Researchers at the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania came across a lioness that seemed to have adopted a newborn leopard. This is a similar incident to the one at Gir National Park in India, where a young male cub, about two months old, was nursed by a lioness, feeding on her prey that had already been killed. It played with her two cubs, about the same age.
Researchers were baffled by the feeding rates between this uncommon incidence of inter-species fostering, described in the journal Ecosphere as “bizarre.” It doesn’t make much sense to take care of the offspring of another animal from an evolutionary point of view.
Caring for the young, gathering food for them, and keeping them safe takes a lot of time and energy and is often done to boost one’s genes. Cases of animals tending to non-biological progeny are not uncommon, but “these actions directly increase the reproductive success of the person doing this,” the study’s authors said.
For example, female cheetahs adopt orphaned male cubs, forming broad alliances with their mothers’ offspring when they reach adulthood.
Interspecies adoptions are rare but adopting from competing animals rarely happens. A wild lioness named Nosikitok found the solitary kitchen near the lair where her cubs were, and they were almost the same age when it happened.
The lioness protects the cub as if it were her own, by keeping it close to her. The lioness cubs are thought to be dead because they have not been seen for a long time. Lions are known to feed on each other’s cubs. However, adults and tiger cubs from other giant cats are also known to kill. This is probably a very rare occurrence.
Experts say the ideal outcome would be if the leopard could find its way back to its biological mother, as he wasn’t sure how Nosikitok’s pride might react to the newcomer.
Sarah Durant of the Zoological Society of London explains: ‘It is likely she was exposed to this leopard, which she adopted before her parental hormones stopped working.”
No one knows if the lioness fully adopted the newborn leopard. Let’s hope that this Lioness will take care of the cub until it grows up.
Dr. Luke Hunter, president and director of conservation, said it was unique, and it will be fascinating to see the results.