Which wild animals are the best fathers?

This article is published in partnership with Quora, a platform on which Internet users can ask questions and where others, specialists in the subject, answer them. The question of the day: “Which wild animals are the best fathers?”

Serge Elia’s response:

Where do I start to answer this question? Here are five examples of the most loving fathers in the animal kingdom:

The Tiger

Many people think that male tigers don’t really care about raising their cubs – implying that parenting is the sole responsibility of female tigers – but nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, despite his status as a solitary animal, the male tiger proves to be a much better father than the lion and all the other big cats, since he will gladly help his companion in the education and protection of babies, and will go so far as to share its prey with its family without a fight.

One individual in particular by the name of Zalim from Ranthambore National Park in India took this to a whole new level when he single-handedly cared for two cubs who were orphaned after the death of their mother. He did volunteer to take care of the two orphans, since he raised, fed and protected them as a single father, which gave them a chance to survive and reach the adulthood.

Are you surprised? In July 2021, foresters working in the Panna Tiger Reserve, still in India, crossed paths with another male who did the exact same thing with four orphans. Indeed, he too provided these cubs with all the parental care they needed, since he brought them food (which he did by deliberately leaving his prey in their territory), never left their bedside and taught them how to hunt – in other words, this male has indeed taken on the role of mother for the litter.

This behavior was truly puzzling for the lucky men who had the opportunity to witness such an extraordinary event. But as far as we know, these supposedly rare situations may happen far more often than you think—especially since it’s not because people don’t see this behavior on a daily basis. that it must be considered non-existent.

“Tigers have very complex social systems, hierarchies and relationships.”

Suyash Keshari, wildlife filmmaker

It doesn’t stop there: it is generally believed that tiger dads will only tolerate young of their own lineage, while they will kill any offspring sired by another male – it is highly likely that Zalim and the male of Panna recognized the orphans as their biological offspring, although, according to experts, this is not entirely certain. But it has actually recently been established that even tiger step-dads (not related to cubs) gladly break this stereotype!

I’m not kidding, wildlife filmmaker Suyash Keshari witnessed it first hand. He thus met a family of tigers made up of a female, her four cubs and a stepfather who did not kill them, although he was not the real father – or rather, the new one. male has actually accepted the presence of these young without any aggression, so much so that the family has often been seen gathering around prey, roaming the territory or drinking together near a waterhole …

At this level, it is completely new behavior, which has changed practically everything we thought we knew about tigers and their personalities. Suyash Keshari goes even further, saying that “All of these cases proved to us that tigers have very complex social systems, hierarchies and relationships, and most of them we will never understand. To some extent, we can only guess.”

Tibetan fox

I have seen this in many animal documentaries: the Tibetan fox is a true devoted father. As a monogamous animal, he and his mate stay together throughout their lives and regularly take turns raising and feeding their young (called cubs) until they reach 8 to 10 years of age. months – after which they leave them to start a new life.

If the mother dies for any reason, the male will not abandon either his young or his parenting role. He will continue to provide care, food and protection for the cubs as a single father.

The gharial

Male gharials deserve the title of the most attentive and devoted fathers of all reptiles. Indeed, the other crocodilians assume no role in the breeding and protection of the young. Moreover, baby crocodiles and alligators never know their real father… and that’s good, because if the opportunity arises, an adult male crocodile or alligator does not hesitate to kill and devour any small which passes within its reach, including those which it has engendered previously.

A gharial crocodile carries its child on its back. Both males and females take care of their young. | Goodfriend19 via Wikimedia Commons

The male gharials, on the other hand, take care of the babies belonging to all the females with which they have mated – they carry, often on their backs and sometimes on their heads, up to a hundred or more young to make them cross the river safely and protect them from any potential danger.

And it goes further: Often times, male gharials engage in a practice called “alloparenting,” which involves providing parental care to non-biological or unrelated offspring—in other words, those super-loving crocodilians. get involved, even if the little ones are not their own. A truly unique behavior for a reptile.

The seahorse

In seahorses, it is the father who gives birth to the young. | Betty Wills (Atsme) via Commons Wikimedia

In the world of seahorses, contrary to what is usual in other animals, it is the father who undergoes the pregnancy instead of the mother – the reason for this remains mysterious. The female actually transfers her eggs into the male’s abdominal pouch, which uses his sperm to fertilize them as they enter his abdomen, before incubating them for twenty-four days.

At the time of childbirth, the male hippocampus engages in a series of muscle spasms and full body contractions (much like women about to give birth in the human world). After which, the abdomen opens and the newborns are born.

The African cane toad

As soon as the mating ends, the male cane toads take over the guarding of the tadpoles. Not easy, since it involves keeping around 1,000 larvae healthy and alive in small ponds located on the edge of larger bodies of water, under the scorching African sun! It is indeed a very dangerous period, when vulnerable tadpoles risk dying of dehydration because of the rising temperatures which cause the ponds to evaporate and dry up quickly.

The African cane toad takes over the guarding of the tadpoles. A daunting task, since there may be 1,000 to watch over and help to survive. | Steven G. Johnson via Wikimedia Commons

Fortunately, the bullfrog dad is devoted and will do anything to save his offspring. Indeed, its ingenuity and its instinct lead it to use its powerful hind legs to dig a channel connecting the two ponds, forming a passage in which the tadpoles can swim and have a chance to come close to death. Everyone cheers cane toad daddies!

The birds

Baltimore Orioles are perfectly capable of being good single fathers. | Åsa Berndtsson via Wikimedia Commons

Many species of birds (from emperor penguins to bald eagles) are monogamous, as they mate for life, visit the same nest every year, regularly share parenting duties, and constantly take turns hatching eggs and feed the chicks. But some species, such as the Baltimore oriole, take things to extremes.

Thus, the males continue to feed their chicks for several days, even after these young have left the nest, in order to give them a better chance of survival. And if the female begins to build a new nest long before her previous offspring become independent, then the father will become a “super dad” and take care of his nestlings on his own.

Myths about lions

Before ending my answer, I must refute a misconception about male lions, currently viral on the internetwhich is to say that daddy lion would pretend to be hurt by the bites of his lion cubs, in order to encourage them to perfect their hunting skills.

A lioness warns her cub who is having fun with her tail. Because a bite, even from a lion cub, can always be painful. | John Storr via Wikimedia Commons

It is entirely false. Adult lions (both male and female) don’t really appreciate cubs having fun with them in this way, especially since these are games that help prepare these youngsters for what will not be a day more than a game. The bite of a lion cub can also sometimes be painful and no animal likes to be bitten, even if it is only a game: what would your reaction be if your child played with you? the same way? So when they growl loudly, lions are actually trying to scare their cubs and dissuade them from playing, instead of encouraging them as the hoax claims.

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