Natures Dedicated Mums

Moving on from my last post regarding Tahlequah, the orca who carried her deceased newborn calf through the waters of the Pacific Northwest coast for 17 days, I wanted to keep my next post relevant but a bit more on the positive side.

Killer whales are known to be great mums. After a 17 month gestation period, they give birth to a calf that is about 8.5 ft long and weighs around 120 to 160kg. Calves are typically weaned at around 1 or 2 years old and rely on their family pod to teach them vital communication, hunting, and survival skills. Resident killer whale calves will stay with their pod permanently, meaning mother and child stay together for life.

But what other creatures go above and beyond to care for their young?

Here are six other incredible animal mothers, who prove that the mother-baby bond isn’t strictly human.

Orangutans

Orangutans have the longest infant development period of all great apes. For the first two years of their life, they are completely dependent on mum. At this stage, they make the transition from hanging onto mum’s chest to riding on her back and dabble in eating soft foods – pre-chewed by mum. Of course.

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Bornean orangutan

At around 3 to 7 years of age orangutan infants begin to gain their independence, in this space of time they will be fully weaned, begin to climb, and search for their own food. They may also start experimenting with nest building, choosing to no longer share with mum but often staying in the same tree.

Despite this new found self-sufficiency, orangutan infants will remain close to their mothers for many more years to come – they will eat, sleep and travel together until the infant is around 10 years old. Female orangutans are known to visit their mothers until they are around 15 or 16 years of age.

The bond between mother and baby orangutans is one of the strongest and most beautiful in the animal kingdom.

Kangaroos

After a gestation period of around just 34 days, baby kangaroos are born extremely underdeveloped. At birth, the young joey is only about 2cm long and weighs less than a gram! It immediately crawls through its mother’s fur and into the safety of her pouch, where it will suckle solidly for 2 months. At around 6 months of age, the joey will leave the pouch for the first time, returning regularly to feed.

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Grey kangaroo

Red kangaroos will leave the comfort of mums pouch at around 8 months but will continue to suckle until around 11 or 12 months of age. Grey kangaroos, on the other hand, don’t leave until they are 11 months and can continue to suckle until they are 18 months old. That’s one patient mum!

Did you know? Female kangaroos are able to suckle two young at the same time – one in the pouch and one outside, as well as having another egg ready for implantation.

Alligators

Mother alligators usually lay between 3550 eggs in a nest of vegetation. During incubation, the mother alligator will actively stay near the nest and protect it from predators – that includes humans. After a 65 day incubation, the baby alligators will start calling to mum from inside the eggs, these high pitched squeaks let her know it is time to remove the nesting material. After all the hatchlings have emerged from the nest, their mother will carry them gently in her mouth to the safety of the water. The young will rest on her back as she swims and call to her when they feel threatened.

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Alligator

Although these reptiles have a ferocious reputation, they are in fact very attentive. The young will stay close to mum for around a year, but they can remain together as a pod for up to three years.

Great hornbills

Great hornbills are one of the largest members of the hornbill family. Despite having a 60inch wingspan and a weight of 2.15kg to 4kg, they choose to build their nests inside a large, hollow tree trunk. The breeding pair will work together to seal the opening of the hole shut – with a plaster made from faeces, chewed wood, mud and bark, and the female will remain trapped inside while she lays the eggs, incubates them, and cares for them once they hatch. The male will bring food to the female through a small slit left in the mud “door” that is just half an inch wide, large enough to pass food to mum and chicks, but narrow enough to prevent predators getting in the nest.

Great Hornbill
Great hornbill

A clutch usually consists of one or two eggs that the mother will incubate for around 40 days. After the chicks have hatched the male may make up to 70 feeding trips a day, bringing everything from geckos, insects and berries to frogs and slugs.

For the different species of hornbill confinement for the chicks ranges from 50 to 90 days, by that time the mother has already broken out and resealed the door, in turn keeping the chicks safer for longer.

Elephants

Elephants are the largest living and biggest-brained mammal on the planet, so it’s no surprise they have the longest gestation period of any mammal too – 18 to 22 months to be precise.

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African elephant

For the first 3 to 5 years of an elephant calves life, they are totally reliant on their mother. In this time they will be taught many life lessons, such as how to use their trunk properly for feeding, drinking and bathing. This “baby stage” lasts from birth to around 5 to 10 years of age, once the calf has been weaned off mum’s milk completely.

Like us, adulthood for elephants starts at around 18 years old. Most male elephants will now leave the main herd, while the females will remain and assist each other with nursing and caring for the new calves.

And an honourable mention goes to the…

Strawberry poison dart frog

At only one inch long the strawberry poison dart frog is an alluring creature. Not only are they smart – their bright red and black/blue colouration acts as a warning to predators that they are extremely toxic, but they are also incredibly hardworking.

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Strawberry poison dart frog

Strawberry poison dart frogs mate during any time of the year, with the females laying between 3 and 5 eggs on a leaf. The breeding pair returns every day and the male will moisten the eggs by transporting water from his cloaca (effectively urinating on them). After 10 days the eggs hatch the mother frog will transport them on her back to the axil of the Bromeliad plant – depositing one tadpole per plant. Afterwards, the mother will come to each tadpole every few days and lay up to 5 unfertilized eggs for them to eat.

After 43 52 days the tadpoles will begin to undergo metamorphosis. Pretty amazing, huh?

What’s your favourite animal mum? Let me know in the comments below!

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The Other Ivory

The ivory trade – every year it’s estimated to be worth £17bn and responsible for the slaughter of 20,000 elephants. It’s an epidemic never far from my mind or any other animal rights campaigner for that matter.

