Going It Alone Animal Super Parents


Going It Alone

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The world is full of amazing animal parents.

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Whether they live at the frozen poles...

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..or in the scorching deserts...

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..mothers and fathers will do whatever it takes

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to provide for their young.

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From the weird...

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..to the wonderful...

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In this three part series,

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we explore the extraordinary science

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behind nature's most exceptional parenting strategies...

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We'll meet the animals who parent single-handedly...

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..the devoted couples...

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SQUAWKING

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..and finally the team players,

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who work together to raise their young.

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Whether they weigh a few tonnes...

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ELEPHANT SNORTS

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..or less than a gram,

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these parents all want the same thing...

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..and they'll risk it all...

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LIONS ROAR

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..for the next generation.

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LION ROARS

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There are many different ways of raising a family...

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BIRDS CALL

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..but, in this programme,

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it's all about the hard working single parents.

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For them, going it alone is their best bet for successfully raising their young.

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We meet a plucky brown bear mother on the run to protect her son...

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..a flamboyant single father left holding the babies...

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..and a seal mother who has to put her child through winter boot camp.

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Whatever strategy these parents use,

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it's all about the youngsters.

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MUSIC: I Feel Just Like A Child by Devendra Banhart

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# Yeah, I feel just like a child

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# Well, I feel just like a child

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# Well, I feel just like a child

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# From my womb to my tomb

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# I guess I'll always be a child. #

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BABY CROAKS

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The secret to the success of most single parents

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is being a good teacher.

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Here in the Arctic,

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this polar bear mother has just two years

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to teach her cubs everything they need to know to survive.

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Her cubs are three months old.

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They've recently emerged from their den,

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where they were born under the snow.

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CUB GROWLS

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Their mother is hungry.

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She hasn't eaten for around five months during hibernation

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and has lost about 40% of her body weight.

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Catching a seal is essential for her family's survival.

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So today's lesson is all about hunting.

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While polar bear mums do make good teachers,

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polar bear cubs don't make the most attentive pupils!

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The seals underneath the ice can feel the slightest vibration above,

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so it's important to TREAD carefully...

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CUBS GROWL

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Unfortunately the cubs have no idea what's at stake.

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Mum's patience is being well and truly tested.

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MUM SNORTS

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MUM GROWLS

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She puts her truant cub on the equivalent of the naughty step...

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..before trying to resume her hunting lesson...

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She'll catch something soon, but in the meantime

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at least the kids can recharge their batteries.

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As a single parent in harsh conditions,

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the going can be tough...

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..especially if your kids keep mucking about.

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Luckily, some children make better pupils than others.

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This Weddell seal faces an equally tough challenge.

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She has just six weeks to teach her youngster

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everything he needs to survive before he's on his own.

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Seals usually give birth every year

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and are pregnant for up to 11 months,

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so making sure this pup is independent,

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so she can have another,

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means she's on a tight schedule.

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There's no time for messing about.

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It's straight down to business.

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PUP SQUEALS

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This newborn needs to join his mother under water

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at only two weeks old!

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Mum encourages him to take the plunge.

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PUP SQUEALS

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PUP BARKS

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The icy pool doesn't look that inviting.

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She has to give him a good tug!

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Once in, he has to learn essential survival skills,

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getting to know the local landscape underwater

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and the best routes to breathing holes.

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A youngster like this should be able to hold their breath for up to 19 minutes.

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Her pup needs to practise this.

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The longer he can hold his breath,

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the more chance he has of outrunning predators

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like leopard seals and killer whales.

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Luckily, when it comes to learning fast,

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seal pups have a natural advantage.

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They are born with huge brains -

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already 70% the size of their mother's.

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Humans, on the other hand, are born with a brain

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just 25% the size of their parents.

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The seal pup's large brain means they can reach independence sooner.

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Lessons progress quickly.

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If he thought getting in was hard,

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getting out is even harder!

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Mum tries coaxing from above.

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SEALS BARK

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Success!

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MUM BARKS

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A quick well done...

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PUP BARKS

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..and it's on with the next class.

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PUP CONTINUES TO BARK

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One of the most important lessons is how to keep air holes

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from freezing over by filing them back with their teeth.

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Deciding where to put a new air hole

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is the next stage in this youngster's tuition.

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Finally, it's time to take a well-earned break.

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Supplying the pup with enough fat to keep his rapid development on track

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is a huge drain on his mum.

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Weddell seal milk is about 60% fat

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and amongst the most calorific of any mammal milk.

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No wonder her pup will double his birth weight

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in just ten days.

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He needs to learn and bulk up fast

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as he'll be fending for himself in just a matter of weeks.

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It's tough love,

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but life is tough when living in extremes such as these.

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As a parent, your job isn't done until your children are able to look after themselves.

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The more complex your lifestyle, the harder this is to achieve.

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The Sumatran rainforests in Indonesia...

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This orang-utan mother has a lengthy challenge ahead.

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In contrast to the Weddell seal,

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she needs eight years to get her youngster ready for adulthood.

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No other animal is a single parent to one child for this long!

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And, unlike other great apes, who all parent in social groups,

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an orang-utan will teach her child in relative isolation.

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The most important lesson is learning what's on the menu

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and where.

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This youngster needs to memorise a mental food map

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of the trees in the forest

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and when the fruit is ripe.

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There are thousands of plants to choose from,

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but only a careful selection

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will give orang-utans the nutrition they need.

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This dedicated one-to-one tuition

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means orang-utans share a bond that is unusually strong.

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His mum also fits in some all important playtime!

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Great for developing social skills and muscle co-ordination.

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If only all lessons were this much fun!

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There's even time for a much needed power nap...

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..leaving her youngster to improvise on building a shelter

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from the heavy rain.

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Well, this one may still have a way to go!

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Some animals learn their essential survival skills from their parents.

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For others, survival is based more on innate instinct than instruction.

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The tenrec of Madagascar.

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Their ancestors washed in from mainland Africa.

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They have some of the largest litters of any mammal.

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The tailless tenrec can have up to 32 babies.

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But how does a tenrec mother keep tabs on all her offspring?

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The striped tenrec have a clever trick up their sleeve...

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..a special homing signal.

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The babies use this signal to communicate with one another

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and their mother.

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SCRATCHING SOUND

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This baby tenrec has been tempted away from his family.

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He's about to put a unique form of communication to the test.

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It's called stridulation.

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SCRATCHING BEGINS AGAIN

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The striped tenrec vibrates the quills on its back

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to make a high-frequency sound.

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STRIDULATION

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The mum uses this sound to draw her stray baby back to the group.

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The baby vibrates his quills and communicates back.

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STRIDULATION CONTINUES

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They're reunited...

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..and it's happy families once again.

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Whether your child is inattentive...

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diligent...

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SEAL BARKS

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playful...

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or distracted...

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..single parents have to take on the role of teacher all by themselves.

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Life lessons that can be pretty challenging...

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From how to stand on your own two feet...

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HIPPO GROWLS

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..to how to swim.

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But possibly the most challenging task for any parent

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is keeping your child well fed.

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A task that is often easier said than done.

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In California, this single mum faces a difficult challenge.

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Sea otter pups cannot dive with their mothers

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until they've had their first moult at around 45 days old.

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Yet, as a new mum, she needs to feed almost around the clock

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to provide her pup with the high calorie milk he needs.

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This means leaving him on his own.

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But she's got a clever strategy.

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She fluffs up his fur, trapping air into it

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so when she leaves to hunt, he bobs like a cork.

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PUP YELPS

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No air in the fur

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and the pup would probably sink like a stone

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or die of hypothermia.

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PUP YELPS

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He may not like being left alone,

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but it's the only way his mum can manage.

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And she's not the only one on the lookout for snacks.

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BIRDS AND GULLS CRY

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There are opportunists all around.

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Mum has to multiskill -

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she's quick to defend her pup and her hard-earned dinner.

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It's amazing how far an animal will go to keep a child fed...

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..each developing strategies to suit their particular circumstances.

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Here in Australia,

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this single mum koala

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eats 550 grams of eucalyptus leaves a day.

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Not an odd eating habit in itself,

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but there's a catch.

