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The world is full of amazing animal parents.
Whether they live at the frozen poles...
..or in the scorching deserts...
..mothers and fathers will do whatever it takes
to provide for their young.
From the weird...
..to the wonderful...
In this three part series,
we explore the extraordinary science
behind nature's most exceptional parenting strategies...
We'll meet the animals who parent single-handedly...
..the devoted couples...
..and finally the team players,
who work together to raise their young.
Whether they weigh a few tonnes...
..or less than a gram,
these parents all want the same thing...
..and they'll risk it all...
..for the next generation.
There are many different ways of raising a family...
..but, in this programme,
it's all about the hard working single parents.
For them, going it alone is their best bet for successfully raising their young.
We meet a plucky brown bear mother on the run to protect her son...
..a flamboyant single father left holding the babies...
..and a seal mother who has to put her child through winter boot camp.
Whatever strategy these parents use,
it's all about the youngsters.
MUSIC: I Feel Just Like A Child by Devendra Banhart
# Yeah, I feel just like a child
# Well, I feel just like a child
# Well, I feel just like a child
# From my womb to my tomb
# I guess I'll always be a child. #
The secret to the success of most single parents
is being a good teacher.
Here in the Arctic,
this polar bear mother has just two years
to teach her cubs everything they need to know to survive.
Her cubs are three months old.
They've recently emerged from their den,
where they were born under the snow.
Their mother is hungry.
She hasn't eaten for around five months during hibernation
and has lost about 40% of her body weight.
Catching a seal is essential for her family's survival.
So today's lesson is all about hunting.
While polar bear mums do make good teachers,
polar bear cubs don't make the most attentive pupils!
The seals underneath the ice can feel the slightest vibration above,
so it's important to TREAD carefully...
Unfortunately the cubs have no idea what's at stake.
Mum's patience is being well and truly tested.
She puts her truant cub on the equivalent of the naughty step...
..before trying to resume her hunting lesson...
She'll catch something soon, but in the meantime
at least the kids can recharge their batteries.
As a single parent in harsh conditions,
the going can be tough...
..especially if your kids keep mucking about.
Luckily, some children make better pupils than others.
This Weddell seal faces an equally tough challenge.
She has just six weeks to teach her youngster
everything he needs to survive before he's on his own.
Seals usually give birth every year
and are pregnant for up to 11 months,
so making sure this pup is independent,
so she can have another,
means she's on a tight schedule.
There's no time for messing about.
It's straight down to business.
This newborn needs to join his mother under water
at only two weeks old!
Mum encourages him to take the plunge.
The icy pool doesn't look that inviting.
She has to give him a good tug!
Once in, he has to learn essential survival skills,
getting to know the local landscape underwater
and the best routes to breathing holes.
A youngster like this should be able to hold their breath for up to 19 minutes.
Her pup needs to practise this.
The longer he can hold his breath,
the more chance he has of outrunning predators
like leopard seals and killer whales.
Luckily, when it comes to learning fast,
seal pups have a natural advantage.
They are born with huge brains -
already 70% the size of their mother's.
Humans, on the other hand, are born with a brain
just 25% the size of their parents.
The seal pup's large brain means they can reach independence sooner.
Lessons progress quickly.
If he thought getting in was hard,
getting out is even harder!
Mum tries coaxing from above.
A quick well done...
..and it's on with the next class.
PUP CONTINUES TO BARK
One of the most important lessons is how to keep air holes
from freezing over by filing them back with their teeth.
Deciding where to put a new air hole
is the next stage in this youngster's tuition.
Finally, it's time to take a well-earned break.
Supplying the pup with enough fat to keep his rapid development on track
is a huge drain on his mum.
Weddell seal milk is about 60% fat
and amongst the most calorific of any mammal milk.
No wonder her pup will double his birth weight
in just ten days.
He needs to learn and bulk up fast
as he'll be fending for himself in just a matter of weeks.
It's tough love,
but life is tough when living in extremes such as these.
As a parent, your job isn't done until your children are able to look after themselves.
The more complex your lifestyle, the harder this is to achieve.
The Sumatran rainforests in Indonesia...
This orang-utan mother has a lengthy challenge ahead.
In contrast to the Weddell seal,
she needs eight years to get her youngster ready for adulthood.
No other animal is a single parent to one child for this long!
And, unlike other great apes, who all parent in social groups,
an orang-utan will teach her child in relative isolation.
The most important lesson is learning what's on the menu
This youngster needs to memorise a mental food map
of the trees in the forest
and when the fruit is ripe.
There are thousands of plants to choose from,
but only a careful selection
will give orang-utans the nutrition they need.
