In honor of Mother’s Day, we’ve made a list of the matriarchal animal societies you can see on a trip with Natural Habitat Adventures. Check out which moms rule the roost below!

Nat Hab travelers on safari with elephants.


Elephants are incredibly empathetic animals—studies have shown they mourn their dead, have long-term memories and possess the ability to love. These pachyderms form deep family bonds, and in elephant societies, the matriarch reigns. She is the oldest and often largest elephant, and the entire herd (anywhere from 8 to 100 elephants) follows her lead. Her knowledge of migration routes and watering holes is invaluable, and she passes this wisdom down to the next generation—when she dies, her oldest daughter takes her place. Encounter enormous elephant herds as they roam across Africa’s floodplains on a trip to experience the Hidden Jewels of Zimbabwe & Zambia and on the Southern Africa Safari Cruise.

Orca calf leaping over her mother.


Orcas have complex social structures, and new studies are emerging about these intelligent cetaceans every day. These toothed whales, the largest members of the oceanic dolphin family, live in groups called pods. In an unusual phenomenon, calves stay with their mothers for the duration of their lives. Offspring are communally cared for by the matriarch and her descendants. The matriarch is the oldest orca in the pod and can live into her 90s (males only live about 60 years). She possesses a wealth of knowledge on the best fishing spots and teaches younger members hunting strategies and how to use echolocation. See pods of orcas while sailing the coast of British Columbia.

Lemur with baby in Madagascar

© Megan Bryant


The majority of lemur species live in troops led by a matriarch, who dictates when the group feeds, sleeps and travels. This hierarchy passes down the matriline, so even the smallest female infant is dominant over any male. Females are often slightly larger than males, pick their mates and have prime access to food resources. During confrontations with other troops, it is the females that engage in conflict. Observe these fascinating matriarchal primates, from ring-tailed to ruffed lemurs, on a Madagascar Wildlife Adventure.

Hyena with babies in Africa.

© Brooks Kamanakao

Spotted Hyena

For spotted hyenas, a single dominant female is at the head of the family. Spotted hyenas form clans of up to 80 members. Like lemurs, it is the females that fight during conflicts, select their mates and are first to eat. They are also larger and more aggressive than males. You may be lucky enough to watch a hyena clan track wildebeest and zebra on a trip to Tanzania.

Girl with meerkats in Africa.


Meerkats live in mobs presided over by a dominant female, who leads foraging excursions, scouts out new burrows and settles skirmishes. She selects a male as a companion, and typically the alpha pair reserves the right to mate to ensure their pups have the best chance of survival. Other meerkats in the mob help raise and protect the couple’s young. Those with young ones will delight in meeting meerkats and more on our Family Botswana Safari.

Here’s to the powerful mothers of the animal kingdom and moms everywhere!

Elephant with baby in Africa.

© Melissa Scott