Down in Jungleland: Wild Child

Growing up in the jungles can be as tough for animals as it is for teens.

Written by Ranjit Lal | Updated: February 25, 2018 12:00:51 am
wild animals, birds, nature, wild life, jungle, forest, storks, painted storks, life in jungles, indian express, indian express news (Source: Ranjit Lal)

Most human parents will have experienced this shock at least once in their lives: suddenly, one fine day, their sweet 12-year-old metamorphosises into a surly, door-slamming, body-piercing ghoul who rudely demands privacy and space to ‘find myself’. It made me wonder how other living creatures dwelling in jungleland dealt with such issues with their young. That, I discovered, largely depended on the kind of parenting they imparted to their progeny and there’s certainly no one size that fits all.

Take the plant kingdom. Here, being a helicopter parent is a complete no-no.  A magnificent giant tree that produces thousands of potential babies via its seeds, but refuses to let them leave its shadow, is just dooming them. Just like human helicopter parents, they don’t give their young space to breathe and grow, to relish the sun (and plants need sunlight to survive) — and do not share the minerals, water and other nutrients they need to grow. The baby saplings growing under these circumstances just wither and die, or maliciously just wait and wait for their parent to fall. Fortunately, most plants have realised this and have devised various ingenious ways to ensure that their babies are given the freedom they yearn for — and can grow far away from their own malevolent shadow. Some seed pods are clothed in soft silky hair or helicopter-like vanes and take to the skies when a breeze catches them. Some seeds are just violently popped out to fall far and wide, and others live snug in the depths of sweet, juicy (and colourful) fruit which are consumed by animals (and us), and deposited far away in a dung heap. Many insect parents too don’t interfere with the lives of their young. They deposit their eggs in environments where their babies would have the best chances of survival and just get on with their lives. A butterfly mom won’t flit by to check on the eggs she has deposited on the underside of some leaf.

Some spider moms take more care. Not only will they fiercely protect their eggs (protectively swathed in a silken case), but will also take care of their babies — one species goes to the extent of allowing her ghastly progeny to eat her alive. There are other, more short-tempered spider moms, who will eat their own babies — if there’s not enough food to go around and the brats are reluctant to leave her. There is a hideous clan of wasps that lay their eggs in spiders and other creatures — which they anesthetize with their stings — so that the grub that hatches has fresh meat.

Sea turtles lay hundreds of eggs on the beach and then stagger back into the sea — never to see or love their offspring. The little ones hatch without protection or instruction, and flap madly back to the sea while being picked off wholesale by predators. They say only one in a thousand turtle babies reach adulthood. Those malevolently smiling crocodiles, though, do provide care and protection for their young, guarding them fiercely and even carrying them in their massive jaws to the water.

With birds, too, parenting styles differ. Some (lucky) birds don’t have to do much parenting: their babies are born and can find their own food from the time they hatch — and their moms simply let them. Others need 24×7 feeding, cleaning and caring, with both parents working themselves to the bone to provide for them.

Tiger moms are, of course, renowned for their ferocious protectiveness and care: but it lasts for around two years. After that age, it’s time for them to go! Boy cubs leave to find their own space but, occasionally, once-sweet, little girl cubs may turn into snarling witches and return to their home range to take on their mom in a no-holds-barred battle for territory. Talk about extreme teen rebellion!

Baby-girl elephants are sweeter. They will remain with their mom, grand-moms, aunts, sisters and girl cousins for their entire lives, while their brothers are turned out to fend for themselves.

So, while parenting styles differ widely, it seems like all the creatures in jungleland know what works best for them and their young. Most sensibly, perhaps, they do not usually interfere with how their young dress or whom they’re going out with — which causes so much conflict amongst us, making our youngsters storm off furiously, or collapse in a fit of wild sobbing.

Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher

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