Natural World investigates the vital bond between animal mothers and their babies, and considers the tough choices faced by mothers as they raise their young.
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A baby is about to be born.
It's a dangerous world.
For some, childhood is a race against time.
For others, there are years of tender devotion.
We are from the same loving cradle.
The first few days will be crucial.
There's no turning back. The story has already begun.
A baby can't usually be born as a ready-made adult.
It has to be small...
A Mountain Gorilla baby will suckle for three years.
He'll remain within sight of his mother for at least a decade.
He lives in an extended family, 20 or so uncles and aunts,
cousins, brothers and sisters, all keen to see mother and new arrival.
The magical bond between them can be traced back through evolution
to when animals first recognised each other.
We need to start the story from there.
Some animals still live in ancient ways,
echoes from the dawn of childhood.
Babies are just scattered, like seeds into the wind.
Your chances are slim and you fight your battles alone.
And then, in a momentous moment, a mother offers some help.
A mouthbrooder hoovers up her young to protect them from being eaten.
The trick isn't easy.
Parents and babies need to be able to recognise each other.
You wouldn't want to end up in the wrong mouth.
Early attempts at motherhood must have been somewhat experimental.
This Surinam Toad has eggs that hatch in pockets on her back.
Skin care, as it were.
Her hospitality has to be worth it, more must survive.
Once out from under her skin, they're off to find food.
The next step for pioneering parents was feeding their offspring.
Amourobius spiders hatch a hundred little monsters.
They eat extra eggs, brothers and sisters,
but the spiderlings don't care.
Then they look greedily to their mother.
You can see that it hurts.
She tries to brush them off.
She could flee as they start to eat her alive but she doesn't.
The babies grow.
More will survive thanks to a mother who makes the ultimate sacrifice.
Hatching hungry can be fatal,
so mothers start putting more food into the eggs.
A spoonful of yolk for a Caiman crocodile.
They emerge from 40 leathery golf balls.
The squeaking triggers the other eggs to hatch and alerts their mother.
The Caiman crocodile mother digs the 16 centimetre
hatchlings out of the nest and carries them all to the river.
She'll guard them all, night and day, for a few weeks.
Crocodile hatchlings can catch insects and eat snails.
Their mother, babysitting, will go hungry.
A desert in Namibia and eggs 50 times heavier are hatching.
The shell is so strong the ostrich mother often helps the chicks out.
The biggest advance is that both parents look after the eggs.
It's a marriage of necessity,
one that goes back to food and hungry mothers.
Birds need to eat more than cold-blooded reptiles.
If the father weren't here, she would either starve or leave.
So he does the night shift.
The brood is then safe from hungry jackals.
To be even safer, ostriches spread the risks.
Some of them lay eggs in the dominant pair's nest, almost like cuckoos.
The top couple don't object.
Maybe it helps to have a few spare eggs in case a predator comes.
Or maybe there are just too many to count.
Ostriches are good intuitive parents and with no obvious favourites.
Foster-chicks aren't fussy either. They imprint on any adult.
Chicks are encouraged to get up and about,
though it doesn't look very helpful.
They totter about like children on stilts.
The ostriches are devoted to the whole brood but they don't
seem to care about specific chicks, even their own.
Within hours, the family needs to find water.
It's a death sentence on any chicks still hatching.
In big families, it's not always possible to worry about individuals.
In smaller families, perhaps, each chick has a better chance.
Here, in a South American swamp, two or three chicks is the limit.
Wood stork and spoonbill couples are in a race against time,
and food is scarce.
They all nest together to feel safer,
but if a caracara chooses your family to attack, there's no defence.
Spoonbills aren't the right shape to take on a well-armed killer.
Their only chance is to become big enough as early as possible.
This chick must be right on the edge.
The battle pauses.
It is suddenly as if each bird is considering what it can do.
Perhaps the race to feed the chick paid off.
If there had been more to feed, each would have been smaller,
and caracara chicks could have been eating spoonbill for supper.
