Interspecies Mommying


Look, I'm cynical and abrasive, but even I get gooey when it comes to stuff like this. What happens when animals lose their mothers? Well, erm. They usually die. But sometimes they don't. (Trying to be optimistic here. Happy Mother's Day!) Sometimes they get adopted—sometimes by completely different species. And it's awkward, but usually quite cute, and also reassuring to know that despite biological differences, different species can coexist peacefully, and that maternal instincts cross species lines. Here are some of the most famous interspecies adoptions set in three installments for Mother's Day weekend. Check back tomorrow and Monday for parts two and three.

Koko and the Kitten

Koko is a lowland gorilla who has been taught by scientists at Stanford University to communicate in sign language. In 1984 she asked her trainer, Dr. Francine Patterson, for a pet cat. Koko named the pet manx cat "All Ball" and cared for the kitten as if he were a baby gorilla. She would carry All Ball on her back and cuddle him, even dress the cat up in napkins. Three days after All Ball was hit by a car and killed, Dr. Patterson signed with Koko and this was her response:

Dr. Patterson: Do you want to talk about your kitty?
Koko: Cry.
Dr. Patterson: What happened to your kitty?
Koko: Sleep cat.
Dr. Patterson: Yes, he's sleeping.

Koko surprised many researchers by exhibiting the very human emotion of grief. Since All Ball's death, Koko has raised several other kittens, including "Lipstick" and "Smokey." [Image courtesy of]

Baby Macaque? Coo!

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In Goangdong, China, a baby macaque was adopted by a pigeon. Apparently the wee monkey was abandoned by his mother and near death despite the best efforts of rescue workers. That is, until this white pigeon...took him under her wing. Morale boost! Oh goodness. Don't get me started. ::coos::

And You Think YOUR Mother is Dysfunctional?

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In Kenya, Kamunyak has tried to adopt six times. These adoptions have all been rather unsuccessful. This is because Kamunyak is a lioness who likes to kidnap and adopt oryx calves.

Kamunyak lived alone, which made her unique among the lions in her territory at the Samburu Reserve. Even though oryx, a species of antelope, is usually lion food, Kamunyak kidnapped her first Oryx in December 2002 and tried to raise him as her own. Initially, she scared off the mother oryx before relenting and allowing the mother oryx to occassionally approach and feed the calf. After feedings, Kamunyak would then chase the mother oryx away.

This did not end well for a number of reasons. For example, oryx are prey animals and constantly eating and often awake. Lions, on the other hand, are rather languid and nocturnal. The lioness became sleep deprived and emaciated in order to keep an eye on her charge. On day sixteen, a male lion happened upon mother and adopted baby and gobbled the oryx up. African Lions tend to be pretty aggressive towards cubs sired by other lions. This oryx was clearly not his scion. (He also looked tasty.)

Depressed (very depressed, as she was seen roaring in anger at the male lion,) Kamunyak soon kidnapped another oryx before it was rescued by Kenya Wildlife Services. The third and fourth oryx she tried to adopt were rescued by their mothers. The fifth one starved to death (lions and oryx do not have very compatible diets) and the sixth one escaped.

Kamunyak was last seen in 2004. There are several theories that attempt to explain her strange behavior, including hormonal imbalances due ovarian tumors or bad eyesight, but her behavior made clear she wasn't interested in the oryx as a food source, but as a child. [Image courtesy of Saba Douglas-Hamilton, whose film about Kamunyak is called Heart of a Lioness.]

And Humans Do It, Too

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In Tripura, India, Namita Das suckles her pet monkey, whom she describes as her son. After a fierce storm, Namita's husband rescued the monkey from under a tree, and Namita decided to raise him alongside her two daughters. She says Buru the monkey is the son she has always wanted, and has been breastfeeding him for five years.

Tortoise Adopts Hippo, Cuteness Ensues

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On December 26, 2004, an earthquake in the Indian Ocean triggered Tsunamis around the world and orphaned a baby hippopotamus off the coast of Malindi, Kenya. Owen was rescued with the help of several villagers and taken to Haller Park, where he befriended 130 year old Mzee, an Aldabran tortoise. Some conservationists think that since Mzee is large, round, and grey, Owen may have confuzed Mzee for a mother hippo.

Although Mzee was initially disinterested in Owen, the two grew to like each other and Owen began learning from Mzee as he would from a parent, browsing on leaves and branches instead of grazing like other hippos. The two roused each other for meals, wallowed in the pond, and snuggled up together to sleep. As Owen grew to adulthood he was introduced to a female hippo friend, Cleo, and when became more dangerous for the three to be together (don't smoosh Mzee!) they were eventually separated. These days Owen is adapting to life as a hippo with his girlfriend Cleo, while Mzee has been reunited with his female friend Toto the Tortoise. [Image courtesy of Owen & Mzee's website.]

Check out Part II, featuring mother dogs and random cuteness.