This dedicated one-to-one tuition
means orang-utans share a bond that is unusually strong.
His mum also fits in some all important playtime!
Great for developing social skills and muscle co-ordination.
If only all lessons were this much fun!
There's even time for a much needed power nap...
..leaving her youngster to improvise on building a shelter
from the heavy rain.
Well, this one may still have a way to go!
Some animals learn their essential survival skills from their parents.
For others, survival is based more on innate instinct than instruction.
The tenrec of Madagascar.
Their ancestors washed in from mainland Africa.
They have some of the largest litters of any mammal.
The tailless tenrec can have up to 32 babies.
But how does a tenrec mother keep tabs on all her offspring?
The striped tenrec have a clever trick up their sleeve...
..a special homing signal.
The babies use this signal to communicate with one another
and their mother.
This baby tenrec has been tempted away from his family.
He's about to put a unique form of communication to the test.
It's called stridulation.
SCRATCHING BEGINS AGAIN
The striped tenrec vibrates the quills on its back
to make a high-frequency sound.
The mum uses this sound to draw her stray baby back to the group.
The baby vibrates his quills and communicates back.
..and it's happy families once again.
Whether your child is inattentive...
..single parents have to take on the role of teacher all by themselves.
Life lessons that can be pretty challenging...
From how to stand on your own two feet...
..to how to swim.
But possibly the most challenging task for any parent
is keeping your child well fed.
A task that is often easier said than done.
In California, this single mum faces a difficult challenge.
Sea otter pups cannot dive with their mothers
until they've had their first moult at around 45 days old.
Yet, as a new mum, she needs to feed almost around the clock
to provide her pup with the high calorie milk he needs.
This means leaving him on his own.
But she's got a clever strategy.
She fluffs up his fur, trapping air into it
so when she leaves to hunt, he bobs like a cork.
No air in the fur
and the pup would probably sink like a stone
or die of hypothermia.
He may not like being left alone,
but it's the only way his mum can manage.
And she's not the only one on the lookout for snacks.
BIRDS AND GULLS CRY
There are opportunists all around.
Mum has to multiskill -
she's quick to defend her pup and her hard-earned dinner.
It's amazing how far an animal will go to keep a child fed...
..each developing strategies to suit their particular circumstances.
Here in Australia,
this single mum koala
eats 550 grams of eucalyptus leaves a day.
Not an odd eating habit in itself,
but there's a catch.
The eucalyptus leaves are high in fibre and low in protein.
They are also full of toxins.
The mother has microbes in her digestive system to break these down,
but her baby doesn't.
So she has a radical solution.
Alongside her milk, she feeds her baby koala, or joey,
her own faeces.
This is unconventional to say the least,
but to the koala, it's their ticket to survival.
By feeding her baby a liquefied form of faeces known as pap,
he gets the microbes he needs to digest the eucalyptus, too!
It's all very clever.
And he can also learn from his mother
which of the 800 species of eucalyptus are the best to eat.
She'll spend most of the time carrying him around on her back
until he's quarter of her size.
It's a pretty heavy load for her to cart around on her own.
Single parenthood can be quite exhausting...
MUSIC: It's Oh So Quiet by Bjork
# It's oh so quiet
# It's oh so still
# Ssh, ssh
# You're all alone
# Ssh, ssh
# And so peaceful until... #
TRUMPETS BLARE, PENGUINS SQUEAL
Sleep is always at a premium when your babies are tiny...
..especially when they're crying out for food.
Some single parents are prepared to sacrifice
more than just a few hours' sleep to put dinner on the table.
This is a caecilian.
They thrive in wet tropical regions
and look like giant earthworms...
..but in fact they have a strong backbone.
They spend most of their time underground.
Right now this mum has her work cut out for her.
Her babies are constantly on the lookout for food.
They drink from an opening at the end of their mother's tail called a cloaca.
But this liquid alone can't satisfy their growing needs.
These hook teeth were designed to eat something more substantial.
And mum is willing to provide it!
She let's them eat her skin!
She regrows her skin every three days
just so her babies can benefit from the fat that's in it.
And, she's not the only yummy mummy in the natural world.
The black lace weaver spider,
found in most European gardens.
The day after her spiderlings have hatched,
this single mum lays a second set of unfertilised eggs prematurely...
and puts on a banquet
But her spiderlings are voracious feeders with enormous appetites.
Parents are often prepared to make huge sacrifices
to feed their children,
but this spider takes that impulse further than most.
By pushing herself down onto her babies,
she switches on their cannibalistic impulse
so they all act at once.
They start to devour her.
She sacrifices herself.
