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Fatherhood in the Animal Kingdom

Posted by: Kristin Quirk, Education

Father's Day is almost here, a good time to take a closer look at the many forms of fatherhood in the animal kingdom. While its natural for fathers of some species to be entirely absent, other animal fathers fill all sorts of roles: protector, companion, provider, disciplinarian, partner and even playmate.

Let's explore the world of animal dads.

Golden lion tamarins

Golden lion tamarins often have twins so dad’s help is very important in raising the baby monkeys. Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
A male golden lion tamarin takes his role as father very seriously. The typical tamarin dad grooms, feeds, plays with and gives his infants piggyback rides. Hey dads, does this sound familiar?


With a big, long beak dad is able to slip food to mom living within the tree. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Hornbills will find a cavity or hole in a tree to make their home. The mother hornbill stays inside the tree, often molting her feathers to provide a soft nest. The large hole is closed up with mud leaving only enough space to fit her beak. The father hornbill then brings food to her and the chicks once they have hatched.

Maned wolves

Maned wolf dads will be on high alert outside the den. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Foxes and wolves work as a parenting team. Mom stays in the den with the pups while dad is hunting down all the meals for the growing family. Wolves will continue to grow their pack with their offspring while foxes tend to leave their parents after a couple of years together.

Woodland Park Zoo has many proud dads!

Gorilla dads have been seen playing with and teaching skills to their offspring. Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Gorilla dads are responsible for the protection and are the leaders of their troop. Silverbacks make sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to and ensure they all stay safe. Baby gorilla Yola, born November 20 2015, is the daughter of silverback Vip and his seventh offspring. Though Vip is her biological father, Yola lives in a group with an unrelated silverback male, Leo, who provides leadership and protection to keep the family cohesive and peaceful.

Junior the dad got to choose the name of his son although he never participated in their rearing. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Junior, the jaguar, had three cubs born at WPZ, currently residing at other zoos; the male cub has since grown up and become a father himself. Jaguars are not involved with the raising of their offspring. In most cases, dad is gone before the cubs are even born.

Dad Xerxes gives a big grooming lick to one of his cubs. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Most wild cat fathers are not involved in child rearing, but lions are the exception. WPZ’s African lion Xerxes got to meet all his cubs, Tandie, Mandla and Gandia. He was a great father when the cubs were young and naturally as the boys matured they needed to move out from under his shadow. They have since relocated to Oakland Zoo where they live as a bachelor group together.

Father’s Day at Woodland Park Zoo

Celebrate dad and make family memories with a Father's Day visit to the zoo! Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Bring your family to Woodland Park Zoo for Father's Day and enjoy half off admission for dad with the purchase of a child's admission when you mention this offer at any entry gate (offer not available online).

Make sure to stop by Zoomazium for a special Father’s Day craft! Did you know that male seahorses are the ones who are pregnant with baby seahorses? It is true; a unique exception and great example how astonishing nature is! Come make your very own seahorse to take home with you.

Before you leave Zoomazium pick up a Father’s Day tour and activity sheet that will lead you to some of the dads we have here at WPZ. Learn the names of dad and their kids, read a fun fact about the responsibilities this animal dad has and complete a little activity.

Come to Australasia at 1:30 for an emu talk; these large flightless birds will receive enrichment while we learn about the very unusual and important role emu dads play in raising their chicks. In many bird species fathers have a lot to do, building a nest then courting a female and that is before the eggs are even laid! Many wild birds live within the zoo—listen for the cheeping of chicks and watch as the parents provide for them!

Otter pop Guntur looks out for his little ones. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.