“Born Wild: The First Days of Life”
In NATURE “Born Wild: The First Days of Life,” 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.
In the hot, humid climate of Swaziland in southern Africa, black mambas thrive. They are naturally attracted to the vast sugar cane plantations, but they also can be found in homes, gardens, schools and hotel rooms, sometimes with tragic results. Snake bites in Africa are reaching epidemic proportions. The traditional response is to kill them before they can kill; failing that, to rely on traditional medicine for a cure — always a hopeless option. But two individuals are making an effort to address the crisis in Swaziland and to save both snake and human lives. NATURE tracks their progress in “Black Mamba.”
Viewers can submit questions for snake handler Thea Litschka-Koen online at www.pbs.org/nature. Litschka-Koen initially became interested in black mambas after one of her sons chose snakes as a school project. Soon after, she found herself doing research and ultimately enrolling in handling and identification courses; her involvement grew from there. Enlisting her husband, Clifton, in her efforts, Litschka-Koen began responding to emergency calls from locals, removing and rescuing snakes. Each call-out is a daunting proposition, even for this intrepid and experienced couple. After a successful rescue, on-site demonstrations help assuage some of the Swazis’ fears about the mambas that will always live among them. Litschka-Koen also founded a reptile park where some of her rescued snakes could be released and where people could learn more about snakes, even how to handle some of them safely.
“Fellowship of the Whales”
“Fellowship of the Whales” begins in the calving grounds for humpbacks, off the coast of Hawaii, where a mother whale gives birth to a baby she has carried for nearly 12 months, and which now weighs a ton and a half. Hawaii is the winter home of humpbacks, where the warm waters and protected bays and coves give shelter to newborn calves and their mothers. It is here that the baby whale will take her first breath and learn to use her flippers and tail to communicate with other whales, to protect herself and to proclaim her presence in the world.
Along the way are more lessons to learn, including all the dangers of the open sea. When the calf and her mother arrive, she will learn how humpbacks cooperate in this new environment to take full advantage of the superabundance of whale food available here. For the summer, all of the whales will feast on krill and herring, one enormous mouthful after another. By November, the whales begin their return to the south.
“The Cheetah Orphans”
Visit the website at www.pbs.org/wnet/nature.
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