'Truly unique': lioness adopts and nurses leopard cub

Ausiliatrice Cristiano
Luglio 14, 2017

The pictures are the first ever taken of a wild lioness nursing a cub from a different species - an extremely rare event.

But Luke Hunter, president of big cat conservation group Panthera, said her recent births are a critical factor: "She is physiologically primed to take care of baby cats, and the little leopard fits the bill - it is nearly exactly the age of her own cubs and physically very similar to them". The leopard cub is estimated to be about 3 weeks old, and the lioness is 5; She bears a Global Positioning System collar and is monitored for scientific purposes by KopeLion, a Tanzanian conservation organization supported by Panthera.

The pair were spotted by Joop Van Der Linde, a guest at Ndutu Safari Lodge in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park, reports the BBC.

While it's not impossible, if the leopard cub were to survive, here's what would have to happen.

She was around a kilometre from her den, where her own cubs are hidden, when she found the spotted substitute. At the time of the photo, the cubs were stashed back at her den site.

Nosikitok, the lioness is one of the cats being tracked with radio collars by KopeLion, an initiative supported by Panthera to reduce conflict between local farmers and the animals.

Photos: Wild Lion Adopts Leopard Cub, an Unprecedented Sight

As for how the leopard cub ended up with the lion, and whether it's possible that its mother could take it back-that also is unknown.

'We know there are cases where lionesses will adopt other lion cubs.

Thanks to other threats such as hyenas and wildfires, Hunter says the mortality rate for a lion litter in their first year averages is about 50 percent. Female lions go off on their own to give birth, but then return to the group when the cubs are around six to eight weeks of age. He doesn't think it would stay with the pride and live life as a lion. "This simply wouldn't have happened if she wasn't suckling her own babies", Hunter explained.

At this point, it's pretty likely that the rest of the lions-possessing neither the lionesses maternal hormones nor whatever connection she may have developed while nursing the cub-would kill the leopard on sight.

Header: A weeks-old leopard cub suckles a lion in Tanzania.

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