In April 2018 the UK government announced the trade of items made from ivory to be banned, in what the environment secretary Michael Gove claimed to be “one of the toughest in the world.” 

The ban, which is still to be signed into law, comes after 85% of the public supported the proposed act. I’m concerned why the other 15% said otherwise. Many charities praised the move, WWF chief executive Tanya Steel even claimed the UK stance made it a ”global leader in tackling this bloody trade”.

Media attention, charity demands and public outcry brought forwards the act to further protect elephants from poaching, but as of yet, there is no UK wide ban that protects the other victims of this cruel industry, just talk between the government to extend the proposed ban to all other ivory-bearing creatures.

So, what exactly is ivory and who are the other animals affected by this despicable business?

– TOOTH AND BONE –

To put it simply, ivory is the teeth or tusks of animals – most commonly canine teeth, but in elephants, they are actually elongated incisors. Ivory is hard, dense, and made of dentine – a bony tissue, and wrapped in enamel. Depending on the animal, tusks serve many purposes such as digging, gathering food, defence and combat, giving the animals that have them an evolutionary advantage.

Elephant ivory is the most common form but ivory from other species has also been used for centuries to make a huge range of items, everything from false teeth, piano keys, and religious objects, to buttons and art.

– NARWHAL –

Dubbed for centuries as the “unicorn of the sea”, the unmistakable, spiralled tusk of the mysterious narwhal caused quite the stir among the Europeans, particularly monarchs, while the Arctic was still mostly unexplored.

Queen Elizabeth I is said to have spent £10,000 on one – equivalent roughly to £1.5m in today’s money. Now the average price for a tusk can vary drastically from between £3,000 to £12,000, while rare double tusks can fetch as much as £25,000.

The tusk, no longer considered that of a unicorn, is actually a protruding canine tooth – most commonly found on males. The tusk which has a sensory capability and up to 10 million nerve endings inside, can grow up to 10 feet long!

The IUCN does not consider the narwhal, a relative of the white beluga whale, to be at immediate risk; therefore they are currently listed as “least concern”. However, the impact of hunting and changes in their natural environment means thing could go south. And quickly.

Native Inuit permitted under a Canadian and Greenland permit, have hunted these whales as a source of food and income for centuries. A Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) study found that shops in Japan were selling narwhal tusks as a tonic to treat fever, measles and other diseases, with shop prices varying from £421£724 for 100g.

Ultimately the WWF and TRAFFIC concluded from a 2015 survey, that the effects of climate change mean the hunting of narwhal needs to be monitored and regulated more precisely, but they didn’t consider the current international trade to be a threat to the survival of the species today.

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Narwhal

 

– WARTHOG –

Unlike elephants, the tusks of a warthog are less sought after. The common warthog is identifiable by two pairs of tusks or canine teeth, that protrude from the mouth and curve upwards. The lower pair, far smaller than the upper, become razor sharp because they rub against the upper pair every time the mouth opens or closes.

The tusks that grow constantly throughout the animals lives are used for digging, for combat with other hogs and in defence against predators.

The upper set of tusks are the most common form of warthog ivory, typically being carved and sold to tourists in and around east and southern Africa.

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Common warthog

The common warthog is currently listed as “least concern” on the IUCN red list.

– WALRUS –

With tusks that can grow as long as 39 inches in males, walrus ivory comes from two modified canine teeth located in the upper jaw, just like the warthog.

The killing of these animals is illegal under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act – except for Alaskan natives, who hunt to eat them and use their tusks, bones and hides for traditional purposes, within restrictions by countries with territories in the Arctic. The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) believes an average of 5,406 animals were hunted from 2006 07 to 2010 11, which “equates to less than 3% and 4% of the estimated global populations of each subspecies”.

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Pacific walrus

The Pacific walrus is currently listed as “data deficient” on the IUCN red list, whereas the Atlantic walrus is listed as “near threatened”.

– HIPPOPOTAMUS-

Hippopotamus teeth ivory is the second most common type of ivory. It is cheaper than that of elephants, easier to smuggle and extremely durable. The huge canines grow throughout their lives and can reach 60cm in length, their teeth also don’t yellow with age, unlike other ivories, meaning they are often valued higher on the market.

Unregulated hunting of not only their teeth but bones and skin too, coupled with habitat loss and increased human-hippo conflict have lead to a decline in hippo numbers in Africa. At current rates, of just 115,000130,000 across 29 African states, these animals could disappear within a century. While researching I found out this number represents little more than a quarter of Africa’s 400,000 elephant population, quite shocking when you think about it!

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Hippopotamus

The hippotamus is currently listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN red list.

– SPERM WHALE –

The sperm whale is the largest of toothed whales and the largest of all toothed predators. Mature males average 52ft in length but some can reach as much as 67ft, with the head accounting for onethird of the animal’s whole length. Their sheer size means they have few natural predators, although calves and weakened individual can succumb to orca attacks.

Over the years orcas have also been a source of ivory – although nowadays it is rare for both species to be hunted in this way. Instead, sperm whales are typically hunted as food and they are now considered as “vulnerable” on the red list. In the days of the ”whaling era” (which occurred between the 17th and 20th centuries) it is believed as many as 1,000,000 of these whales were killed, poached for their blubber, oil and meat.

Orca, on the other hand, have not been massively hunted, however, they are still killed for the meat, skin, and internal organs. Capture for entertainment and habitat pollution is considered to be two big threats that endanger this species. As of 2017, they are listed as “data deficient” by the IUCN, something I was surprised to read.

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Sperm whale