoos around the world. The photos are proof that moms can love us like no one else can — no matter the species.

Photo Credits: Sussi Kober/Aalborg Zoo

A Sumatran tiger, Bahagia, hugs her cub, CJ, in her front arms to keep the cub still while administering plenty of licks to deepen the pair's bond.

Sumatran tigers are critically endangered, with only a few hundred left in zoos and in the wild. The animals are a bit smaller than other species of tiger, but this cub could still grow to be over 300 pounds.

These two call the Aalborg Zoo in Denmark their home.

Photo Credits: Dave Mattner/Monarto Zoo

Although hyena cub Pinduli was born without incident, first-time hyena moms have only a 20 percent chance of a successful natural birth due to their unique anatomy. Weeks after his birth, Penduli's sister, Forest, underwent Australia's first hyena caesareanto give birth to her cub.

Spotted hyenas are considered one of the most social carnivores; they live in large competitive groups and exhibit complex social behaviors. Females are sole providers for their cubs.

It's also a tough life for cubs in the wild: From birth, siblings will fight over who will be the dominant one and nurse first. These squabbles can sometimes be the death of the weaker sibling.

Photo Credits: Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo

A tiny, lanky baby siamang sprawls out on first-time mother Haddie's tummy at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo.

Siamings are best known for their unique songs, and mated pairs will sing long, loud duets.Researchers believe their duets enable pairs to broadcast their close bond, warding off other siamangs who might venture into their territory.

Siamang pairs are monogamous and both mom and dad raise their young together.

Photo Credits: Aimee Stubbs

Nashville Zoo Animal Care staff waited more than 13 months for the arrival of this baby Baird's tapir. Soon after the calf's delivery it became clear that something was wrong. The baby's embryonic sac did not break, so the calf could not breathe.

Zoo staff intervened to free the baby from the sac and clear the calf's airways. The calf, now known as Felix, became a social media star and continues to thrive.

Photo Credits: Steve Yensel/Staten Island Zoo

Meet MJ, the little Southern tamandua born to mom DJ and dad EJ. Tamanduas, also known as lesser anteaters, give birth to a single baby each year. Young tamanduas spend most of their time riding on mom's back, although mom may drop them off on a tree branch when she needs a little personal time to forage.

Anteaters have no teeth and rely on their specialized stomachs to mash up their mostly insect diet.

Photo Credits: Daniel Zupanc/Zoo Vienna

In late fall, pregnant mother polar bears build cozy dens in snowdrifts. Two months later they give birth, typically to two cubs. The family will not emerge until spring, which means mama bear goes without eating for up to eight months.

Polar bear cubs are totally dependent on mom for survival for almost two years. Her hunting skills will determine whether the whole family is well fed. 

This cub, named Arktos, is one of two healthy baby boys born at Zoo Vienna to mother Olinka. Mother bears nuzzle muzzles with their cubs to demonstrate affection and strengthen bonds.

Photo Credits: Mike Owyang/Sacramento Zoo

Mama guenon, Mimi, was an outstanding first-time mother: always attentive and anticipating baby Zuri's needs before she made a fuss.

When Zuri was just old enough to leave mom for a few minutes but not old enough to explore on her own, Mimi would place Zuri in a planter that served as a playpen. With Zuri safely contained, Mimi could steal a few minutes of personal time. 

In the wild, this species lives in dense forests making them hard to observe. Research conducted at zoos has proved invaluable in understanding the biology and behavior of this colorful and playful monkey.

From ZooBorns: Motherly Love, by Andrew Bleiman and Chris Eastland. Copyright © 2014 by Andrew Bleiman and Chris Eastland. Excerpted with permission by Simon & Schuster, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Note: Every sale of "ZooBorns: Motherly Love" supports the Association of Zoos Aquariums Conservation Endowment Fund.

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