Posted In Animals | 12th March 2024

Exploring the Bond Between Animal Mothers and their Offspring at Dublin Zoo

Across the incredible world of animal species, we have so many different types of mums – feathered, scaly, furry, and more.

Dublin Zoo’s mission is to save wildlife, and every day, our amazing teams care for over 400 animals that call the Zoo home. From Asian lions to red pandas, Rothschild’s giraffes to southern white rhinos. In that wonderful mix of species, there are some special animal mums.

The siamang gibbon pair, Luca and Cahaya, added to their family when Cahaya gave birth to a baby on December 2nd, 2023. This birth marked a significant milestone for Dublin Zoo and our conservation efforts as parents Luca and Cahaya are genetically important to the European Endangered Species breeding programme.

‘Cahaya is an excellent mother,’ Dublin Zookeeper Darragh Farrell tells us. ‘She does everything perfectly and does everything that Zookeepers want a new mother to do.’

‘She holds the baby quite close, she’s very attentive to it. She’ll clean the baby on a daily basis, which is really important. She’ll groom its fur, or its hair.’

Darragh describes Cahaya as a ‘very trusting and calm animal’, sharing a wonderful relationship with partner, Luca. However, when the baby was born, her protective motherly nature began to show.

‘Although Cahaya and Luca are very close, when the baby was born, she wanted him to keep his distance at first because she wanted to make sure everything with the baby was okay,’ says Darragh, ‘but as time has gone on, their relationship has gotten even better, and you’ll now see them sunbathing together as a family with the baby on the island or even on their favourite bench in their house.’

Siamang gibbons are known for their singing and one of the reasons they do this is to ‘solidify relationships and family bonds’. Darragh explains, ‘if you ever come to Dublin Zoo on a nice, warm, or clear day, you’ll be able to hear the gibbons singing, whether you’re in the Zoo or just outside in the Phoenix Park. They have a large air sac that sits just underneath their throat, and they can inflate this to about the size of a grapefruit.

‘The main reason that gibbons sing is to build a relationship or build a bond with their families. So, as the baby grows, it will start to learn from its parents, that singing is part of gibbon life, it’s what they do.’

Watch Dublin Zookeeper Darragh share heartwarming traits and tales of the siamang gibbon family.

Meanwhile, in the African Plains at Dublin Zoo, southern white rhino, Nyala, is busy caring for calf, Malkia.

‘Nyala has a very strong personality, she’s a very strong-willed rhino,’ Dublin Zookeeper Ken Mackey tell us. ‘She’s had two calves now. Her first calf was a son, Tadala and he moved to France, and Malkia, her daughter, is here at Dublin Zoo and is over one years old.’

As zookeepers at Dublin Zoo have observed Nyala become a mum twice, they have noticed how she’s really grown into that role. Ken explains, ‘Nyala has become a really good mum as she’s been able to watch another female rhino raise her calves at the Zoo.’

‘She’s very alert to Malkia. She will use her ears and her body language as a cue for Malkia to either move off or to stay close.’

The natural thing for southern white rhino calves is to run in front of mum. This is the behaviour seen in the wild and by animal care specialists in zoos and safari parks. Ken explains, ‘southern white rhino calves will always stay in front of mum, as they are from a savanna area, this allows mum to see all the way around the calf.’

This is an interesting contrast to southern black rhino calves, who run behind mum, allowing mum to clear the way for them.

Watch Dublin Zookeeper Ken talk about how Nyala navigates being a mum in the crash of rhinos.

A visit to Dublin Zoo offers a special adventure for all ages. Visitors can explore the incredible habitats – from Asian Forests to African Plains and see the diverse range of species at the Zoo, including the opportunity to see the mums of Dublin Zoo and their offspring.

Check out our Plan Your Visit section so you don’t miss any of your favourite animals or habitats during your visit.