Three giraffes -- two mothers and a baby -- spiraled their long, spotted necks, turned and made a graceful walk to the platform to get a nibble. Trotting to keep up with her mom, Betty-Lou, was Betty-Lou's offspring, Sunshine, who was born a year ago in April.
The other mom, Audrey, had a male baby named Dane about 10 days before Sunshine was born. He was considered genetically valuable and was sent off to another zoo.
This is good news as the Masai giraffe, which is native to
Audrey is due sometime this winter and Betty-Lou is due in March of 2015.
Giraffes are pregnant 190 days, and after their babies are born, they will nurse for up to a year.
In the wild, giraffe moms often wander off for hours in search of food. While the giraffe moms are gone, one female giraffe usually stays and watches over all the baby giraffes in a wild kingdom version of "it takes a village."
"They bring in their babies with other female giraffes and they have a cooperative nursery," Anderson explained. "There is always one who stays behind. People think giraffes are not intelligent or socially structured, but they are."
And if there is a predator around, nature has endowed the giraffe with a surprising way of sounding the alarm.
"Giraffes are very silent, but an upset mom who is upset about her baby can make a huge roar that would shock most people," Anderson said. "
Mothering styles across the animal, bird and reptile kingdom are as varied as the number of species that exist, says
"Different species have varying strategies for successfully propagating their individual genes and to ensure species survival," Horiszny said. " 'Good moms' are not always just like us. But, like humans, some individuals prove to be more successful mothers than others."
A visit to the
Although, like humans, there is a lot of individual variation of mothering styles even within one species.
"We have egg layers that lay and leave," Horiszny said. "But condors lay and stick around. They have 52 days of sitting on the eggs. Then the chicks will stick around and learn from their parents."
Then there are the reptilian egg layers. Snakes lay their eggs, but do little else.
"The babies hatch, the (mothers) make sure everybody is OK," said animal care aide
Maybe, but at least one reptile does more extensive parenting.
"Alligator mothers are very protective, very gentle, and will transport their young in their mouths if they are in distress," Jimison said. "They are amazingly delicate."
Scotty will appear in the swan habitat with his dad and mom, Arasy, named after a Greek goddess. The black-necked swan nests in the wild in
Scotty is the third chick his parents have hatched, according to
Ritchason said the downy babies will ride around on their mom's back and enjoy lots of attention until about 6 months old, when the parent swans decide it's time to leave the nest.
"It's actually dad who chases off the offspring," Ritchason said.
Sometimes mothers don't take to the job immediately, or at all. A 2-year-old giant anteater named Anara gave birth to twins -- a male and a female -- on
She was nursing the female, but the little pup died four days later of unknown causes.
"She (Anara) was a first-time mom and had trouble," said
The male, who is yet unnamed, is being hand raised at the on-site animal hospital.
Green, Horiszny and other curators all took shifts coming in and formula feeding the baby giant anteater.
"The prognosis for the little guy is good, but still somewhat guarded," Horiszny said on the zoo website. "Giant anteater pups have a 50 percent mortality rate in the first three months of life, and he did not get the valuable colostrum from his mother's first milk for added immune support."
The baby anteater likes to tumble with his stuffed animals and get petted when he climbs into a zookeeper's lap to be bottle-fed formula. He has graduated to formula and a gruel mash, stairsteps to his eventual adult diet of ants and termites, which he will sniff out and grasp with his long nose and sticky tongue.
When all goes according to Mother Nature's plan, baby anteaters ride on their mothers' backs, lining up the stripe on their backs with the stripe on their mothers' backs when they saddle up.
Anara rested on her side in her sunny enclosure recently, completely covered with her broad, bushy tail, now and then fanning it up and down to keep herself cool.
Mothers who tend more toward the human model of mothering are elephants and primates, Horiszny said.
"All primates tend to have high levels of parental investment, just like we do," Horiszny said. "Because we are primates, too. Elephants also have a very high level of parental investment, meaning they spend a great deal of time and energy caring for, and teaching their offspring."
In the end, the only way to judge successful mothering, Horiszny said, is survival.
"If they're a species and they're on the earth, the species is there, so they must be good moms," she said.
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