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Who should be 'Mother of the Year' at the Oregon Zoo?

May 8, 2013 at 3:29 PM ET

Elephant curator Bob Lee with Rose-Tu, just weeks before she is due to give birth to her second calf. © Oregon Zoo / photo by Michael Durham.
Michael Durham / Oregon Zoo
Who should win: Brooke, a De Brazza's monkey (left), river otter Tilly, or elephant Rose-Tu?

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, the Oregon Zoo in Portland is putting a very important question to the public: Which new zoo mom deserves the honor of being named Mother of the Year? Because we can’t forget that even in the animal kingdom maternal bonds abound — sometimes in the most unexpected ways.

The three mothers in question face some stiff competition, as each is dedicated and downright adorable around her youngsters.

“We have three exceptional candidates this year,” zoo director Kim Smith said in a statement. “These moms all represent species whose natural habitats are threatened, and they've each done a lot to inspire zoo visitors.”

So who are these award-worthy mothers? First, there’s Brooke, a 22-year-old De Brazza’s monkey who has kept close watch over her 2-month-old boy since he was born on Feb. 24. Zookeepers gave the newborn monkey the name Augustus, after his father, Gus, who died last month.

This three week old Debrazzas baby monkey is cuddled by her mother, Brooke, at the Oregon Zoo. © Oregon Zoo - photo by Kathy Street
Kathleen C. Street / Oregon Zoo
Three-week-old Augustus cuddles with his mother, Brooke.

"He was attached to Brooke's belly 24/7 for about a month," Asaba Mukobi, the zoo's senior primate keeper, said in a statement. "He might've seemed like a mama's boy at first, but he's been growing more independent lately. Brooke has been an excellent mother."

Then we move along to North American river otter Tilly, a first-time mom who has been caring for her 3-month-old pup, Mo, born on Jan. 28. Tilly has quite the story of survival: She was found orphaned and injured near a creek at 4 months old in 2009. Now she’s just another active otter mom, busy teaching Mo how to navigate the rough waters of adolescence with a few swimming lessons.

River otter Tillamook teaches her young pup Molalla how to swim during Spring Break 2013 in the Oregon Zoo's Cascade Stream and Pond Exhibit. © Oregon...
Oregon Zoo
Tilly teaches her young pup, Mo, how to swim.

“Sometimes it’s a month before babies even open their eyes, and Tilly has been very nurturing,” senior zookeeper Julie Christie said.

And last, but certainly not least, we present the maternal prowess of Rose-Tu, an elephant who brought a 300-pound female calf named Lily into the world on Nov. 30 after 22 months of pregnancy. (She deserves a special award for that alone.)

While Rose-Tu and Lily have gotten along swimmingly from the start, it wasn't so easy for this mom the first time around: In 2008, keepers worked around the clock to help her forge bonds with another calf as she sort of, well, shunned him at first. (Not that we would ever judge; we imagine many moms lament the loss of their privacy.)

Asian elephant calf Lily with her mother Rose-Tu in the east habitat at the Oregon Zoo. © Oregon Zoo / photo by Michael Durham.
Oregon Zoo
Rose-Tu and her calf in the east habitat at the Oregon Zoo.

“When people connect with Lily and see the bond between Rose-Tu and her calf, it brings home what we’re doing every day to make a good life for elephants," zoo elephant curator Bob Lee said in a statement.

Voting closes at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday, so fill out a ballot here while you can. The Oregon Zoo will announce the winner on Friday at 1:30 p.m. ET.

To help you decide (or make your indecision even worse), check out the adorable video below featuring all three moms in action:


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