Which Animals Make the Best Mothers?

The world of animal motherhood is incredible. Let’s explore the parenting prowess of polar bears, emperor penguins, orangutans, elephants, and cheetahs.

Sep 19, 2023By Natasha Elder
which animals make best mothers

From the hamster eating her babies to replenish her nutrients and practice population control to the harp seal who abandons her pup on icebergs at just 12 days old (knowing they can’t swim until they reach eight weeks old!) most animals are terrible mothers. Most, but not all. Some animals have strong maternal instincts and make great moms. Let’s find out which animals make the best mothers.


mother orangutan baby jungle
Image credit: Bob Brewer on Unsplash

The orangutan sits at the very top of the world’s best mom list. Orangutan mothers will spend several years teaching their young how to find and eat food, build shelter and sleeping nests, and more. Of course, she will also spend a lot of time protecting her young from the ever-present threat of illegal orangutan trade.

When a juvenile orangutan reaches seven years of age, they will leave home and go off on their own. Once fully grown and leading independent lives, female orangutans are known to return to their mothers for no reason other than to spend time with them. This behavior will go on until the orangutan reaches 16 years old. It’s one of the very few cases in nature where the young will return to their mothers so long after leaving them.

Emperor Penguins

emperor penguin baby motherhood
Image credit: Vladimir Blyufer

When it comes to facts about penguins, everyone always mentions their parenting skills. Male emperor penguins might get all the credit for being great dads and incubating their precious eggs for up to 65 days, but female emperor penguins take their parenting duties just as seriously.

After laying her egg, the mother emperor penguin will travel far and wide (sometimes traveling up to 50 miles!) to get to the ocean and find fish. Once she’s caught fish, she’ll make the long trek back to her freshly hatched egg where she will regurgitate the fish to feed her newborn. When it comes to parents, baby emperor penguins have all the luck.


mother cheetah cubs savannah
Image credit: Denice Alex on Unsplash

Cheetahs are known for being ferocious hunters, so many people are shocked to discover that cheetahs make incredible mothers. After giving birth, a mother cheetah will leave her home and find a safe spot to settle with her litter – which is usually between two to eight cubs strong. At around the four-day mark, this little family will move on to a new location to prevent a build-up of scent in one spot – a pattern that will continue for approximately 18 months.

By the time they reach the 18-month mark, the cubs can be classed as fully adept hunters. Despite this fact, the little family will stick together for another 6 months or so before eventually going their separate ways.

Polar Bears

mother polar bear cub snow ice
Image credit: Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash

Another animal that is not exactly known for being loving and caring is the ferocious polar bear. Surprisingly, polar bears are fantastic mothers – in fact, most bears are known for being fiercely protective of their cubs. Polar bears in specific are the most devoted.

When she gets pregnant, a female polar bear can expect to gain up to 441 pounds to make sure her body does not reabsorb the fetus. When they’re first born, all polar bear pups are basically blind, very weak, almost entirely hairless, and wholly dependent on their mothers to feed them, protect them, and keep them warm. Until the cub is just over two years old, the mother polar bear will protect it from anything that could harm it – often willingly risking her life in the process if necessary. After this point, the mother polar bear is ready to mate again and she (or the adult male who has tracked her!) will chase her cubs away.


mother elephant calves plains savannah
Image credit: Glen Carrie on Unsplash

There’s an African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child” and one look at a herd of elephants will prove that this saying is true. Elephant mothers are fiercely protective of their calves. Elephant moms will breastfeed their calves for three years – talk about commitment! This is on top of the great deal of time they spend teaching the calves how to find food and water, as well as how to socialize and communicate with other elephants.

Elephants are famed for their incredibly strong maternal instincts and, thanks to their matriarchal social structure, when it comes to elephant herds, there’s no such thing as an unsupported single mom. Grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and other older females within the herd will assist the new elephant mother in raising her calf.

Natasha Elder
By Natasha Elder

Natasha is a mother, a wife, a writer, and a serial cat owner. Though she is currently in mourning, her heart not ready for another feline family member just yet, she has always lived life with four paws beside her. She loves – you guessed it – cats, as well as creatures of the fluffy, scaly, and finned variety. Natasha longs to meet Sir David Attenborough one day and is passionate about responsible pet ownership