How do gorilla moms and dads raise their infants?
As we continue to wait for the opening of national parks to embark on our favorite wildlife encounters like gorilla safaris, it is comforting to learn about how gorillas live together in their families all the time. Gorillas spend their day traveling in search for food, resting after eating, building nests where they spend the night as well as interacting with other members of the group at the same time.
In a typical gorilla family, there are strong bonds between gorilla mothers and their youngsters as well as silverbacks who are the fathers of the youngsters in the group. The major roles of the silverbacks in the group include leading the group, providing protection and giving general attention to all members in the group.
On the other hand, gorilla moms are incredible too especially in their parenting work. They take great maternal care as they show their youngsters deep love which is evident to everyone who gets a chance to observe it. Female gorillas start giving birth to infants at around 10 years old. After giving birth to their first infants, female gorillas entirely transform into protective mothers spending all their time taking care of their newborns. Female gorillas generally give birth to one infant at a time though a few cases of twins have been observed.
Gorilla moms breast feed their infants for about three and a half years and in this period, they continue to nurse and sleep with their youngsters in the same nest. After the weaning period, the youngsters stop sharing nests with their moms as the mothers resume their normal reproductive cycles and get pregnant again. Mothers use these years of intense care to maximize the survival chances of their youngsters.
Gorilla infants spend the first five to eight months of their life entirely depending on the breast milk from their moms. Gorilla moms start by carrying their babies under their body, holding them close to their chest in what is known as ventral transport. At about 3 months of the baby, the mother changes the carrying position to her back so that she can be able to walk faster with the group. At this age, the infant is getting stronger and can hold mother’s hair firm for additional security.
Gorilla infants start testing solid food at around 7 to 8 months of age while mothers help them to learn what they need to eat. The infants spend time scrounging pieces of solid food dropped by their moms and in the process, they learn what is the appropriate food to eat. Infants also spend a lot of time playing with leaves while figuring out how to eat them.
At the age of about 8 to 9 months, infants tend to have improved eating skills and knowledge of what they eat in terms of food-plant selections and manipulation they still depend on their mother’s milk. Gorilla moms start weaning their infants at about 3 years of age, something that turns to be stressful to both the moms and the infants. The youngsters to very hard to resist this as they frequently temper tantrums just like human infants do. But the mothers are determined to wean their infants so that they can resume their normal reproductive cycle. During the infant years, there is a very strong bond between mother gorillas and their youngsters although the relationship of mothers and to their offspring is for a lifetime.
In a gorilla social step, members from the same matrilineal clan often gather together. Researchers have also established that teenage male gorillas are likely to remain in the group rather than leaving to start life on their own as long as their mother is still part of the group. Researchers have also found out some remarkable instances of motherly love among gorillas including a mother traveling alone for 8 months just to protect her infant. Another incident involved a mother protecting her daughter after she had survived a snare while two sibling gorillas mourned after the death of their mother.
Gorilla dads love their infants too though it is a bit on a large scale as they look after the whole family at large. The gorilla dad is usually the leading silverback charged with the affairs of the whole group and therefore responsible for protection of all the group members.
One of the major roles silverbacks play in the development of infants is to serve as important role models. Silverbacks are usually seen surrounded by infants in the group as they try to play and entertain them and show care to individual infants. Amazingly, silverbacks also play a crucial role in caring for infants who become separated from their moms at early stages. Such infants can be seen traveling near the silverback and sleep in his nest too which helps them to maintain warmth.