A silverback mountain gorilla, which leads a troop of up to 30 members, is a powerful animal that can be downright intimidating.
But he definitely has a soft spot for kids.
“Fathers pluck infants from their mothers to groom them, and once I saw an old male tickle a youngster with a long-stemmed flower,” primatologist Dian Fossey wrote in a 1981 National Geographic magazine article.
Fathers are patient with their kids, allowing them to climb and play on their backs, like this youngster in Rwanda’s Virunga Mountains.
What’s more, male gorillas care for young even when they aren’t sure which ones are theirs. That’s anathema among most animal dads, who aren’t interested in putting time and effort into young that don’t share their genes.
Why do they do it? For one thing, the females notice. A recent study showed gorilla dads that spend the most quality time with infants—including those that aren’t their own—produce 5.5 times as many kids as the least attentive dads.
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See heartwarming moments between animal dads and their babies
From emperor penguins to owl monkeys, fathers put in a lot of effort to raise their young—despite being overshadowed by moms.
In the realm of animal parenting, dads don’t get as much love as moms. You don’t see pictures of polar bear cubs cuddling with their old man, or a baby otter snoozing on its father’s floating belly.
It’s true that plenty of animal dads don’t contribute much to their offspring but their genes. In some species, males’ actions can seem far from fatherly: lemurs, lions, and grizzly bears sometimes kill infants of their own kind.
But animal behaviorist Jennifer Verdolin, author of the book Raised by Animals, offers a counternarrative: She says many animal dads have been minimized and sidelined by society.
“We have this narrative that mothers are caring and when a dad does it, it’s somehow miraculous,”