Celebrating Nature’s Unprecedented Compassion: Lioness Nurtures and Protects Orphaned Leopard Cub

‘Truly unique’ mother lioness nurses leopard cub in TanzaniaA baby leopard can’t change his spots, but this lioness doesn’t seem to mind.

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

The pair were spotted by Joop Van Der Linde, a guest at Ndutu Safari Lodge in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

“It’s unprecedented,” Luke Hunter, president, and chief conservation officer at Panthera, told the paper. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

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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 the first time he or anyone else has seen something like this.

KopeLion works in this region, with help from Panthera, monitoring wild animals to prevent conflicts between big cats, who sometimes like to snack on livestock, and the local farmers who don’t like having their property eaten. Part of the monitoring process involves outfitting wild lions with GPS collars, which is why this surrogate leopard mom is wearing one.

Thanks to this technology, KopeLion knows the nursing lioness is Nosikitok, a big cat who gave birth to three cubs of her own in June. Lucky for the leopard cub, who appears to be 3 weeks old, this means Nosikitok is overwhelmed with maternal hormones at the moment, making her much more open to alternative babies.

It is not clear yet where the baby leopard’s mother is, or if the lioness will try to adopt it full-time. The local safari lodge say there is a resident female leopard there who almost certainly has cubs. And as Nosikitok’s pride are unlikely to prove as indulgent as she is, the best outcome for the leopard would be a safe return to mum.

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