Saturday 8 December 2012

Photo: Tiger Cubs Being Breastfed.

Two tiger cubs, one male, one female were taken from her mother when she killed the third one in her litter. They were subsequently fed by a wet nurse, Hla Htay, and when we say breastfed, we mean literally, straight from her breasts.
Among animals, such expressions of cross-species nursing are not uncommon, says Walter Hurley, professor of lactation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Often, we’ll hear of females that adopt young from different species,” he says. They include dogs that nurse cats and cats that seem happy to be suckled by hedgehogs.

Such behaviour isn’t always confined to wild animals. In 2001, the search for a missing 16-month-old baby in Lorestan, Iran, ended three days later when the baby was found safe and well in a bear’s den. Experts concluded the bear had breastfed the infant.

Raising animals on milk from another species is not without its problems, though. “Milk differs wildly in composition between species, but something is usually better than nothing,” says Hurley. For example, cow milk is typically up to 5% fat, while seal milk is around 50% fat.
Thanks to its high lactose content, human milk is among the sweetest, and compared with tiger milk, it lacks both fat and protein. Hurley says those deficiences, while secondary concerns if the cubs’ lives are at stake, could well hinder their proper development and growth.
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