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The eucalyptus leaves are high in fibre and low in protein.

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They are also full of toxins.

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The mother has microbes in her digestive system to break these down,

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but her baby doesn't.

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So she has a radical solution.

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Alongside her milk, she feeds her baby koala, or joey,

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her own faeces.

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This is unconventional to say the least,

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but to the koala, it's their ticket to survival.

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By feeding her baby a liquefied form of faeces known as pap,

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he gets the microbes he needs to digest the eucalyptus, too!

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It's all very clever.

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And he can also learn from his mother

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which of the 800 species of eucalyptus are the best to eat.

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She'll spend most of the time carrying him around on her back

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until he's quarter of her size.

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It's a pretty heavy load for her to cart around on her own.

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Single parenthood can be quite exhausting...

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MUSIC: It's Oh So Quiet by Bjork

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# Sssh!

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# It's oh so quiet

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# Sssh!

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# It's oh so still

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# Ssh, ssh

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# You're all alone

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# Ssh, ssh

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# And so peaceful until... #

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TRUMPETS BLARE, PENGUINS SQUEAL

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GROWLING

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SEALS BARK

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Sleep is always at a premium when your babies are tiny...

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..especially when they're crying out for food.

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GROWLING

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Some single parents are prepared to sacrifice

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more than just a few hours' sleep to put dinner on the table.

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This is a caecilian.

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They thrive in wet tropical regions

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and look like giant earthworms...

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..but in fact they have a strong backbone.

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They spend most of their time underground.

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Right now this mum has her work cut out for her.

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Her babies are constantly on the lookout for food.

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They drink from an opening at the end of their mother's tail called a cloaca.

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But this liquid alone can't satisfy their growing needs.

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These hook teeth were designed to eat something more substantial.

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And mum is willing to provide it!

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She let's them eat her skin!

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She regrows her skin every three days

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just so her babies can benefit from the fat that's in it.

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And, she's not the only yummy mummy in the natural world.

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The black lace weaver spider,

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found in most European gardens.

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The day after her spiderlings have hatched,

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this single mum lays a second set of unfertilised eggs prematurely...

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and puts on a banquet

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But her spiderlings are voracious feeders with enormous appetites.

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Parents are often prepared to make huge sacrifices

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to feed their children,

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but this spider takes that impulse further than most.

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By pushing herself down onto her babies,

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she switches on their cannibalistic impulse

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so they all act at once.

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They start to devour her.

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She sacrifices herself.

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It's not pretty, but it is clever.

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For an animal with just a two year natural lifespan,

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it's a good way of ensuring her genes are passed on to the next generation.

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These animal parents take self-sacrifice to a new level,

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to care for their young.

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But alongside nurturing,

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the other key parental responsibility is protection.

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ROARING

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And this job often starts before the baby is born.

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Sometimes it's not the mums who take on this role,

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but the dads.

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The male members of the seahorse family,

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otherwise known as the Syngnathidae family,

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are dedicated child carers.

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These fantastical creatures glide almost invisibly around the ocean bed.

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Both the male leafy sea dragon

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and the male weedy sea dragon

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use their flamboyant decoration to help keep their broods safe.

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There's little risk of predation, when you're as well camouflaged as these eggs.

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The dads carry their eggs around for one month until they hatch.

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Then the hard work is finally rewarded.

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The little baby sea dragons are born,

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complete with yolk sacks still attached.

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These tiny hatchlings will grow fast.

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Their father has played his part,

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bringing them safely into the world.

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And now its over to them to play theirs.

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Also in the same extended family the pipefish,

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a master of disguise and another super dad.

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After enjoying a graceful mating dance with the female,

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she swiftly transfers the eggs into his brood pouch.

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He keeps them safe for ten days

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until they hatch as perfectly formed miniature versions of himself.

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But the ultimate single dad has got to be this spiny seahorse...

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He's the only male in the animal world

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to undergo pregnancy and childbirth,

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complete with contractions.

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This act sets this single father apart from all other single dads.

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Keeping your eggs safe when they're inside you is one thing,

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but for those who incubate them outside the body,

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it's much more challenging.

