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  • The Female Lead

    June 17, 2024 4 min read

    Wildlife mothers with their babies at the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

    For wildlife, “mom” means a lot of different things

    May 10, 2024*

    In the world of wildlife, mothering comes in many forms. Just as in our own lives, there’s biological moms, adoptive moms, foster moms, and individuals that step up to take care of the young ones that need it. Some species are even matriarchal and led by the females in their group. From cubs and foals to chicks and calves, most little ones need a little help growing up, and that’s where “moms” of all kinds step in.

    Mother and Baby Meerkats

    Matriarchal Meerkats

    These mammals may be small, but they make up for it in numbers. Meerkats live in large groups of up to 40 individuals. Led by adult females, these groups are called mobs. Different family groups can work, live, and play together within the same mob, and each individual contributes to the overall health, well-being, and protection of one another. Mom meerkats teach their young pups what to eat and how to hunt, while the entire meerkat mob shares essential duties. Working together, they teach pups how to hide from predators, clean themselves, and defend their burrow.

    Mother Indah and Baby Kaja Orangutans

    Slow and Steady

    When Kaja was born at the San Diego Zoo, his mom Indah wasn’t initially able to care for him. Wildlife care specialists stepped in to raise the little orangutan. As they fed and cared for him, they’d even wear a suit with faux fur mimicking his mom’s so he could grab on, just as he would with her. Meanwhile, his care team never gave up on trying to reunite him with Indah. Kaja began integrating with the rest of the troop and slowly spent more time with his mom. Eventually, with determination and lots of time, Kaja and Indah were successfully reunited! The mother-son duo formed a strong bond, and Indah was even able to nurse him. Swing by to see this success story in action on your next visit to the Zoo.

    Resilient Omeo the Koala

    A Courageous Koala

    Omeo was only five months old when his mother passed away from cancer. Koalas typically stay in their mother’s pouch until they’re six months old and are dependent on their moms for much longer. Tiny Omeo was still growing when he was orphaned, so the Zoo’s wildlife care team acted fast to step in and help him. Working around the clock, they made him a warm pouch to feel at home in, bottle fed him to help build up his strength, and acclimated him to the outdoors when he was ready. After their help, he eventually made the transition to a eucalyptus diet, which is the only food adult koalas eat. Today he is healthy, strong, and all grown up! Bring home your own copy of Omeo's heartwarming story here.

    Mother and Baby Bonobos

    Bonobo Bonds

    Looks can be deceiving. Bonobos and chimpanzees aren’t as similar as they appear. Their diets, behaviors, and locations in native habitat are just a few differences between these two primate species. Where chimpanzees can be aggressive, bonobo troops are known to be more harmonious. In fact, bonobos are the only group of great apes led by females.

    Arthur the Rhino with Adopted Mother Livia

    Livia’s Support

    Just as they did with Kaja and Omeo, wildlife care teams step in to help when parents aren’t able to. It was no different for Arthur, a southern white rhino calf born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. But this time, they had a little extra assistance from a very special foster mom.

    When Arthur’s mother couldn’t take care of him, he was raised by the experts at the Safari Park’s Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center. Not only did he gain strength thanks to special rhino milk formula, but he was able to socialize with the herd and learn natural behaviors. Adult female Livia took a keen interest in Arthur. Soon after meeting him, she began acting as a foster mom, nurturing him and expertly keeping a watchful eye on him just as any other rhino mom would. Her natural maternal instincts were heartwarming to see and a sign she would eventually be a great mom to her own calf.

    Mothering comes in a wide variety of forms, whether it’s how a species approaches it or how individuals take on a role. Across the globe, wildlife follows their instincts to teach, nurture, encourage, and lead their little ones. It can be a team effort and an individual journey. There’s no limit to what “mom” means to wildlife, just as there’s no limit to what “mom” can mean for us.

    Celebrate all the mother figures in your life with gifts that make a difference! From plush to drinkware and souvenirs, we have everything to show her what she means to you. From moms and cubs, joeys, kits, and pups, cherish memorable moments across all species and shop our collection of mama and baby keepsakes here.


    Mom and Baby Keepsakes


    *As seen on San Diego Wildlife Alliance Stories.

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