It’s been said that the love of a mother is undying. We judge, praise, scorn and vilify various types of mothers based on our own perception of what motherhood should be. Sure enough, some of the images within this post are bound to conjure familiar feelings – especially with the primates – but what really is motherhood? Is what we feel unique to us?
Given that everything in nature can be scaled both up and down infinitely, let’s look at the general process involved in bringing the next generation into the world – albeit in a grossly simplified manner. There is typically a stage of tender love, care and devotion, ultimately followed by an understood parting of ways, where both parties are left to their own devices. For humans, this process takes place over about two decades, give or take a few years based on cultural and social norms. For whales, it can be a similar time frame. For most other mammals, we’re thinking in terms of just a few years, months in some cases. For crocodiles, the process also takes months. For snakes, frogs, even fish, it’s the exact two steps. It’s only the timing factor that changes.
We like to view ourselves as different and superior, having dominion over all other living things. We think that our intelligence is unsurpassed, our cunning unparalleled, and our thirst for survival greater than all else. But if a turtle can haul itself out of the ocean, excavate a nest, lay its eggs and then carefully cover and camouflage the spot – is that not also some level of TLC that’s going on? And when she heaves herself back into the ocean, is she not doing so with the knowledge that she has done all she can, and it is time for her to move on? We simply extrapolate what comes naturally, unnecessarily complicating the matter with an excess of frivolous attachment and call it “human”.
During the initial stage where the mother is caring for her offspring, everything in her life is directed toward ensuring that her offspring has the best chances of survival in its world. She teaches by example. She protects with her life. She will never abandon her young. There’s a video circulating on various social media platforms within the past week of a Southern Lapwing sitting on its nest, as a massive tractor/farming machine (I have no knowledge of farmer’s jargon) slowly drives over. Although her eggs haven’t yet hatched, they are still hers, and she does not waver in the slightest in her role as their protector. Commendable? Perhaps, but that’s the norm in nature. Funny how we are amazed at this behaviour that is in fact the universally accepted standard for motherhood in nature. That’s just how it is, it’s a given. If you’re a young crocodile and you’ve just spent all your energy slicing your leathery eggshell to emerge a couple feet underground, all you have to do is call mom, who will come lumbering immediately. After all, she’s just been lying around, waiting on this moment for weeks, never moving from her spot, not even having a single meal. Commendable? Normal.
Motherhood theoretically culminates in the final act of letting go which is critical for the young to take its rightful place in the world. Some species remain in close proximity, others drift physically apart over the course of time. Some mothers give their progeny the choice, some would scold them into leaving. Others allow their grown offspring to stick around and be part of the family unit. This detachment is difficult, usually more difficult for the young animal as it’s about to venture into the world on its own for the very first time. It’s also more difficult for species that spend a longer time within the first stage of motherhood. Do human mothers also detach? Well, I’m not one so I can’t be sure – but I can definitely say that human mothers should detach.
There is one mother who reigns supreme, though. One whose love, care and nurture never reach the stage of letting go. Yet she is the one we treat the absolute worst, constantly draining her and getting her sick. We choke and starve her. Yet we still incessantly demand food and shelter from her. We’re killing her, while every other species for millennia has only returned the love, care and nurture she provides. Why are we doing this? Where has the love gone? Have we in our twisted, self-righteous reasoning unjustly separated instinct from emotion in an attempt to quantify and qualify everything and nothing? Somewhere, somehow, love has turned from selfless into selfish. Care has been reserved for only those whom we can physically discern.
If we can unite to give life to our common mother, she will return it unhesitatingly. We are all her children, and there is so much more that binds us than what separates us, if only we would open our eyes.
Congratulations if you’re still reading, I’ve experienced a lot of perspective-shifting over the past few months and have much on my mind. Musings aside, I did mention cute pictures earlier. So here we are.
This baby Vervet Monkey desperately tried to get a good look at us for a few minutes before it managed to get its entire head away from its mother. She of course swiftly admonished the little one with a deft push on the head and it was back in mama’s belly fur.
A lioness and her grown cub mutually lick each other, communicating and strengthening their bonds. This one is a young male, who may eventually leave his pride to seek his own life elsewhere.
It’s necessary for prey animals such as this Coke’s Haartebeest to be able to stand, walk and run from only a few hours after being born. This little one was still wobbly.
This baby Common Warthog didn’t want to leave under its mom’s chin.
Already part of the herd, a young Common Zebra melts into the optical illusion of a myriad of black and white stripes.
An Olive Baboon sits perched precariously on a cliff edge, but her trusting young rests comfortably.
Newborn Black-and-white Colobus Monkeys are all white, as they mature they will eventually attain the resplendent plumes of adulthood.
Incredibly socially complex animals, elephants within a herd have dedicated tasks and responsibilities. These two females were the babysitters on the day we enjoyed this herd, shepherding the young and clumsy along.