You are here:

Wild Animals/Physical Punishment


Dear Jonathan,

I was wondering if other animals, especially mammals, physically abuse their offspring?


Dear Jonathan

Thank you for your question. I also wish to thank the authors of the websites I used.

T.H. Clutton-Brock and G.A. Parker wrote an article called "Punishment in animal societies" ( They say that parents often punish their young to modify their behaviour. Mothers may bite, slap, kick or peck juveniles. European coots and moorhens may pick up greedy chicks and shake them. They may even kill them to show other chicks not to try and get more than their fair share of resources.

A mother koala will hit her naughty cub with the flat of her paw ( shows that bears also discipline their cubs. shows that this occurs with lions. T.E. Rowell ( mentions interactions in a group of captive baboons and may be useful. Several other species also discipline their young.

Basically, parents will allow infants to have some leeway, especially if the infants have a different coat colour or lack other features of the adult. This tolerance is not inexhaustible and the parent will punish an infant that keeps biting it or puts itself at risk so the parent must rescue it.

I hope this helps.

All the best.


Wild Animals

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Jonathan Wright


I can answer questions about wild mammals and other animals, as well as extinct animals and zoos. I am not an expert about every animal species. I can look up information from books and the internet, but can't verify if all the information is true. Please don't ask questions about: 1. Pets. I am not a vet. Please contact a vet if your pet is ill. You may need to spend some money if you want your pet to live. Don't get a pet if you don't know how to look after it and if you can't provide it with the space, food and possible companions that will help it live a healthy life. Don't take animals from the wild, unless they are ill and/or injured and you can protect them until a wildlife charity can help. It is cruel to take animals from their parents, especially if the parents will look for the babies, while putting their other babies at risk. You may be breaking the law by keeping wild animals or you may need a licence to look after some species. Please check with a local wildlife group. 2. Eggs: Please don't remove eggs from nests. The mother birds provide the right temperature for the eggs and won't sit on them if the temperature is warm enough for them to develop naturally. It is illegal to remove eggs of some species and, unless you have an incubator or a broody hen, the egg may not develop. If you are allowed to touch the eggs, you can candle them to see if they are fertile. If theys aren't fertile, they won't hatch. 3. Fights: Please don't ask about fights between different animals. These questions assume that individuals of two species fight each time they meet and that one species will always be victorious over another. This is untrue. There are cases where a live mouse has been fed to a venomous snake, bitten the snake leading to the snake's demise. 4: Diseases: Please ask doctors or other medical experts about diseases that you may catch from animals. I can't advise on how to deal with viruses, bacteria etc.


I have a zoology degree and have been interested in animals since I was two. I am a zoo volunteer at London Zoo. I have appeared on a BBC Radio Quiz, 'Wildbrain'.

WWF. ZSL. Natural History Museum. RSPB. London Bat Group.

Newsletters of London Zoo volunteers and the London Bat Group

BSC degree in Zoology. 'A' level in Zoology. 'O' Level in Biology.

©2017 All rights reserved.