Published: Fri, July 14, 2017
Life&Culture | By Rose Hansen

Lion seen nursing leopard cub in Tanzania

Lion seen nursing leopard cub in Tanzania

But cross-species nursing for wild cats-and all wildlife-is highly unusual.

A big cat expert, Hunter has seen interspecies suckling in captive animals and knows of a few cases in which wild leopards and pumas have adopted an orphaned cub of their own species, but this is first time he or any one else has seen something like this.

He said it was unclear whether the leopard's mother was still around and could retrieve the cub from "lioness day care", which would be the best possible outcome. The startling photographs, taken in Tanzania's Ngorongoro Conservation Area, are the first evidence of such inter-species bonding between predators that are normally mortal enemies."There is no other recorded case where a big cat in the wild has suckled a cub belonging to another species", Luke Hunter, president of Panthera, a wild cat conservation group, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"Cross-species nursing for wild cats, and other wildlife for that matter, is extremely unique", according to a statement from Panthera, a New York-based wild cat conservation group.

"This incredible act of motherly love simply wouldn't have happened if she wasn't suckling her own babies", he said.

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"It's a unique thing, it will be fascinating to see how it unfolds", said Dr Hunter.

Because Nosikitok had recently given birth to her own cubs Dr Hunter said she would be "absolutely awash with maternal hormones and that instinct to take care of her own babies". "Even so, there has never been another case like it, and why it has occurred now is mystifying. "It is very unlikely that the lioness" pride will accept it", he said. However, Hunter cautioned that "the natural odds are stacked against this little fellow", which may have since been killed by other lions that recognized it was not one of their own. If, by some Disney movie miracle, the lioness decides to adopt the leopard into her pack, there is a strong chance the rest of the pride would violently reject the newcomer.

However, he also predicted what would happen if the leopard survived: "Even its early exposure to lion society would not override the millions of years of evolution that has equipped the leopard to be a supreme solitary hunter".

The lioness called Nosikitok is one of the cats being tracked with radio collars by the NGO Kope Lion. "I am sure it would go its own way". He doesn't think it would stay with the pride and live life as a lion. These hunts are orchestrated to prevent or in retaliation for attacks on livestock, the top threat facing Ngorongoro's lions. Visit Panthera's Let Lions Live site to read our latest report on the state of the lion.

The photos were taken on Tuesday by a guest at the lodge Joop Van Der Linde.

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