In this video from the PBS series NATURE, a troop of snow monkeys raises their young in the forests of Japan. Snow monkey babies learn valuable survival skills by observing their mothers and other troop members.
The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” is not lost on the Snow Monkeys of Hell Valley. While a newborn’s survival is largely left up to the infant’s mother, she will be given help, sometimes through family members, sometimes through friends, and sometimes through the inevitable trials and errors that come with learning the survival tools of the wild.
Each spring a new generation of Snow Monkeys are born. Newborns spend most of their time with their mother, but with a large number of troop members, they are never too far from other infants, mothers, juveniles and adults. While they grow, they learn about their environment and their own physical capabilities by watching their elders, and eventually copying their actions. Mothers care for their families by gathering for food using foraging techniques that the infant will come to learn and utilize as it gains independence. However, in the early years, the infants will simply rely on nursing for nutrition.
Mothers are not alone in raising their young. They often receive help from family members. Mothers can deputize their older children as babysitters, ensuring that the infant is looked after while the mother forages. Aunts and uncles are also handy when introducing the infant to social interactions. Family relatives are forgiving of the behavior of the infants, and are more likely to engage with the infant than grow irritated. This advantage will ready the young to act appropriately in social situations with the other members of the troop.
As the infants grow, they not only learn from their elder family members, but also from each other. Among cousins and other nearby families, friendships develop and a natural appetite for play leads to new adventures. Under the constant supervision of their mothers, the young snow monkeys are able to discover their environment through interaction, as the excitement of playtime coaxes experimentation of running, climbing and communicating.
Within a few seasons, the infants grow into juveniles, who require less supervision. And with more independence, the young snow monkeys will eventually gain a full set of survival skills, outgrowing the caretaking that was essential to their growth.
Funder:Major support for NATURE is provided by the Arnhold Family, in Memory of Clarisse Arnhold, the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust, and the Filomen M. D’Agostino Foundation. Support is also provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS.