Will pretty much any mammalian babies take to humans while young?

The General Question is in the thread title: for all intents and purposes, will most all mammalian babies be docile and tolerate (or even seek) handling by humans?

Got to thinking about this while reading the Tasmanian Devil thread. From what I understand, bay lions, tigers, and other big cats can take to humans almost as pets while they’re infants. Obviously, things (always?) change markedly later on.

My impression is that this is common with many mammals. Primate babies are cute and apparently ‘handleable’ (?) but are downright dangerous as adults. Wild versions of dogs and cats (wolves, coyotes, lynxes, civets, the still-extant ur-‘wild cat’ progenitor of house cats, etc.) seem to be docile and even ‘loving’ as babies, but grow distant from human handlers as they approach adulthood.

Is this common across the various non-domesticated and ‘not-traditionally tamed’ mammalian orders/families? Anteaters? Pandas? Kangaroos? Tapirs? Moles? Seals & sea lions? Walruses? The notoriously mean-as-hell zebra and hippopotamus? Rhinos?

That happens even with humans. Have you ever tried to raise teenagers?

I know from personal experience that rats raised by humans from birth will generally be docile and affectionate. They get more so, not less, as they get older. On the other hand, rescue rats who were not socialized as babies tend to remain fearful of humans throughout their lives, although they can grow a little more accepting of human contact.

Pretty much all mammalian babies are dependent on adult care, so are naturally disposed to seek and encourage that care from whatever source is handy.

I like watching The Lion Whisperer on Youtube.

The lions he cares for really do seem to love him. Their demeanor towards him reminds me more of a dog when its human is just getting home from work.

There’s another cheetah I like to watch, same thing with him too.

We took care of a stray cat and when she had a kitten, it never would let us get close or touch her/him, while Mama did. I suspect it picked up the vibe that we thought it was ugly (black with under splotches of yellow and orange). I didn’t help that It named it Ugly. When Ugly was a few months old, Mama was pregnant again. Ugly tried to nurse on Mama, but was chased away. Never saw Ugly again, even to eat. I suspect Mama kept chasing him/her away.


When I was an undergrad, I was looking for some specific information about various mammalian milk. I found this huge tome that was just about milk. Leafing through it I found a section with all sorts of charts, graphs, and pictures, including a picture of a woman breast feeding an orphaned fawn.

It’s not unheard for a human to breastfeed animals. After all we drink animal milk. I saw a documentary where a woman was breastfeeding a goat because its mother couldn’t produce milk.

Feeding doesn’t necessarily mean that a bond will develop though. There was an experiment where a baby chimp or monkey was given a choice between a wire frame mother with a bottle or a furry surrogate. The chimp chose to cling to the furry surrogate instead of eating.

Here’s the experiment with the monkey, warning, it’s sad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrNBEhzjg8I

I suppose the answer might just be this prosaic. Makes sense.

I kind of thought there might be some mammalian baby out there that might instinctively try to avoid humans. Or would be pretty much as dangerous to humans as an adult. But, yeah, most mammals do need care as infants … and humans are probably hard-wired to interpret that as “taking to someone” or even “love”.

IME some domesticated animals (eg hamsters) never get close to their handlers, even if raised from very young. They merely “tolerate” humans (don’t show fear of them). That happened to me with one hamster. I had raised the other hamsters to like humans, so I don’t know if I messed up with that one or there was something “wrong” with it, etc.

I suspect this happens with some non-social mammals, for which it would be weird for them to associate with members of their species (outside of mating season). In many species, young adults feel compelled to move away from their parents (Belding’s ground squirrel males move away from home, but the females stay, so all the local females are related to each other) so I suspect a “pet” male Belding’s ground squirrel will never really be friendly. The females, by contrast, are social.

I’m going to check out those cheetah videos. Male cheetahs are social, but the females are solitary. Among lions, both are social (though in different ways; the males aren’t really part of the pride). And tigers? They’re solitary. Can you be friendly with an adult tiger raised from young?

My bolding. Hmmm - the story of Christian the Lion is far from obscure. This vid (13 million hits!) tells the story briefly (2 min 31). It’s still too syrupy for words (the vid, I mean) but if you have never seen it, take a look. It is genuinely remarkable.