A picture of the bond between mother and child is particularly endearing especially in newly-born animals. The look of utter contentment and tranquility encapsulates the sublime moment. But the world of animals is a tough place. Most animals are not afforded the luxury of a joyful childhood. Instead literally within minutes they could face ferocious predators and other hazards of life. In this blog, I contrast the extremes from a foal which finds peace and contentment with its mother to the other extreme where a barnacle goose mother coerces her day old chicks to take a leap of faith which many will not survive.
Main picture: The newly born foal seeks solace, contentment and reassurance with its mother
Motherly love: Reciprocity of love and need
The first vignette depicts one of these precious moments. It relates to a newly born offspring of Taskin, a Gypsy Stallion owned by Villa Vanners of Oregon.
This series of pictures were taken immediately after his birth on April 6. The mare lay down to give her new baby the love and comfort that he needed. The baby then trotted around and crawled right up into her lap. Talk about true love!
Tough Love: No time for tenderness
This idyllic situation is distorted picture of the reality of life in the wild. In the first episode of the Natural History series Life Story, narrated by the inimitable 85 year old David Attenborough, he deals with the travails during the first footsteps in the life of various wild animals.
In a cogent fashion he deals with the perils of childhood in the wild. In the extreme case such as Wildebeest, the newly born animal is given only a few minutes to grasp the concept of balancing upright on four legs before they are expected to be able outrun a lion in full charge.
Amazingly the BBC Natural History unit captures just such an event. From being literally unceremoniously dropped into the world head first, the bewildered young animal was given no more than five minutes to comprehend the world before the lions, sensing an easy meal – a hors d’oeuvre – charged at the herd.
With my heart in my throat at the fragility and mercilessness of life in the wild, this inexperienced animal galloped two mouthfuls ahead of the lioness.
It was a near-run thing but it survived.
Apparently even at that tender age, this animal has the endurance to outrun a lion.
What a traumatic introduction to the world?
Only then, the near escape forgotten, could the young wildebeest nuzzle up to its mother for the very first time. With formalities over and having shared greetings such as “Hello mom!” it took its first sip of mother’s milk.
Tough Love: An appalling decision
In a heart breaking vignette, David Attenborough captures the harsh death defying start to life of Barnacle Geese in Greenland. Of all the animals, these goslings must face the most perilous start in life. In order to protect their chicks against the numerous predators that abound in the area such as wily Artic foxes, the adult Barnacle Geese have evolved an effective deterrent: building their nests on the edge of a 400 foot sheer cliff face.
The problem is that the parents cannot feed them. At two days old, they have to feed themselves. In excruciating detail this documentary reveals how the parents coax these reluctant chicks to jump off the edge of the cliff. With only down as “feathers”, they can barely glide let alone flap. This results in a series of bumps as they slam into the cliff face on their descent. Cartwheeling through the air, they make their way downwards. The ultimate deciding factor whether they will live or die is whether they land on one of the small patches of grass instead of a sharp rock. Their chances of survival are 50:50 at best.
The camera shows one landing badly and never even stirring. Its parents accept the inevitable. It has not survived the fall. The next also lands awkwardly. It lies on some grass not stirring. Finally it shakes its head and gradually stands up and then waddles across to its anxious parents waiting nearby. This poignant scene transmogrifies into cheery optimism as it seemingly has beaten the odds and survived. For good reason its parents are still anxiously waiting for it further below. Until they are safely down and together, it still faces a daunting challenge. The forlorn hope turns into dread as an Artic fox appears. With a final goodbye – an adieu – in the form of a nervous tweet-tweet, the fox clamps the chick in its mouth.
Without an expression of regret, the parents focus on the survivors. They quack punctiliously to alert the remaining chicks to their whereabouts.
Of the five chicks, three have survived.
Once fully grown, these geese will have to re-enact this traumatic event. They will experience the mixed emotions of pathos, forlorn hope and relief as they too will enter into a Faustian Bargain with their newly born chicks.
Base jumping Barnacle Goose chicks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_JoetV3ZTQ