Friday, April 1, 2016

What is a mother?

A mother is one who cares for,

Nursing her cubs

Watching cubs as they explore the communal den area while they are still young and uncoordinated.


Chasing other hyenas away so her cubs can feed in peace


Taking cubs on walks in the territory as they become den independent

and sacrifices for her young.

Blocking, or standing in the way of other hyenas who may otherwise behave aggressively towards her cub,
even if it means getting pushed around herself.

If there ever was a perfect example of maternal care, I can’t think of one better than that of spotted hyena females and their cubs. We rarely miss a day where we don’t see mothers visiting cubs at the den, taking them on forays into the territory, or even bringing cubs sections of fresh kills. When cubs begin to become den-independent (or "graduating" as we call it) mothers and older siblings will usually be found not far away watching over them. As it takes years for hyena cubs to physically develop into the top carnivores that they are (especially their bone crushing jaws), mothers can spend years with their cubs defending their offspring’s right to feed, and supporting them as they establish their rank in the clan. For female cubs this is a lifetime commitment, as the females rarely, if ever, leave the clan, while the males will enjoy their mothers care and support until it is time to move to a new clan. What makes this so wonderful for hyena researches, beyond the heart-warming moments of motherly love, is that we can study how maternal care strategies are passed down, or developed uniquely. Due to the long-term continuation of the Mara Hyena Project, we have been able to watch each of these individuals mature into mothers, grandmothers, and sometimes great-grandmothers from the time they were cubs themselves. With luck, many of the little cubs will survive, and we will be able to determine if the maternal strategies utilized by these interrelated mothers affect the offspring’s behavior and longevity. Of course, until then we get to enjoy all of these beautiful family moments. 


dee said...

Nice blog Kevin. I am VERY interested in hearing how Cyberman does if she manages to bring cubs into the world who can survive. I think of her often and wonder how she managed to survive when her own Mom was killed when she was still quite young. What lessons she missed, how will she know what to teach her own babies when she missed so much herself?

Kevin McCormick said...

Actually, the last we saw CYBR it looked like she was lactating, but we can't find her den!!

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science