The race is competitive.
Stork parents feed more to their favourites
and the chicks fight for attention and food even to the death.
Many parents favour one chick over another.
In some species, parents even kill chicks until only one remains.
Infanticide is a brutal instinct for a mother...
but in hard times it may keep one alive.
There's a bird couple that only ever has one chick
and they go to the ends of the earth to look after it.
In Antarctica, an Emperor penguin has laid one egg.
She has put everything into it and now has to feed herself.
His turn, for the winter.
She'll be back with food in 65 days.
He huddles under dancing southern lights.
As spring returns, he realises the egg is hatching.
Because there's only one chick, the bond forms with the individual
and they learn to recognise each other.
There's no food on the ice.
The chick needs its mother to return.
She brings a crop full of silverfish or squid.
It's the father's turn to walk to the sea.
But some mothers arrive too late.
Out of a desperation to keep one egg from freezing,
a trek to keep one little character fed against all odds,
we can recognise what we would call emotion.
As spring progresses, the ice melts and the sea gets closer.
Fishing trips become shorter.
Chicks demand regular attention for a month or so,
then one day they just walk off.
Some parents are reluctant to let them go.
They form teenage gangs which hang out together
and their parents have to find them for meals.
Now they can both go on fishing trips.
Birds are, in a way, the best parents,
loyal couples travelling further.
But they always lay eggs and that ties them to a nest.
Other animals have found a different way.
These baby chameleons emerge not as eggs but live young.
She manages alone. There were no eggs to guard
and she could take her embryos with her to find food.
The father has disappeared.
She can only give birth to as many as she can carry inside her
but each is safer in there.
There's no childhood. She abandons them.
They have to fend for themselves.
But 150 million years ago,
new animals emerged that stayed to look after their newborns.
Mammals revolutionised childcare.
A few primitive mammals still have eggs.
But when echidnas and platypus emerge,
they feed directly from their mother's skin.
All mammals start on milk.
Suckling is one of mother nature's great inventions.
With food on tap, fathers lose another job.
They're no help.
Instead, a remarkable bond forms between baby and mother.
Milk can sustain increasingly helpless young,
born at any time of year.
For black bears, two tiny 10 ounce cubs are born in mid winter.
It helps to be ready early for spring.
Like the cannibalistic spiders, they feed on her.
Over a year of gestation and suckling, they absorb half of her.
Emerging from the den, two months later, is like a second birth.
For almost two years she'll protect them.
They'll have to be shown where to go and what to eat.
Every new advance in mothering seems to have drawbacks.
It's a 24 hour job with no help.
It must be exhausting.
The world conspires against mothers who need sleep.
The absent father's returned.
He wouldn't recognise his cubs and could easily harm them.
It's safer to stay out of the way.
It's a shame he's got no role.
It's the downside of pregnancy and milk.
The cubs play near their mother.
They're like the early mammals, which were explorers and thinkers.
Childhoods have become longer and instincts less important.
It's how mammals started building a mind of their own.
The cubs try everything, learning slowly for themselves.
The greatest gift a mammal mother can give them is time.
A mule deer mother calving nearby doesn't have any time.
If you are potential prey,
birth must be quick, and babies born well developed and able to run.
The calf is already alert, his senses tuned to danger.
She automatically eats any telltale remains from the birth,
though, as a strict vegetarian, she doesn't seem to like them much.
A mule deer calf must be born with specific fears.
He can't explore and learn what is dangerous.
Wolves, coyotes and bears could be anywhere.
The slightest sound or smell triggers fear.
Grazers the world over are ruled by their instincts, their emotions.
A wildebeest birth takes minutes.
The newborn calves, at 40 pounds,
are as well developed as is physically possible.
The only security is to hide behind others, melt away into the herd,
a mother and calf lost among millions.
In the safety of a nearby river, a hippo is being born.
She's better able to make choices for her baby.
She feels safer here from lions and hyenas.
It's an underwater birth.
