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Having recently celebrated a first Father’s Day with our baby son it got me thinking that fathers in the animal kingdom often get a bad rap but surely there must be some good dads?  So, here are the prize winners for the best animal dads, native to Africa.

Award for the most protective dad – lion

lion
© Sarah Fox

The male lion’s reputation as a father precedes him; known for his lazy and disinterested attitude towards parenting. As head of the pride he lies in the shade and sleeps the day away while the females are ‘bringing in the bacon’. That is no mean task with the male needing an astronomical 65 pounds of meat to satisfy his appetite and despite his non-participation in the hunt, Dad helps himself to the first cut of every meal. However, having a lion for a dad isn’t all bad. If his pride is threatened the male lion will step up and protect his family from all comers. The male lion is also quite the Casanova, with a pride encompassing 7 or more lionesses and plenty of cubs.  Unfortunately 4 out of 5 of these will die before reaching their first birthday. It is therefore important for the male lion to have as many cubs as he can; he only holds his position as head of the pride for a period of 2-3 years, so passing on his good looks while he can is essential.

Award for the best disciplinarian – mountain gorilla

The gorilla is a solid example of good parenting.  While at times he may come across a little controlling he is overall a very good dad. Usually living in family groups of around 30, the large male silverback is always the one in charge.  On his broad shoulders he places the responsibility of finding food and where the group should eat, a pretty big responsibility indeed considering gorillas need up to 50 pounds of food a day. He is a big believer in discipline, dining with mum first and then allowing the kids to join in afterwards. The silverback is in no way a neglectful father as he spends a good deal of time with his young and keeps a watchful eye on them right up until their teenage years. This father sets a concrete example of how to behave, settling any arguments within the group and fending off any threats against his family with a fierce display of charging and chest beating.

Award for the best provider – African wild dog & black-backed jackal

African wild dog
© Sarah Fox

The African wild dog’s ability as a dad might not be as fine tuned as some but that doesn’t stop him from doing a good job, especially when it comes to food. The dogs hunt in family packs and once they have their catch they get stuck in right away. But being efficient hunters isn’t what makes these dads great. The pups are unable to eat proper solids until they are 10 weeks old and so both mum and dad regurgitate the food they eat to feed their young, something human fathers might not find too appealing. Doing this it keeps the pups close to home and stops them from falling prey to predators. The black-backed jackal is similar in its culinary habits. He returns from the hunt with food for his mate and newborn pups who, at the age of 1 month, are then capable of eating the regurgitated food of their parents. Isn’t it wonderful the lengths some parents will go to make sure their kids eat well?

Award for the most dedicated dad – The African jacana

This dad is not one you might find enjoying a pint down the pub or doing anything considered manly at all, at least not in the animal kingdom anyway. In fact, he’s a bit of a pushover. The male African jacana is smaller than his female counterpart and in no way wears the trousers in the relationship, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a good dad. On the contrary, the male African jacana takes on the many responsibilities usually associated with the female of a species. He builds his nest on a little floating island and finds a mate. After mating however, the female runs off to breed with other males leaving the male to tend to the 4 eggs she has laid. Being a single parent isn’t easy for The African jacana; he has to incubate the eggs and if disturbed, mainly by flooding, is capable of carrying his young under his wings to a safer location.

Award for the most committed dad – Namaqua sand grouse

The Namaqua sand grouse of the Kalahari Desert is one very committed dad. He takes turns with his mate to incubate their eggs, dealing with the long night shift, while she takes over during the day so dad can fly off with fellow fathers in search of food and water. But it is after the hatching of his chicks that this dad’s time to shine arises. His breast feathers are capable of absorbing water, much like a sponge, and after dipping them in a watering-hole he is able to carry water back to his chicks, providing them with much needed sustenance. However, it is the lengths to which he’ll go to achieve this that is so incredible and that is meant in a literal sense. With excellent flight capabilities this dad can fly at around 40 miles per hour and is tough enough to achieve a round trip from nest to water and back again of around 100 miles.

Award for the most virile dad – termite

Termite Hill
© Sarah Fox

A lesser known fact about termites is that there is only one breeding pair out of millions and millions of males and females in one mound. The mother and father of such a brood rarely leave each other’s side and mate continuously, with the queen constantly pregnant. Dad helps to churn out 5 million kids per year and does so for up to 20 years, making him dad to over one hundred million termite babies. Now that’s a lot of dirty nappies.  The termite Dad certainly wins the prize for his fidelity and for being the ultimate stud!

Award for the handiest dad – weaver

Masked Weaver
© Sarah Fox

Weaver birds are master craftsmen and are all about building a good strong home for their family. The males use strong grasses to build their nests and weave them together into a small sphere, creating as many as they can find room to do so. These can often be seen hanging over water, a precautionary measure by the builder to ensure, should the nest fall, it will not be snaffled up by predators. There are big consequences associated with this dad’s craftsmanship as it can determine whether or not he becomes a father at all. If the female likes the nest he’s made she’ll take up residence immediately and lay eggs in the next few days. If, however, she finds his workmanship a little shabby the male will take it to heart and chase her off. Thereafter living in hope a slightly less hard to please female will come his way.

Award for the most liberal minded dad – greater flamingo  

Flamingo
© Sarah Fox

It’s all in the name with this one; this flamingo is pretty great and particularly so as a dad. They are generally monogamous birds, remaining with the same mate for life. The males are caring and dutiful to their spouses and observe great gender equality, rarely seen in the animal kingdom. Together they select the site of their nest, usually constructed of mud, which dad helps his wife to build. During the period of incubating their egg, the male again shares equal responsibility with the female, together defending and rearing their young hatchling.

Dad of the Year? – seahorse

Seahorse
© Sarah Fox

If you’re looking for a guy who’s in touch with his feminine side then look no further ladies because you can’t get much better than this. The Seahorse is one of the front runners for dad of the year and for one very special reason, that being he takes on the turbulent task of pregnancy. The female places her eggs in a special pouch on the male’s front and then it’s all down to dad. He fertilizes the eggs over a period of 10 – 25 days, keeping them nice and safe in his pouch before giving birth to anything between 1 – 2,000 offspring. You are unlikely to find a more dedicated dad, although it has been said they are prone to eating a few of their young, a factor somewhat overshadowed though.

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I am a social media marketer for a specialist African tour operator selling luxury safaris, honeymoons and family holidays. I often say that I have my dream job. Having always had a passion for travel as well as African wildlife, with Mahlatini African Travel I get to indulge these two passions in equal measure. For the past 6 years I have been privileged enough to travel most of Southern and East Africa - all in the name of research! My husband and I are both South Africans currently living in the UK but with plans to return to Africa one day. Our idea of the perfect break is escaping the rat race and heading for our little piece of heaven - the Kruger Park. Having recently become parents to a baby boy we are very excited to introduce him to the African bush and all the adventure that it brings.