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Sunday, November 1 at 8 p.m. – NATURE Born Wild: The First Days of Life

(Rochester, NY) –From the moment of their birth, baby animals in the wild can face anything from a large social group of interested caregivers to a potentially deadly group of relatives to one or two devoted parents to complete abandonment and no available help at all. Yet they all have something in common. They must learn whom to trust, what to fear and when to act — all in the first days of life.

NATURE "Born Wild: The First Days of Life," narrated by Academy Award-winning actor F. Murray Abraham, airs Sunday, November 1 at 8 p.m.on WXXI-TV (DT21.1/cable1011/cable11). Mothering involves instinct, but also experience and choices, some of which can be devastatingly hard. As viewers observe animals interacting with their young and wrestling with the feelings and dilemmas that come with raising a baby, they see that parental instincts, for creatures great and small, may mirror their own experiences.

Born Wild: The First Days of Life looks at a wide variety of animals’ parental strategies, from the bizarre to the familiar. Surinam toads carry eggs that hatch in pockets on their backs, pockets that protect the young until the tiny toads are big enough to leave home, looking for lunch. Sometimes, lunch is close to home. An Amourobious spider mother offers herself as the ultimate sacrifice. She gives birth to hundreds of cannibalistic monsters who not only devour their unborn siblings, but also eat her alive. The yolk in her eggs saves a Caiman crocodile mother from a similar fate. Once her babies are hatched, she guards them, day and night, for weeks, while they forage for food. Birds also provide yolk in their eggs for sustenance, but once their young are hatched, most bird parents must work hard to feed them.

Mammals revolutionized childcare with the development of milk to feed their babies. Milk allows young to be born at any time of year and for them to be fed and cared for longer. Long-lasting bonds develop between these babies and their mothers. Parenting becomes more demanding, and protecting young becomes more complicated.

Sometimes, the cooperation of a group works best. Elephant matriarchs unite and rule large families of protective sisters and aunts, enabling calves to have long, safe childhoods, up to a decade long. Chimpanzees spend their long childhoods learning about themselves and their families within an extended family group that protects and defends them. But not all groups of mammals are safe. And sometimes the pressures of a group create the need for deadly choices — who will live and who will die often comes down to the decision of a mother with few options, none of them good. 

The apparent feelings and basic parental instincts of animals in the wild resonate with our inherent need to nurture and protect our children. Born Wild: The First Days of Life” traces the unique bonds between parent and newborn in ways that may reflect our own. 

Pictured: Orangutan mother and baby in a tree (Banghamat Island, Nyaru Menteng, Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo) are among the animals featured in this program, which captures the precious and perilous beginnings of creatures in the wild, from lions to toads.

Credit: ©Rowan Musgrave

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