It's not pretty, but it is clever.
For an animal with just a two year natural lifespan,
it's a good way of ensuring her genes are passed on to the next generation.
These animal parents take self-sacrifice to a new level,
to care for their young.
But alongside nurturing,
the other key parental responsibility is protection.
And this job often starts before the baby is born.
Sometimes it's not the mums who take on this role,
but the dads.
The male members of the seahorse family,
otherwise known as the Syngnathidae family,
are dedicated child carers.
These fantastical creatures glide almost invisibly around the ocean bed.
Both the male leafy sea dragon
and the male weedy sea dragon
use their flamboyant decoration to help keep their broods safe.
There's little risk of predation, when you're as well camouflaged as these eggs.
The dads carry their eggs around for one month until they hatch.
Then the hard work is finally rewarded.
The little baby sea dragons are born,
complete with yolk sacks still attached.
These tiny hatchlings will grow fast.
Their father has played his part,
bringing them safely into the world.
And now its over to them to play theirs.
Also in the same extended family the pipefish,
a master of disguise and another super dad.
After enjoying a graceful mating dance with the female,
she swiftly transfers the eggs into his brood pouch.
He keeps them safe for ten days
until they hatch as perfectly formed miniature versions of himself.
But the ultimate single dad has got to be this spiny seahorse...
He's the only male in the animal world
to undergo pregnancy and childbirth,
complete with contractions.
This act sets this single father apart from all other single dads.
Keeping your eggs safe when they're inside you is one thing,
but for those who incubate them outside the body,
it's much more challenging.
Eggs are small packs of protein
and predators are everywhere.
In the Ganges, a rare member of the crocodile family,
called a gharial,
buries her eggs in the sand to keep them away from predators.
Around 70 days later and the eggs are ready to hatch.
In a twist of nature,
it's the unborn babies who call to their mum to be dug out
when the time is right for them to enter the world.
For some single mothers,
just getting to what they hope will be a safe place to lay their eggs,
can be a test of endurance.
At around 30 years old,
a green turtle first-time mother
will make an incredible journey,
travelling back to the same beach where she herself was born.
This mum is repeating what her ancestors have done
for millions of years.
For her, this is the safest place she knows to build her nest.
This is the only time she ever comes ashore.
She needs to build her nest high
above the tide line to avoid flooding.
In the water she is agile,
but on land she feels every one of her 80 kilos!
It's an incredible test of stamina and courage.
And she's not the only mother to take on this challenge.
During one night, around 5,000 female turtles
can haul their heavy bodies onto a beach like this to lay their eggs.
It will take them most of the night.
Once the nest is dug, they lay around 100 eggs in one go.
Green turtle mums the world over - in Australia, Asia
and Africa - all undergo this ordeal to create the safest nest they can.
Three months later and there's a cascade of tiny hatchlings...
..each one just seven centimetres long.
And they have only one goal.
Instinctively, they know that's where they're headed,
and thankfully they're much more agile than their mums.
One of the last out,
this baby may seem to have pulled the short straw.
There's nothing else he can do except make a mad dash for it!
Finally, the relative safety of the sea.
The green turtle mums have given
their babies the best start in life,
against the odds.
For many single parents, endurance goes with the job,
but some take it to the ultimate extreme.
The female giant Pacific octopus.
Growing up to four metres long and weighing 70 kilos,
she's a member of the largest octopus species in the world.
Home is the Northern Pacific Ocean.
She's looking for the perfect hiding place...
..somewhere safe to give birth to her first and only brood.
And it's some brood!
She has up to 100,000 eggs in one go.
These tiny eggs would make easy dinner for any predator,
and there are many hungry mouths down here...
..so mum dedicates herself entirely
to protecting and caring for her young...
..attending to their every need for six months.
She regularly caresses them to keep them free of algae
and supplied with plenty of oxygen.
She won't leave them alone for a second,
so eating is out of the question.
Effectively, this home will also become her final resting place.
But not before she sees her eggs hatch
as young, fully developed octopus.
These little ones are smaller than the size of a fingernail.
Their mum has sacrificed everything to give them the best start.
You can't really ask for more.
For the majority of single parents,
the sacrifices normally come after childbirth rather than before.
That's when your mettle is truly tested!
This African bullfrog single father faces a problem.
During the rainy season, he put his children into a
nursery pool to keep them safe from predators living in the main pond.
But now the dry season has arrived
and the smaller pool is evaporating fast.
His children are in mortal danger.
He goes to work.
Just in the nick of time, he breaks through,
and his kids live to see another day.
Keeping your child safe often means reacting to both
the environment they're born into as well as the threat from predators.
