Wild Animals/Imprinting?


QUESTION: How to make baby animal imprint on me?

Let's say I find baby animal like deer, pup, kitten, or any animal what do I have to do think I'm its mother/father

I m just wondering

ANSWER: Dear Gianfranco

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

An animal that may think that you are its mother or father is using a response called imprinting (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imprinting_%28psychology%29 and http://www.britannica.com/topic/imprinting-learning-behaviour).

http://www.britannica.com/topic/imprinting-learning-behaviour says imprinting is a form of learning where a very young animal fixes its attention on the first object it sees, hears or touches. This object is usually one of the parents and the imprinting instinct enables the baby to associate with the correct species, rather than an inappropriate species. If the baby comes in contact with another moving object, rather than a parent, it may consider itself to be an example of that object. Most imprinting studies concern birds, but some involve fish and insects.

One of the earliest scientists to work on imprinting was Konrad Lorenz. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imprinting_%28psychology%29 says Lorenz showed how incubator-hatched geese imprinted on the first suitable moving stimulus they saw within a "critical period" 1316 hours shortly after hatching. The goslings imprinted on Lorenz's wading boots and often followed Lorenz. Some goslings followed a box on a model train. Other birds have been imprinted on handlers and aircraft. Angelo d'Arrigo hatched captive birds, which imprinted on him and followed him on the ground and in the air as he took various migratory routes.

If a baby animal is taken away from its parents and sees you before it sees its mother or father, it may imprint itself on you, so that it considers you are its mother/father and become dependent on you for food, shelter, safety and companionship. It may later not accept other members of its family as being relatives and may not behave in a way that would benefit its natural development.

Please do not try to imprint any young animals on yourself. Not only is it cruel to the animal, but it is also cruel to the mother and perhaps the father, which could help look after the young animal and help it  develop as one of its own species, rather than as a 'pretend human'.

All the best


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: So what will happen if I find baby kitten with no mother will it imprint on me?

Hello Gianfranco

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

Please do not try to imprint a baby kitten. It is best for a kitten to realise it is a cat and not a human, so you should find the owner of the cat, if it is a domestic cat, or contact a locl wildlife organisation for advice.
T.J. Barnes at Pets Adviser (http://www.petsadviser.com/behaviors/why-does-my-kitten-follow-me-around/) and Dr Nicholas Dodman at Pet Place (http://www.petplace.com/article/cats/behavior-training/normal-behavior/bonding-i) mention the important role that bonding has for kittens. They also mention the role you will have if you take over a kitten. Have you got the time to do this? Do you have a cat that could be a surrogate mother? Please note it would be far better for the kitten if it is with its own mother.

I wonder if it may be better for you to adopt a cat from a cat shelter. My mother had a few cats over the years and cared for them and it would be better for you and the cat if you have a cat that knows it is a cat, rather than one that is unsure if it is a cat or a human.

All the best


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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.

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