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Eggs are small packs of protein

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and predators are everywhere.

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In the Ganges, a rare member of the crocodile family,

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called a gharial,

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buries her eggs in the sand to keep them away from predators.

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BABY CROAKS

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Around 70 days later and the eggs are ready to hatch.

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In a twist of nature,

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it's the unborn babies who call to their mum to be dug out

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when the time is right for them to enter the world.

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For some single mothers,

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just getting to what they hope will be a safe place to lay their eggs,

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can be a test of endurance.

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At around 30 years old,

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a green turtle first-time mother

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will make an incredible journey,

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travelling back to the same beach where she herself was born.

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This mum is repeating what her ancestors have done

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for millions of years.

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For her, this is the safest place she knows to build her nest.

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This is the only time she ever comes ashore.

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She needs to build her nest high

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above the tide line to avoid flooding.

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In the water she is agile,

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but on land she feels every one of her 80 kilos!

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It's an incredible test of stamina and courage.

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And she's not the only mother to take on this challenge.

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During one night, around 5,000 female turtles

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can haul their heavy bodies onto a beach like this to lay their eggs.

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It will take them most of the night.

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Once the nest is dug, they lay around 100 eggs in one go.

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Green turtle mums the world over - in Australia, Asia

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and Africa - all undergo this ordeal to create the safest nest they can.

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Three months later and there's a cascade of tiny hatchlings...

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..each one just seven centimetres long.

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And they have only one goal.

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Instinctively, they know that's where they're headed,

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and thankfully they're much more agile than their mums.

0:38:350:38:38

One of the last out,

0:38:490:38:51

this baby may seem to have pulled the short straw.

0:38:510:38:53

There's nothing else he can do except make a mad dash for it!

0:39:030:39:07

Finally, the relative safety of the sea.

0:39:340:39:37

The green turtle mums have given

0:39:440:39:46

their babies the best start in life,

0:39:460:39:49

against the odds.

0:39:490:39:50

For many single parents, endurance goes with the job,

0:39:560:40:00

but some take it to the ultimate extreme.

0:40:000:40:03

The female giant Pacific octopus.

0:40:080:40:12

Growing up to four metres long and weighing 70 kilos,

0:40:170:40:21

she's a member of the largest octopus species in the world.

0:40:210:40:24

Home is the Northern Pacific Ocean.

0:40:290:40:32

She's looking for the perfect hiding place...

0:40:360:40:39

..somewhere safe to give birth to her first and only brood.

0:40:440:40:48

And it's some brood!

0:40:590:41:00

She has up to 100,000 eggs in one go.

0:41:080:41:11

These tiny eggs would make easy dinner for any predator,

0:41:220:41:26

and there are many hungry mouths down here...

0:41:260:41:28

..so mum dedicates herself entirely

0:41:340:41:38

to protecting and caring for her young...

0:41:380:41:40

..attending to their every need for six months.

0:41:450:41:49

She regularly caresses them to keep them free of algae

0:41:500:41:53

and supplied with plenty of oxygen.

0:41:530:41:56

She won't leave them alone for a second,

0:41:570:41:59

so eating is out of the question.

0:41:590:42:02

Effectively, this home will also become her final resting place.

0:42:020:42:06

But not before she sees her eggs hatch

0:42:110:42:13

as young, fully developed octopus.

0:42:130:42:16

These little ones are smaller than the size of a fingernail.

0:42:210:42:24

Their mum has sacrificed everything to give them the best start.

0:42:270:42:31

You can't really ask for more.

0:42:350:42:37

For the majority of single parents,

0:42:440:42:46

the sacrifices normally come after childbirth rather than before.

0:42:460:42:51

That's when your mettle is truly tested!

0:42:510:42:53

This African bullfrog single father faces a problem.

0:43:020:43:06

During the rainy season, he put his children into a

0:43:100:43:14

nursery pool to keep them safe from predators living in the main pond.

0:43:140:43:18

But now the dry season has arrived

0:43:250:43:28

and the smaller pool is evaporating fast.

0:43:280:43:31

His children are in mortal danger.

0:43:310:43:34

He goes to work.