But what if everyone who shares your neighbourhood
is out to get your babies?
This is a big mouth hap.
Her children would make easy prey.
And when you have this many babies,
you have to have a clever strategy if you want to protect them.
This female cichlid guards her
offspring in the safest place she can think of.
She's not eating them.
She's simply keeping them out of harm's way.
She will mouth brood her babies for anywhere between three to six
weeks and during this period she won't feed herself at all.
You can understand why!
For some cichlids, the art of mouth brooding
is easier to master than for others!
The urge to protect, however, is strong.
This urge exists for most parents.
And when it comes to leaving their youngsters alone,
every animal has their own unique strategy for keeping them safe.
Take this mum. She's a slow loris.
She may be slow moving,
but she's one of only a few mammals with venomous powers.
She produces a poison in her brachial arm gland.
She could use this on her prey,
but instead she uses it on her baby.
In order to leave her child alone while she hunts,
she covers him in toxic saliva.
If predators try to take him while she's gone,
one taste of her baby's fur
and they'll be spitting all the way home!
Believe it or not, this tiny mammal is now armed and dangerous.
Here in the hills of Hunan in South West China,
there's another single mum without child care.
And she's improvised her own cunning plan
to keep her child safe when home alone.
Bamboo forests stretch for almost
800 km from Hunan all the way to Shanghai.
And while they may be beautiful,
these forests can also be very dangerous...
..especially if you're a bat.
The lesser bamboo bat is one of 122 species of bat that live in China.
These tiny creatures weigh less than a 20 pence piece.
The bat babies can't fly, so they're easy to catch...
..not to mention delicious
if you're a snake.
Despite the danger, their single mums must leave
their little ones all alone as they go to hunt.
These little bats would make a very tasty snack...
..but the single mums have a clever strategy for keeping
their young tantalisingly out of reach.
They've hijacked a beetle hole in a bamboo shoot
and hidden their babies inside.
There are around 15 bats belonging
to ten mums in this one shoot.
But the snake can't get at any of them!
It's the perfect ruse.
The bats use special pads on their wings to
help them cling onto the interior bamboo walls
until their mothers return.
It's only because of mum's unusually flattened skull
that she can fit back in.
Even for her, it's still a tight squeeze.
As a single mum, the bamboo bat has come up with an ingenious
solution to keep her little ones safe
without dad or a baby-sitter around.
And she's not the only one.
In Alaska, female brown bears have
to face a danger that comes from much closer to home.
This first-time mother and her cub share a very close bond.
At five months old, a brown bear cub will rarely leave his mum's side.
Right now, this mum's on the hunt for clams.
On top of feeding herself and her youngster,
like all brown bear mums,
she needs to keep her baby safe.
And out here that's not an easy task.
The main threat comes from the other bears.
Particularly the larger males.
They can be incredibly intimidating.
An adult bear wouldn't hesitate to eat a cub.
It would help see them through the winter.
After all, a cub is a lot bigger than a clam.
Here in Alaska, all brown bear mums face a common dilemma.
Either stay and try to dodge the terrifying predatory male bears,
or find a more isolated spot to hide out
until their cubs are stronger.
Both options carry risk.
This mum makes a run for it.
Her cub has to hold on for dear life!
The water here is icy cold and the currents have a very strong pull.
It's a high risk strategy, but these are desperate times.
Next morning, dawn breaks...
..and the risk has paid off.
Both mother and child are alive and well.
And they have the place to themselves!
She can now focus on feeding herself
and her baby without having to fend off predatory bears.
There's even time to play!
Now that's a bear hug!
As a single mum, the stakes are always high.
But on the island, this mum can watch her cub grow,
and they can indulge themselves.
Now the cub's more robust, mum can also teach him when and how
to pick his battles - vital lessons for any brown bear cub at his age.
A cub needs to know when it's worth running...
..and when it's worth standing his ground.
His mum has helped set him up
for the next stage of life when,
like all cubs, he'll have to go it alone.
But for now, they take a moment to relax.
Whichever way you look at it,
parenting on your own presents a unique set of challenges.
It doesn't matter what species you are,
or the environment you're born into.
We've seen many single parents provide incredible care
and dedication to their young.
Teaching vital life skills...
..providing great homes,
and keeping them well-fed.
But what sets these animal parents apart is their strength
and resilience when facing tough choices alone.
In the end, there's only one goal.
To give the next generation the best start in life, whatever it takes.
We meet the parents who work together as a double act.
Discover what makes a parent stick around, and help raise the baby.
And find out the surprising ways they divide the tasks between them,
as we uncover more...
..Animal Super Parents.