8 Animals With Strong Family Bonds

Adult and baby chimp laying side by side.

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Humans aren't the only species that form close social bonds with family and friends. From primates to cetaceans and rodents, many animals find love, friendship, protection, and joy through their tight-knit relationships with other members of their species. Here are eight animals that show us just how strong the bonds between animals can be.

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​Prairie Dogs

A family of prairie dogs exiting their burrow on a field of green grass with some looking off in the distance.

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Prairie dogs live in coteries, or small family groups within a much larger colony. The family group typically consists of a male, multiple females, and their offspring. These burrowing rodents build extensive underground dwellings fully equipped with separate areas for sleeping, going to the bathroom, and raising their young. They also share food, groom one another, kiss and nuzzle one another to show affection, and help keep other prairie dogs away. And they communicate: By using short barks, prairie dogs can convey information about a predator such as its species, color, size, direction, and speed.

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A small herd of three African elephants, one adult, one juvenile, and one baby, walking across a savannah.

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Elephants are known for their intelligence, long memories, and deep family bonds. Each herd consists of between eight and 100 elephants led by the oldest, and usually the largest, female known as the matriarch. Her mind is a treasure trove of knowledge, leading the other elephants to water and food, an especially critical skill during times of drought.

Male offspring tend to leave the group at puberty, usually between the ages of 8 and 13. Several generations of females help each other raise the babies and keep them protected. And, just like humans, elephants mourn the loss of their loved ones, and have been documented returning to the place where a friend has died, even touching the bones.

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One black and white orca leaping in the air and another with only a fin showing above water on a flat body of water with mountains in the distance.

Christopher Michel / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

While some animals leave the nest as soon as they are able, in the world of orcas, staying close to mom is the norm. In fact, orcas stay with their family for their entire lives. The black and white cetaceans live in pods that can range in size from five to 50 members. Like elephants, raising young is a group activity with the adolescent females helping to care for the babies. Orca parents teach their young to hunt and share their prey within the pod.

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African Wild Dogs

A pile of three African wild dogs snuggled up together on the ground with their eyes closed.

Benjamin Hollis / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

African wild dogs live in packs of between two and 40 individuals led by one monogamous breeding pair. Both males and females take care of the young. After the adults hunt and kill their prey, the stronger members of the pack step back and let the pups eat first. After the pups are finished, the rest of the pack will eat and then venture back to the den to regurgitate some of the kill to feed any young pups, injured or elderly dogs, or the individuals who stayed behind to care for the young ones. In an African wild dog community, everybody is looked after.

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A chimpanzee mother comforting her baby by rubbing his head.

Anup Shah / Getty Images

Chimpanzees live in large communities that can range in size from 15 to 120 members. While a community may be big, the social structure, called fusion-fission, constantly changes with individuals breaking off into smaller sub groups, typically with six or fewer chimps. According to The Jane Goodall Institute, relationships between chimpanzees can last a lifetime. Mother-daughter relationships among chimps are particularly strong, as mothers stay with their young until they become independent between the ages of six and nine. Siblings and pairs of male chimps are also frequently observed together. Grooming is one of the most important behaviors within chimp communities, as it keeps members close and calms and reassures others in their group. Communication between smaller groups is common with chimps using the pant hoot, a form of verbal communication.

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Dwarf Mongooses

A dwarf mongoose family of three snuggled together just outside of their sand burrow.

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Like elephants, dwarf mongooses live in family groups headed by the top female, or matriline. Her monogamous mate is the second in charge, keeping an eye out for danger. The head female is the only female allowed to mate and she also gets first rights to food. After that, unlike many other animal groups, the youngest are given food first, ensuring that the babies get enough to eat. The older offspring help care for the youngsters by cleaning them and bringing them food. When the mother dies, her children leave the group to either start their own or join another. These super social animals also keep in touch even when they aren't together. As they go in search of food, they call out with short chirps, checking in with one another throughout the day.

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Gray Wolves

Gray wolf mother with her young pup standing in a forest and tall green grasses

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Gray wolves are extremely social animals that live in small packs. Each pack includes a male and female pair and all of their young. The lead pair are usually the only individuals in their pack to mate, and they often mate for life. Most packs are small in size, consisting of five to nine individuals. Within their group, wolves work together and teach their young to hunt and avoid threats. They also communicate by using vocalizations to share locations and warn pack members of impending danger.

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Emperor Penguins

An adult emperor penguin and four chicks standing on the snow

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Emperor penguins have a strong male influence. When the males arrive each year to their nesting site, they start to show off to the females by lowering their heads to their chest and letting out a unique courtship vocalization. Once they are paired, emperor penguins remain monogamous for the duration of the breeding season, and sometimes longer. Emperor penguins are highly social and nest within large colonies. The females lay one egg and hand it off to the male for incubation and protection. Outside of nesting season, adult emperor penguins travel and forage in groups.