There’s no doubt about it, the young of almost every species evoke strong feelings of appreciation in us, usually accompanied by all sorts of cooing, clucky noises. An instinctive response, no doubt, to the young on our planet who depend for their survival on a capacity to elicit care.
Yesterday we read about some wild dog pups at Londolozi. “Not much can beat a baby African Wild Dog”, the folk from Londolozi said, “or 7 of them for that matter! Yesterday the much loved wild dog pack came across onto Londolozi and bought with them their precious cargo.” Londolozi has some great video footage of the pups, you may like to check it out. The interesting thing in wild dog society is that the whole family takes care of the little ones. Those who go out to hunt, come back to feed the nursing females and pups. An amazing thing about wild dogs is that each individual has a perfectly unique coat pattern, which makes it possible to identify every individual in a population with certainty.
In black rhino society, by contrast, there’s no help from the guys. Black Rhinos exhibit what’s called a promiscuity mating system, characterized by a lack of bond between male and female outside of mating. The male provides no care for the young and can mate with multiple females. Not so advantageous for the female who needs to protect her young and gather food alone. Rhino young will stay with their mother for 2.5 -3 years, by which stage the young rhino is likely to be replaced by a another baby.
Little ellies are a treat. They come into the world with hefty appetites, and as new-borns they’re capable of consuming 11.4 litres of milk a day. When a new babe comes along the females in the herd gather around and welcome the new-born with a fanfare of trumpeting and noise-making. Directly after birth the mother will make a serious effort to help the new-born to its feet, and of course this is critical for its survival since it needs to stand in order to reach mother’s milk supply. It’s interesting that elephants have quite a long dependency period – their weaning can take up to ten years. Rather human, this long dependency.
How different this is from the rapidly developing independence of leopards. By the time a leopard is a year old, it is allowed to hunt and kill alone. At around 18 months, they start to leave their mother and live alone. Young female leopards often extend the mother-daughter relationship by taking over part of their mother’s home area or settling nearby, whereas young male leopards usually move further field to their own territories. Young leopards are usually fully independent by the age of two when their mother is ready to give birth to a new litter.
Blind and helpless at birth, young cheetahs develop rapidly. Their eyes open at 4 – 10 days and at 3 weeks their teeth emerge. Only a few cubs reach adulthood; many get taken out by lions and hyenas. During their first weeks of life, the cubs are moved by mother every few days to avoid predators. She’s a single mom, though, and must leave them alone to hunt, which is why so many don’t survive.
Best of all the young ones, perhaps, is the giraffe. The 6-foot-tall calf probably wrote the definition of Gangly! The young grow extremely fast, by as much as an inch a day! By two months the young giraffe is eating leaves and at six months is fairly independent of its mother. And then it’s simply a question of reach for the sky …
Gallery images: thanks to Motswari Private Game Reserve (Timbavati), Thanda Private Game Reserve (Hluhluwe Area), Ulusaba Private Game Reserve (Sabi Sand), Tuningi Safari Lodge (Madikwe Game Reserve) and The Safari Lodge (Addo Area)
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