0:43:370:43:39

Just in the nick of time, he breaks through,

0:43:590:44:02

and his kids live to see another day.

0:44:020:44:04

Keeping your child safe often means reacting to both

0:44:310:44:34

the environment they're born into as well as the threat from predators.

0:44:340:44:38

But what if everyone who shares your neighbourhood

0:44:400:44:43

is out to get your babies?

0:44:430:44:45

This is a big mouth hap.

0:44:510:44:53

Her children would make easy prey.

0:44:550:44:58

And when you have this many babies,

0:45:020:45:04

you have to have a clever strategy if you want to protect them.

0:45:040:45:07

This female cichlid guards her

0:45:130:45:15

offspring in the safest place she can think of.

0:45:150:45:19

She's not eating them.

0:45:230:45:25

She's simply keeping them out of harm's way.

0:45:250:45:27

She will mouth brood her babies for anywhere between three to six

0:45:320:45:36

weeks and during this period she won't feed herself at all.

0:45:360:45:40

You can understand why!

0:45:420:45:44

For some cichlids, the art of mouth brooding

0:45:500:45:53

is easier to master than for others!

0:45:530:45:55

The urge to protect, however, is strong.

0:46:080:46:11

This urge exists for most parents.

0:46:180:46:20

And when it comes to leaving their youngsters alone,

0:46:220:46:25

every animal has their own unique strategy for keeping them safe.

0:46:250:46:29

Take this mum. She's a slow loris.

0:46:330:46:36

She may be slow moving,

0:46:400:46:42

but she's one of only a few mammals with venomous powers.

0:46:420:46:45

She produces a poison in her brachial arm gland.

0:46:510:46:54

She could use this on her prey,

0:46:540:46:56

but instead she uses it on her baby.

0:46:560:46:59

In order to leave her child alone while she hunts,

0:47:030:47:06

she covers him in toxic saliva.

0:47:060:47:08

If predators try to take him while she's gone,

0:47:140:47:17

one taste of her baby's fur

0:47:170:47:19

and they'll be spitting all the way home!

0:47:190:47:22

Believe it or not, this tiny mammal is now armed and dangerous.

0:47:260:47:31

Here in the hills of Hunan in South West China,

0:47:380:47:42

there's another single mum without child care.

0:47:420:47:44

And she's improvised her own cunning plan

0:47:470:47:50

to keep her child safe when home alone.

0:47:500:47:53

Bamboo forests stretch for almost

0:47:550:47:58

800 km from Hunan all the way to Shanghai.

0:47:580:48:02

And while they may be beautiful,

0:48:050:48:08

these forests can also be very dangerous...

0:48:080:48:11

..especially if you're a bat.

0:48:140:48:16

The lesser bamboo bat is one of 122 species of bat that live in China.

0:48:190:48:25

These tiny creatures weigh less than a 20 pence piece.

0:48:270:48:30

The bat babies can't fly, so they're easy to catch...

0:48:330:48:36

..not to mention delicious

0:48:400:48:43

if you're a snake.

0:48:430:48:44

Despite the danger, their single mums must leave

0:48:470:48:50

their little ones all alone as they go to hunt.

0:48:500:48:53

These little bats would make a very tasty snack...

0:49:010:49:05

..but the single mums have a clever strategy for keeping

0:49:080:49:12

their young tantalisingly out of reach.

0:49:120:49:14

They've hijacked a beetle hole in a bamboo shoot

0:49:170:49:20

and hidden their babies inside.

0:49:200:49:22

There are around 15 bats belonging

0:49:260:49:28

to ten mums in this one shoot.

0:49:280:49:31

But the snake can't get at any of them!

0:49:320:49:35

It's the perfect ruse.

0:49:370:49:38

The bats use special pads on their wings to

0:49:420:49:45

help them cling onto the interior bamboo walls

0:49:450:49:48

until their mothers return.

0:49:480:49:51

It's only because of mum's unusually flattened skull

0:49:530:49:56

that she can fit back in.

0:49:560:49:59

Even for her, it's still a tight squeeze.