Her biggest worry for the newborn is other hippos, the father included.
She chases them away.
The newborn has strong instincts, to stay near mum but also not to drown.
Struggling to find shallower water, he may be swept away.
We can see the confusion and panic.
Even if the calf makes it to the bank,
instincts are still pulling both in different directions.
She remains fearful of other hippos,
though the real danger now is from lions.
She makes her decision and comes charging over.
Babies depend on mothers balancing their instincts
and gauging what to do.
As animals grow up, they need their parents to make the right decisions.
Often mothers face very difficult choices.
Few are as stark as the dilemmas facing cape fur seals
on the south west coast of Africa.
Again, the story begins with a birth.
Nobody helps each other here.
In this city of seals, there are only single-parent families.
Mother and pup learn each other's smell and call.
An ancient system of hormones, oxytocin and others, forge the bonds.
The problems start at the top of the colony.
It gets very hot.
Seals need to keep cool or they overheat and die.
Mothers stay loyally with their pup and both suffer in the heat.
Pups rely on their mothers acting unselfishly but her instincts
of self-preservation may override her pup's needs.
The seals become desperately hot.
Some first-time mothers panic.
They make a mad dash for the shore.
The pups don't understand.
They try to follow, rapidly over-heating in their black coats.
Out of the desert come brown hyenas.
An undefended baby is easy pickings.
None of the others defend the pups.
They turn a blind eye.
When the mothers return, for some, it's too late.
They pass casualties of misguided instincts and heat.
A few survivors have squashed together in a bit of shade.
Some newborns have mothers that make better choices.
They drag and throw their reluctant pup towards the sea.
She's managing to think ahead.
As the pup gets older he joins a creche.
The smells and calls that bound them on land fade.
In a few months they'll be at sea,
and soon they don't even seem to recognise each other.
The dangers a newborn pup faces might be avoided
if the father helped, as birds do.
A few mammal fathers can become very paternal.
A Californian mouse male acts as a midwife.
He cleans up and gets food and water. He's the perfect mouse-husband.
With his help, there can be four times more young than the normal
single-parent mouse can manage.
What makes him stay?
It's the same hormones that bind mothers and babies.
The potential was always there.
In his case, instincts are triggered by chemicals in her scent.
The same pyrazines are found in Chinese and Western medicine.
His paternal passions are ignited,
he bonds with the babies and works to exhaustion.
How wonderful it must be to be born
not just to a couple but to a whole group, fired-up to help you.
The original chemistry for mothers and babies
now binds an extended family.
It's the next stage.
Muskox are gigantic wild goats, more than oxen.
They give birth in the Arctic winter.
Newborns must be able to run.
Wolves are about.
The wolves are looking for any youngsters that get left behind.
The muskox help them to keep up.
The muskox behave as wildebeest or seals never would.
They unite into a single force.
They form a wall between the wolves and the youngsters.
These muskox know that they are a family.
They share a common bond.
Faced with baby-mad giant hairy goats working together,
wolves usually give up.
In a wilderness full of predators,
some newborns have protection that is organised into a basic society.
The male Guanaco in the Andes watches over a harem of pregnant wives.
He's waiting for them to calf.
Mothers often seem to pause in mid-birth.
The calf can breathe and meet his aunts
while the other end is still attached.
The first sniff and bleat
are immediately stamped into their memory.
The bonds are forged.
His smell and call trigger mothering in the whole group.
The cocktail of hormones courses through them all.
The herd are so keen, the mother has to gently shoo them away.
So instead they see off a caracara.
For a newborn, organised society is better than a hairy wall.
Guanacos do different jobs.
Fathers defend the territory from pumas, foxes and rival males.
Mothers look after the chulengos - the babies - together.
It seems a perfect arrangement.
But for every new solution, every advance,
it seems there are always drawbacks.
Societies hold terrible dangers for newborns.
Many animals are born into volatile and treacherous communities.
Lion cubs start by avoiding the pride.
