The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Males Play in Raising Their Young


The “dad bond,” at least among mammals, is probably strongest in primates, said Terry Webb, mammal curator at the N.C. Zoo. And among primates, gorillas probably bear the closest resemblance to their human counterparts.

“A silverback male, his role is to produce offspring, protect the group, protect mom, protect the son or daughter and teach them social skills,” he said. “There’s a very social dynamic in gorilla groups. There’s rules and the male enforces those rules in the family structure.”

Chimpanzees display similar behavior toward their young, enforcing discipline and teaching them how to recognize certain facial expressions and body postures. They don’t usually carry their kids, but they will play with them.

However, when a younger, stronger chimp decides to challenge an older male for dominance of the group, the older animal’s young don’t fare so well.

“If there’s a fight and an animal leaves or becomes subordinate to the new male, the new leader of the group will eliminate offspring that aren’t his so that the females can cycle again and he can perpetuate his genes,” Webb said.


“He has only three legs,” a little boy says pointing to Royce, a ring-tailed lemur at the Natural Science Center’s Animal Discovery Zoological Park.

Royce got into a fight on an island where he used to live, says Peggy Ferebee, curator of Animal Discovery. He was the low man on the totem pole for a while, but even though the father of three is missing a limb he can get quite aggressive when someone threatens his family. Ferebee said he’ll often sit between his family and a group of mongoose lemurs, making sure they don’t get too close.

“He started pushing the mongoose lemurs back,” she said. “And once he started a family, they (the mongoose lemurs) learned to stay back. And you can see him, he’s just sitting there, sort of on point, keeping an eye on those other animals. He’s very serious.”

Lemur fathers will also carry their young, play with them and do some scent marking to let other lemurs know whom the babies belong to.

And speaking of scent marking, the males also use their scents as a form of intimidation.

“They’ll mark their tails, and if they are unhappy with another lemur, swat their scent toward them,” Ferebee said. “They call them stink fights. Males will fight like that before they actually come into physical contact.”


The mother rules in the elephant world.

In the wild, Webb said, most elephants never know their fathers.

The male pachyderms usually hang out on the periphery of the herd and interact with the females only when they’re in heat. They then leave, usually never to have contact with their offspring.

“The male is really a nonentity in their social order,” Webb said. “It’s the females who protect the herd, protect the calves, raise the calves, teach the calves everything they need to know. Dad really has no protection over the herd. And when the males grow up, they’re pushed out.

“Of course in captivity, we do it a little bit differently. We tend to house animals sometimes in a nontypical social structure because we need them here for breeding purposes and for exhibit purposes.”


The king of the jungle plays with his cubs and provides defense, but he doesn’t do much else for his family.

“There is some social interaction and bonding there,” Webb said. “But the kids pretty much stay with mom. The moms do all the hunting, all the gathering, all the rearing.”

Not only that, but the father usually sleeps all day and relies on the females to bring him food, Webb said.

And as with chimpanzees, when a new male defeats another male and takes over a group, he doesn’t take kindly to his predecessor’s offspring.

“The new male doesn’t have any paternal desire for them to be there,” Webb said. “They’re not his genes, so they will get rid of any offspring that’s not his, and that is pretty young.”


Like elephants, male bears will mate and then pretty much disappear, leaving the females to take care of the cubs.

As Webb explains, many types of bears are solitary creatures in the wild. Depending on the exact species, once the cubs reach one to three years of age, they leave their mothers and are on their own. Black bears in particular, are forced away from their mothers a few days before she is to start mating again.

“They’re nonsocial,” Webb said. “They may form loose congregations sometimes at feeding sites when salmon are spawning or where there are a lot of seals. You may see one bear in close proximity to another. But they’re not really living in a group.”


Meerkats can be a jealous bunch, according to Ferebee.

She recounts the tale of Frederick, a 9-month-old animal who came to Animal Discovery when it opened in 2007.

“He made a socially unacceptable behavior,” she said. “We’re not sure what. We think he may have made an overture to another female, or another female made an overture to him, but all of a sudden he brought down the ire of the other adult male (Mzuki), and in very short order he was being excluded from everything and coming in with bite marks on him.”

Frederick was transferred to a zoo in Buffalo, N.Y., and now Mzuki holds sway over what appears to be close to a dozen offspring.

In meerkat “mobs” the dads play a big role in rearing their young, defending them from predators, carrying them around by the scruff of their necks, teaching them where to dig for food and playing with them.

“You’ll see them out here sometimes just rolling around,” Ferebee said. “And they do play a lot. They look like kittens. They chase the adults. The adults will chase them.”

And if your dad tends to fall asleep on the couch with his kids after a round of roughhousing, a comparison to a meerkat family might not be inappropriate — except, of course, for the couch."


“Sometimes,” Ferebee said, “You come out here and see them sleeping in one big pile.”

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