Animal as foster Parent

Maneka Gandhi

Maneka GandhiFriendicoes, an animal shelter in Delhi, has an unusual mother and child. The dog has adopted a baby monkey. The baby suckles the dog, he rides on her back and she growls at anyone who comes near her child. She nuzzles him, cuddles him at night to keep him warm and lets him bite her ears. He is her son and animal love knows no species barriers.

I brought a parakeet whose wings had been clipped and who had been kept in a cage for two years. The cage was so small that the parakeet could only crouch in it so its muscles and legs were almost paralysed. I gave it to a lawyer to nurse back to health. He already had a guinea pig who was the boss of the house. When the parakeet came into the house and was encouraged to run free till she regained her muscles and wings, the guinea pig took charge of her and the parakeet sat on his back and was carried to wherever she wanted to go. They ate together , they slept together for one year. Then the parakeet flew away. She still comes back to say hello to the guinea pig sometimes.

Recently a female mongoose was seen leading her babies near a patch of forest. . Following her were three healthy-looking young mongooses and one kitten. The youngsters played together and were cuffed equally by the mother.

Adoption is not just a quirk among human beings and eccentric mongooses. From gulls, geese and bats to seals, wolves and dolphins, all kinds of creatures have been known to take in and raise another animal's young. According to Eva Jablonka, an evolutionary biologist at Tel-Aviv University who describes the behavior in the book Animal Traditions, adoption "is certainly more common than previously thought." She and her coauthor, zoologist Eytan Avital, report that several hundred bird and mammal species occasionally adopt.

Adoption is common in chaotic breeding colonies of animals such as seals, bats and gulls . Studies of elephant seals and Hawaiian monk seals, for example, show that the denser a colony, the more likely a mother and pup will become permanently separated during the ruckus caused by bull seals barging through the group, scuffles between neighboring females or high surf. More separations lead to more adoptions. While most monk seal mothers care for only one pup at a time, they may cycle through two to four different ones by the time they're done nursing for the season.

Among northern elephant seals, pups frequently become separated from their mothers--and would die if they were not adopted by another female. Fortunately, such pups are often taken in by first-time mothers who have lost their own young.

Gulls and terns, for example, hatch more chicks each season than they can successfully raise to adulthood. If chicks are starving in their own nest, they may sneak into a neighboring nest and pass as a member of the family.

Among several bird and mammal species that live in groups--often with close relatives--caring for one another's offspring is the norm. In packs of wolves or coyotes, for example, only one or two females give birth to pups each year, and adults of both sexes help care for the young. Mothers sometimes nurse another female's pup, and in a few cases have been known to adopt orphans. Lionesses on the African savanna also care for cubs communally, freely nursing each other's offspring. Feral house cats do the same thing in farmyards and suburban woodlots worldwide. And young acorn woodpeckers often spend their first year of adulthood hanging around the home nest, helping to raise younger siblings rather than hatching their own chicks.

But even bears, solitary animals that normally have little contact with other adults, have been known to become adoptive parents.

Sometimes, when the urge to nurture overwhelms, animal parents can end up in bizarre situations. In the mid-1970s, a biologist working in Alaska observed a pair of arctic loons, which had lost their own chicks, raising five spectacled eider ducklings that might otherwise have made a decent lunch.

Almost everyone in animal welfare has a story to tell. Cats that are feeding their own kittens often feed orphaned puppies as well. Dogs who nurse kittens along with their own puppies. Cats who nurse baby rabbits . Rabbits who look after rats. Someone reports a huge black MALE police dog that adopted a litter of kittens when their mother was killed. Luckily they were old enough to not need to be nursed, but still young enough to need a mother's supervision. He did a good job with them, licking them to keep them clean, etc. except that he went nuts trying to keep them from doing undoglike things like climbing the curtains.

When maternal instincts take over ,a mother animal will frequently nurse a surrogate infant. Cows, goats, sheep and horses also nurse young that had been rejected by their mothers.

In 2001, at Kenya's Samburu National Park ,a young lioness spotted an Oryx antelope calf near its mother. The lioness frightened away the antelope mother, then picked up the calf in her mouth. She kept the Oryx calf by her side for naps, nuzzling it, but allowed it to return to its antelope Oryx mother for nursing. This went on for two weeks, until a lion from another pride killed the calf while the calf was playing away from the lioness, who was asleep. When the lioness awoke to find the dead Oryx, she was enraged and roared at the predatory lion, circling the predator 10 times, before she drove her away. In 2002, the lioness adopted another Oryx calf, this time protecting the calf fiercely from predator lions. The lioness adopted a total of five Oryx calves, nuzzling them but also allowing them to return to their natural mothers for nursing. Her behavior showed that animals have feelings and a true knowledge of what they are doing.

Animals are so much like we are; after all, we are but animals. If only we all could live together, as one, the lion with the lamb, the people with the animals, the people with one another. Nature will nurture those in need. The animals know this. Why do we humans need to be told? Your species or not, it is better to err on the side of compassion.

To join the animal welfare movement contact :

previous articles...

1. Human Propensities of Cow

2.Trade in WildLife

3.Human Intelligence of Birds

4.Animal feed from rendering plant