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Feral crèches: parenting in wild India

The Wildlife Conservation Society-India has been camera trapping wild animals for over 20 years in the Western Ghats. The results reveal the most intimate, fascinating and sometimes comical insights into animal behavior and ecology.



These mammals generally become secretive and protective during parenting, and therefore we seldom get to see little ones in the wild. But discretely placed camera traps have not only caught glimpses of these adorable wild babies, but also produced wonderful family albums!



Baby monkeys such as the Hanuman langur and bonnet macaque are typically singletons attached to their mothers till they are almost two years old. The mothers manage to run, eat, jump and even hop across trees, all with the little ones tightly clutched to them. Both these species are frequently seen in troops, living aside people in rural and urban areas.



Hanuman langur and babies. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.
Hanuman langur and infants. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.



Bonnet macaque and infant. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.
Bonnet macaque and infant. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.


Mammals such as the chital live in large herds. Sometimes, they tend to lose their fawns within their herds!




Chital mom and fawn. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.
Chital mom and fawn. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.



But elephants on the other hand, are extremely protective and keep a close eye on their calves. The little calves develop strong bonds with the every member of the elephant herd, which is usually an extended family.



Asian elephant with calf. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.
Asian elephant with calf. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.


And then there are elusive, nocturnal animals like the porcupine, whose secretive lives we know very little about. While not much has been studied about their social lives, even less is known about their parenting behavior.




Porcupine family. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.
Porcupine family. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.



Porcupine parent with its porcupette (baby porcupine). Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.
Porcupine parent with its porcupette (baby porcupine). Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.


The number of offspring may range from one or two as in case of the mouse deer, one of the smallest ungulates in India, to as many as a dozen in a sounder of wild pigs.




Mousedeer and fawn. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.
Mousedeer and fawn. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.



Large pig family. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.
Large pig family. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.


Big cats such as the leopard and the tiger, which may produce up to four cubs in a litter, ferociously protect their young ones. The cubs may live with their mothers up to two years before they move away as adults.




Family of leopards. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.

Family of leopards. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.




Tiger family. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.
Tiger family. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.


Not far behind in the list of aggressive parents is the sloth bear. In fact, sloth bear mothers are so protective that they carry the little ones on their backs to keep them safe!




Sloth bear with cubs. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.
Sloth bear with cubs. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.


Finally, these remotely setup camera traps manage to capture the curious little young ones of the four-horned antelope, when even the adults are extremely shy, secretive and hard to spot!



Four-horned antelope calf. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.
Four-horned antelope calf. Photo by: Ullas Karanth/WCS.



Watching and understanding animal behavior such as mating and parenting are among the most fun aspects of being a wildlife biologist. Our camera traps reveal delightful insights into curious world of animal babies! We have so much more to learn.



Special note: The authors work for the Wildlife Conservation Society (www.wcs.org and www.wcsindia.org).




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