Skip to Content

The Reason Behind Monogamy Among Numerous Savanna Creatures

A male and female bat-eared fox duo in the natural habitat of Masai Mara, Kenya.

The Lion King captured a universal truth: love permeates the air in the grasslands. From the avians nestled in the treetops to the foxes nestled in their burrows, many of these animals exhibit monogamous behavior, forming lifelong bonds that mirror what humans define as love.

While some species strictly adhere to monogamy, refraining from breeding outside their pair—a behavior known as genetic monogamy, social monogamy is more prevalent. In social monogamy, mated partners prefer each other’s company but may engage in sexual activities with others. Despite such interactions, socially monogamous pairs maintain a strong bond, as explained by Karen Bales, a researcher focusing on social bonding among animals at the University of California, Davis. Bales emphasizes that pair bonding is not merely a social or mating system; it signifies a profound connection.

According to Lisa Hiura, a developmental biology expert at the University of Colorado Boulder, a committed, enduring partnership can enhance animals’ survival chances. In the savanna, where predators abound, water is scarce, and food is a precious commodity, these species have evolved to thrive in such harsh conditions, often with the support of their mate.

On promoting scientific journalism

If you find this article engaging, consider backing our exceptional journalism by . Your subscription contributes to the continuity of impactful narratives about the breakthroughs and concepts shaping our contemporary world.

Von der Decken’s Hornbill

Birds predominantly exhibit monogamous tendencies, with 90 percent of bird species forming monogamous bonds (in contrast to less than 10 percent of mammal species). Von der Decken’s Hornbills exemplify this trait vividly; these birds display unwavering dedication to their mate. Maggie Kinnaird, a researcher delving into hornbill monogamy at the World Wide Fund for Nature, describes their behavior as akin to being tethered by rubber bands as the breeding season approaches. She notes that if one hornbill takes flight, the other faithfully follows suit.

Even beyond the breeding season, Von der Decken’s Hornbills remain steadfastly loyal to their partner, with instances of extra-pair copulations being rare. Statistically speaking, they are far more monogamous than humans, Kinnaird asserts. The commitment of these hornbills is unwavering, with minimal extramarital affairs. When a female Von der Decken’s Hornbill lays eggs, she isolates herself within a nest crafted from her excrement, sand, twigs, and other materials. This phase highlights the unwavering dedication of both parents, as the mother nurtures the chicks within the nest while the father ventures out to gather sustenance for the family.

This dynamic underscores why hornbills mate for life. The mother’s ability to shield the chicks from predators while ensuring adequate nourishment underscores the value of a reliable provider. “If you have a dependable provider, why would you relinquish that?” Kinnaird posits.

Wild Canids of East Africa

Wild canids (canine-like mammals) worldwide often exhibit monogamous behavior, and the savanna’s wild canids are no exception. Jackals, bat-eared foxes, and African wild dogs all form lifelong bonds and mate for life.

These wild canids breed annually, dedicating 10 months each year to either pregnancy or nurturing their offspring. The shared responsibility of postnatal care between two caregivers enhances canid fitness, enabling more pups to reach independence. The deep attachment fostered through pair bonding ensures the longevity of these partnerships, with wild canids remaining together year after year.

In both bat-eared foxes and African wild dogs, fathers play a significant role in caring for the young, undertaking all caregiving tasks except lactation. This paternal involvement may have evolved as a result of female canids consistently selecting males that exhibit caregiving traits.


These diminutive antelopes are socially monogamous and develop strong bonds with their mate. The loss of a partner can be as distressing for these pair-bonded animals as it is for humans. Such a loss can trigger anxiety, depression-like behaviors, and even physical pain sensations, Hiura explains.

Dik-diks are frequently seen alongside their mate, with research indicating that dik-dik pairs spend approximately 64 percent of their time together. While male dik-diks may engage in extramarital copulations given the opportunity, their commitment to their primary partner remains strong.

For both humans and animals, these relationships are crucial for health and survival. Whether in a romantic relationship, a platonic friendship, or a familial bond, the significance of each relationship cannot be understated. Bales emphasizes that relationships have a profound impact on health, comparable to diet, exercise, and even smoking. Having someone to care for and be cared for by is essential.