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Gallery: Zoo Dads with Photographer Jamie Pham

Hippos Rosie and Adama. Photo by Jamie Pham

Last month we shared a look at some of the cutest photos from our Zoo “family album,” featuring Zoo moms and their young over the years. This month, we’re taking a closer look at dads. Photographer Jamie Pham is along for the ride, and he’ll share what it was like to take these adorable archive pictures and what he’s learned about dad behaviors in the process.

Giraffe dad Phillip is a pro at fatherhood. This is his sixth calf, and there’s something special about this one. “Mostly he hangs around Dad a lot. Phillip is very affectionate with this calf, much more so than with his previous calves. About 90 percent of my parent images of affection are between mother and offspring, but with these two, almost all of my images are between the father and the calf,” says Pham. “It’s great to see.”
Kangaroo dad Tyson was a good teacher for all of his joeys. “He’d spar with them when they got older, kind of box and interact that way,” Pham remembers.
Desert big horn sheep dad Atlas fathered many lambs, but “didn’t have too much to do with them,” says Pham. What does that mean for him as a photographer? “I just wait. If I see two animals near each other, I’m going to be ready to capture whatever they’re doing, even more so if it’s a baby with a parent. I can spend hours trying to get great images.”
This is Pudu dad Mario with baby Haechan (who moved to Delaware’s Brandywine Zoo in 2021). “Haechan is a world superstar. He was everybody’s favorite,” Pham states matter-of-factly. “Baby pudu are incredibly cute anyway, but the pictures don’t really do justice to how tiny he is. He simply looks proportional to his dad.” It reads as normal to our viewing eye, “But when you see them in person . . . Haechan was maybe the size of a big guinea pig.”
Bongo dad Moyo was born at the Zoo. “I remember clearly when Moyo was a calf, the first bongo born here in over 20 years,” Pham says. “To see him now as an adult, as a father of his own calf, is a great full-circle moment.” Pham is adept at capturing time. “For me to happen to be there when they nuzzle, I might only see that once a month, so these moments are very precious,” he says.
“These were the first hornbill chicks I’d ever seen at the Zoo,” Pham recalls. “The father is their only source of food, because they’re completely sealed in the nest box.” This sealing is a natural behavior initiated by the female Van der Decken’s hornbill for safety. “He would dutifully feed his family, and even after they came out of the nest box I would see him still in that pattern of feeding them and making sure they ate. He was a great father. It was very cute,” Pham admits. He explains the angles required to get a good shot of a bird. “For birds, you need to photograph them side view or three quarters. Head-on you can’t see their beaks, and they look very strange. Also, because their beaks are so long, a straight on shot will be completely out of focus.”
“The takin male, he’s enormous, and he’s been known to be kind of surly,” Pham explains. “I’ve seen him countless times chasing around the females and other males to make sure they know he’s boss. So when this tiny baby approached him, I was like, ‘What is he going to do?’ It’s a pretty rare moment that Dad would allow a little one to get that close. This little one was really brave.”
This photo, taken by volunteer Max Block, is one of only a handful of gorilla dad Kelly with baby Angela. Pham says he rarely sees the father and daughter together. “He hasn’t interacted very much with Angela, as much as I’m waiting for him and wanting him to. I have a theory that it’s because he’s older now than he was with his previous offspring. But she’s interested, she’ll approach him. I’m still hoping it will happen.”
“Hippo Adama was a star dad,” Pham says with obvious admiration. “He was very young himself when Rosie was born, and he paid so much attention to her. Daily they would play. If you look in the photo archive, there are plenty of photos of them playing together.” It’s true! This is a favorite of Pham’s. “He was always gentle and became such a great father. It was great to see those natural behaviors of him just enjoying being a parent. And they kept that bond for a long time, not just when she was a little baby.”

So, what is the appeal of seeing animals with their young? “Love is universal,” Pham says. “It makes us feel good. I want people to go ‘ooh’ and ‘aw.’ It makes me feel like I’m successful. When people look at my images and say how cute they are: mission accomplished.”