0:49:590:50:02

As a single mum, the bamboo bat has come up with an ingenious

0:50:050:50:08

solution to keep her little ones safe

0:50:080:50:11

without dad or a baby-sitter around.

0:50:110:50:14

And she's not the only one.

0:50:180:50:20

In Alaska, female brown bears have

0:50:370:50:40

to face a danger that comes from much closer to home.

0:50:400:50:44

This first-time mother and her cub share a very close bond.

0:50:470:50:51

At five months old, a brown bear cub will rarely leave his mum's side.

0:50:540:50:59

Right now, this mum's on the hunt for clams.

0:51:100:51:13

On top of feeding herself and her youngster,

0:51:260:51:29

like all brown bear mums,

0:51:290:51:31

she needs to keep her baby safe.

0:51:310:51:33

And out here that's not an easy task.

0:51:430:51:45

The main threat comes from the other bears.

0:51:480:51:51

Particularly the larger males.

0:51:520:51:54

GRUNTING

0:51:540:51:57

They can be incredibly intimidating.

0:51:570:52:00

An adult bear wouldn't hesitate to eat a cub.

0:52:020:52:05

It would help see them through the winter.

0:52:050:52:07

After all, a cub is a lot bigger than a clam.

0:52:090:52:12

GRUNTING

0:52:120:52:16

Here in Alaska, all brown bear mums face a common dilemma.

0:52:180:52:23

Either stay and try to dodge the terrifying predatory male bears,

0:52:230:52:27

or find a more isolated spot to hide out

0:52:270:52:30

until their cubs are stronger.

0:52:300:52:32

Both options carry risk.

0:52:370:52:39

This mum makes a run for it.

0:52:450:52:47

Her cub has to hold on for dear life!

0:53:030:53:06

The water here is icy cold and the currents have a very strong pull.

0:53:110:53:15

It's a high risk strategy, but these are desperate times.

0:53:240:53:28

Next morning, dawn breaks...

0:53:420:53:44

..and the risk has paid off.

0:53:480:53:50

Both mother and child are alive and well.

0:53:540:53:57

And they have the place to themselves!

0:54:000:54:03

She can now focus on feeding herself

0:54:050:54:08

and her baby without having to fend off predatory bears.

0:54:080:54:12

There's even time to play!

0:54:180:54:21

Now that's a bear hug!

0:54:250:54:27

As a single mum, the stakes are always high.

0:54:320:54:35

But on the island, this mum can watch her cub grow,

0:54:430:54:47

and they can indulge themselves.

0:54:470:54:49

Now the cub's more robust, mum can also teach him when and how

0:54:530:54:58

to pick his battles - vital lessons for any brown bear cub at his age.

0:54:580:55:02

A cub needs to know when it's worth running...

0:55:120:55:15

..and when it's worth standing his ground.

0:55:170:55:20

YELPING

0:55:200:55:22

His mum has helped set him up

0:55:290:55:31

for the next stage of life when,

0:55:310:55:34

like all cubs, he'll have to go it alone.

0:55:340:55:36

But for now, they take a moment to relax.

0:55:390:55:42

Whichever way you look at it,

0:55:560:55:58

parenting on your own presents a unique set of challenges.

0:55:580:56:01

It doesn't matter what species you are,

0:56:050:56:07

or the environment you're born into.

0:56:070:56:09

We've seen many single parents provide incredible care

0:56:150:56:18

and dedication to their young.

0:56:180:56:20

Teaching vital life skills...

0:56:220:56:24

..providing great homes,

0:56:280:56:30

and keeping them well-fed.

0:56:300:56:32

But what sets these animal parents apart is their strength

0:56:360:56:39

and resilience when facing tough choices alone.

0:56:390:56:43

In the end, there's only one goal.

0:56:450:56:48

To give the next generation the best start in life, whatever it takes.

0:56:480:56:53

We meet the parents who work together as a double act.

0:57:050:57:08

Discover what makes a parent stick around, and help raise the baby.

0:57:120:57:16

And find out the surprising ways they divide the tasks between them,

0:57:180:57:23

as we uncover more...

0:57:230:57:24

..Animal Super Parents.

0:57:260:57:29

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