Unprecedented Event: Lioness Nurses Leopard Cub in the Wild

In a rare and incredible event, photographs from Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a United Nations World Heritage site, reveal a lioness nursing a leopard cub.

These images, taken by a guest at a local lodge in 2017, provide a glimpse into a unique cross-species interaction.

Ingela Jansson, the head of the KopeLion conservation group, shared her thoughts on the extraordinary occurrence with the Associated Press.

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Source: Joop van der Linde/Ndutu Safari Lodge via AP

She suggested that the lioness, who may have lost her cubs, was open to nursing the orphaned leopard cub.

Jansson humorously referred to this remarkable case of cross-species nursing as “confusion at the supermarket” where the lion “picked up the wrong kid.”

Although it’s not uncommon for animals of the same species to adopt and nurse unrelated young, cross-species nursing among wild cats is infrequent, according to a statement from Panthera, a New York-based fantastic cat conservation group, Luke Hunter, Panthera’s president and chief conservation officer, expressed intrigue over the images but cautioned that the leopard cub’s survival was uncertain. Other lions might have recognized it as an outsider and killed it.

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Another astonishing discovery occurred in 2018 at Gir National Park in Gujarat, India, where a lioness adopted a leopard cub and cared for it alongside her cubs for several weeks.

Source: Joop van der Linde/Ndutu Safari Lodge via AP

Despite the typically hostile relationship between lions and leopards in the park, the lioness nursed and shared her food with the leopard cub, treating it as her own. Unfortunately, the leopard cub eventually died from a pre-existing condition.

Source: Joop van der Linde/Ndutu Safari Lodge via AP

Dr. Stotra Chakrabarti, a University of Minnesota postdoctoral researcher who studies animal behavior, and his colleagues documented the Gir National Park case in the ecology journal Ecosphere.

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Source: Joop van der Linde/Ndutu Safari Lodge via AP
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Dr. Chakrabarti referred to the extraordinary event as the most “wow” moment he had encountered in his seven years studying Gir’s lions.

Source: Joop van der Linde/Ndutu Safari Lodge via AP
Source: Joop van der Linde/Ndutu Safari Lodge via AP

Via: People

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