6 Animals With Strong Family Bonds

Family ties

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Humans aren't the only species that form close social bonds with family and friends. From primates to cetaceans to rodents, many animals find love, friendship, protection and joy through their tight knit relationships with other members of their species.

Here are six animals that show us just how strong the bonds between animals can be. (Text: Ali Berman)

​Prairie dogs

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Prairie dogs live in family groups that typically consist of a male, multiple females and their offspring. According to National Geographic, these adorable and social rodents build extensive underground dwellings fully equipped with separate areas for sleeping, going to the bathroom and for nurseries. So, not only do they all live together in a similar housing style as us humans, they also share food, groom one another and help keep other prairie dogs away. And just like people, they talk to each other. By using their short barks, prairie dogs can convey information about a predator like its species, color, size, direction and speed, says professor Con Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University. If they can say that much about predators, we wonder what they say inside their tunnels! We also know that they kiss and nuzzle one another to show affection.

Elephants

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Elephants are known for their intelligence, long memories and deep family bonds. Each herd can consist of anywhere between eight and 100 elephants and is led by the oldest and usually the largest female in the group 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.

Each herd is made up largely of females as the male offspring tend to leave the group between the ages of 12 and 15. The females, often the grandmothers, daughters and grandchildren, and sometimes other elephants that join the herd, help each other raise the babies and keep them protected. By babysitting, the younger females learn how to be good mothers when their time comes. Just recently a whole herd was filmed as they tried to help one of the babies get up after falling down on a busy road. It takes a village, right?

And, just like humans, elephants mourn the loss of their loved ones. They have been documented returning to the place where a friend died and even touching the bones.

Orcas

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In the human world, we poke fun at young adults who never move out of mom and dad's basement, but in the world of orcas, staying close to mom is the norm. In fact, the children stay with their family for their entire lives. The black and white cetaceans live in pods which can range in size from five to forty members. Like elephants, raising young is a group activity with the adolescent females helping to care for the babies.

Many think that species in the wild live by Darwin's "survival of the fittest" theory, and many animals do, but showing just how strong an orcas family group is, recently a pod was discovered to be caring for a disabled youngster who was missing her dorsal fin and her right-side pectoral fin. This made her slower and unable to hunt.

Rainer Schimpf, an underwater photographer who found the pod, said about the young orca, "Incapable of fast hunting and ambushing prey it has to be dependent on the pod which, one assumes, looks after it very well. It shows these mammals are not really just ruthless killing machines but they also have complex, caring social-structures in which they and care for their own disabled members."

African wild dogs

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If you thought the orca pod caring for its disabled youngster was fantastic, you're going to love African wild dogs. Once they hunt and kill their prey, bigger stronger members of the pack will step back and let the pups eat first. After the pups are done, 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 just the individuals who stayed back to care for the young ones. In an African wild dog community, everybody is looked after. That's what families are for, after all.

Chimpanzees

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Chimpanzees live in large communities that can range in size from 15 to 120 members. While a community may be big, the social structure constantly changes with individuals breaking off into smaller sub groups, many times with 6 or fewer chimps. Although, every once in a while there will be a gathering of the larger community and chimps will get together to play, breed and groom.

According to The Jane Goodall Institute, relationships between chimpanzees can last a lifetime. The site notes that mother-daughter relationships can be particularly strong as mothers stay with their young until around the age of seven. Siblings and pairs of male friends can also be seen together, and communication between smaller groups is common with chimps calling out longer distances through the pant hoot, a type of verbal communication.

Grooming is one of the most important behaviors to keep chimp communities close. By grooming the primates develop their friendships, and calm and reassure others in their group.

And, like elephants and people, chimpanzees also mourn the loss of their loved ones.

Dwarf mongooses

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Like elephants, dwarf mongooses live in family groups headed by the matriarch. 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 gets first rights to food. After that, unlike in 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, breaking up the original family unit, 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. (It's kind of like mongoose texting.)