Mothers behave as though society were a dangerous thing.
The cubs are born blind and helpless,
and she hides them for the first six weeks, visiting them only for feeds.
Sibling rivalry starts early.
The cubs all have their own characters, each very different.
Our families are like that too.
The mother is juggling difficult decisions.
She must introduce her cubs to the pride.
It's a risk. Lions kill infants they don't know.
It's crucial they recognise these cubs as nephews and nieces...
or even as their own offspring.
The mother approaches a teenage male,
probably her son from a previous litter. She snarls a warning at him.
He welcomes the cubs with open arms.
A pride male investigates.
Slowly the cubs win him round.
They play with him, almost teasing his conflicting emotions.
The new cubs become part of the pride.
Mothers, sisters and older daughters all work together, feeding
and guarding the cubs as they turn the Serengeti into their playground.
Elephants sometimes kill cubs.
Lions eat elephant calves, so feelings run deep.
The cub's mother alone could never have held off the herd.
She and her sisters are fierce defenders of the cubs.
But there are worse threats than elephants.
If new lions want to start a family,
adopting stepchildren is not an option.
They defeat and kick out the pride fathers.
Now they must kill the cubs and mate with the lionesses.
If enough of the females have cubs, they may take on the new males.
But lionesses without young are desperate
to become mothers themselves.
They need the new bloodline.
The argument erupts in anger and frustration.
If the females can't unite, there is nothing more they can do.
She will have to try for new cubs, with these killers.
Male takeovers happen every few years.
But mothers can be killers too.
Rival predators are a threat to any future cubs.
Dogs and cats are old territorial enemies.
Dog dens have lookouts.
Inside there's one litter of puppies and 10 or 20 adults,
all working together, sharing motherhood.
Only the top pair breed.
The rest are babysitters, guards, hunters and defenders.
The babies were born here, in an old aardvark burrow,
with their mother and a dozen helpers.
Now they can smell lions and the adults will fight for them.
Dogs are emotional animals. They care about each other - more so than cats.
This is mothers at war.
Both sides enlist their relatives.
Pain is dulled by fear and shock.
Worse than physical pain, for many animals, is emotional turmoil.
The lions may be back and the pack must move on.
The adults help puppies as they learn slowly about their world.
There's where to find water and safe dens.
Other animals live here too. Some are best left alone
and some are dangerous and have to be taken on.
But most lessons are about sharing pack responsibility
and coping with the emotional ups and downs.
They're helped for two or three years.
In contrast, an elephant calf has a decade of learning.
Their families are even larger
and much more sophisticated than cats or dogs.
Elephant society is based around mothers and long childhoods.
A birth is one of the most emotional times in a herd.
After 22 months, the newborn arrives, at 250 pounds.
The enthusiastic greeting is like a collective hysteria.
Some hours later the calf is still surrounded,
mostly by cousins and aunts wanting to help him up.
His mother lets the over-enthusiastic relatives fuss over the calf.
If all goes well, they'll share in the mothering.
Such close ties around a baby are bound to cause friction.
A male wants to mate with one of the calf's admirers
but of course she's more interested in the baby.
The bull gives the source of his frustrations a shove.
The newborn, for accidentally derailing a bull's passionate moment,
next gets a foot in the face.
For an hour he's kicked about like a football,
as emotional animals feel frustration or protection.
In the end he gives up
and the calf can finally follow the smell of milk to its source.
A day or two later, one of his aunts touches him
with her tail, lines up carefully, and wham!
We don't know what made her kick the calf.
There are bound to be jealousies around a new baby,
yet her anger too seems controlled.
A rational mind is helpful in coping with emotional moments,
like having a newborn in the herd.
All over the world you can see animals wrestling
with the emotions a newborn brings.
But it's clearest in primates.
In Madagascar, ring-tailed lemurs have to stay together to survive,
particularly in a drought.
One of the babies is too weak to hold on.
Lemurs can't easily carry their young,
so the mother faces an appalling dilemma.
If she's separated from the others for too long,
they could attack her as an outsider.
She has to choose between her baby and herself.
The mother moves to follow the troop...
..but she returns five times.
Her mind must be struggling back and forth.
Many scientists believe she feels emotion
and is thinking about her feelings.
It's called affective consciousness.
It's now thought likely all mammals are aware
of their instinctive feelings.
It would be hard to be a good mother without it.
As her baby got weaker she left for the last time.
We can't know for sure what she was thinking or feeling but she behaved
as though she'd come to a decision that she found very difficult.
The bonds that form at birth, the emotion that lasts a lifetime,
can't just disappear.
If a baby dies, the emotional pain is grief.
She can't bear to let go.
She'll return to the bones, sometimes for years.
Monkeys, too, carry their dead infants around.
Powerful feelings ruled us as animals and rule us still.
Emotions are just instincts that you can feel, that you are aware of.
They're the voices of our genes and our past.
But conscious minds can manipulate each other's emotions
right from the start.
A vervet monkey is born.
The baby meets a young cousin.
He may be a new friend, an ally or competition.
It all depends on his mother's social standing.
She is not the only one in her community having a baby.
For the teenage sisters it's a thrilling time.
They beg any chance to hold the newborns.
The high-ranking females don't beg.
They grab babies and teach them who's boss.
Junior mothers have to be more protective.
All newborns are inquisitive but lowly babies aren't allowed out.
Social status can bring confidence to make new friends...
or fear and frustration.
Within a week, emotions that will affect a baby
for the rest of its life are well established.
Families have a new role, to provide emotional support.
For mother and baby, nothing in the world is more important
or brings greater joy.
Baby chimpanzees spend years learning
about each other and their traditions.
Families are the schools.
In Central Africa, chimps crack nuts with rocks.
The trick is passed, mother to baby, down the generations.
It's part of their culture.
In East Africa they catch termites using twigs.
Babies watch and learn.
They get the basics almost immediately.
It's something to do with a stick.
In some extraordinary footage,
the mother tries to help and is pushed away by the youngster.
With endless patience, she tries again.
"No, not that huge thing. Here, this one is better."
Only humans are supposed actively to teach
but textbooks can be rewritten if necessary.
Young chimps get enormous pleasure from termite fishing.
A hunger to learn and satisfaction with success
is also part of our biology. It must drive a lot of what we do.
Most primates are born into troops, extended families, but not all.
A three pound newborn orang-utan brings us back to the start.
Fathers and cousins are around but not particularly helpful.
It'll be seven or eight years before the next one.
His mother's one of the world's slowest breeders.
His long childhood gives him time to work things out.
His mother will help map out where to find food
and slowly he'll become aware of his world and himself.
It's not just primates.
It seems likely all mammals, and maybe birds too, feel emotions
and make thoughtful choices, particularly around babies.
Increasingly, orang-utans face disaster.
Infants that lose their mothers may be lucky enough to be rescued.
Human step-parents do their best with an orphan.
They both try to replace a bond that is lost.
Years later, orphans that have grown up with people
become mothers themselves.
Without any encouragement, they show their own young a new culture
they copied when they arrived at the orang-utan sanctuary as infants.
It seems animal mothers are also trying to build a better world.
The care animals give to their young is extraordinary.
As we understand wildlife better, we discover that our way of thinking
and feeling about babies is often their way too.
We can understand the emotions we share.
It's a bond with half a billion years of motherhood.
It's thanks to pioneering parents,
and perhaps our own long childhoods too,
that we can feel something of what others go through.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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Natural World investigates the vital bond between animal mothers and their babies. The more animals are studied, the more is realised about just how emotional they are. All mothers are faced with tough choices as they struggle to bring up babies in a difficult and dangerous world, constantly balancing their own needs with those of their infants. Yet there are many ways to raise your brood, from the fish who looks after her young in her mouth to the extended childhoods of gorillas or orangutans.