In a world first, a wild lioness has been spotted nursing a leopard cub in Tanzania – a highly unique and unusual occurrence for big cats and cross-species adoption.
The unique scene was captured by Joop Van Der Linde, a guest at Ndutu Safari Lodge in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The photographs show the five-year-old lioness, ‘Nosikitok’ – who recently gave birth to a litter of cubs – suckling a leopard cub estimated to be just three weeks old.
‘Nosikitok’ is currently collared and monitored by Kope Lion, a Tanzanian conservation NGO supported by Panthera – a global wild cat conservation organisation.
“This is a truly unique case,” said Panthera President and Chief Conservation Officer, Dr. Luke Hunter. “I know of no other example of inter-species adoption or nursing like this among big cats in the wild. This lioness is known to have recently given birth to her own cubs, which is a critical factor.
“She is physiologically primed to take care of baby cats, and the little leopard fits the bill – it is almost exactly the age of her own cubs and physically very similar to them.”
How the leopard cub ended up with ‘Nosikitok’ is uncertain. Hunter goes on to say that “she would not be nursing the cub if she wasn’t already awash with a ferocious maternal drive”, and would probably have killed the leopard cub if it wasn’t for her maternal instincts and having cubs of her own.
As to the future of the leopard cub, Hunter points out that “it is very unlikely that the lioness’ pride will accept it”, as the lions would recognise it as a predator and not one of their own, and “if the rest of the pride finds the cub, it is likely it would be killed”.
In the meantime, the leopard has found solace with its substitute mother, and Hunter is optimistic that it will “go its own way”, but we will have to just wait as to what will happen next.
About Panthera: Panthera is the only organisation in the world that is devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s 40 wild cat species and their ecosystems. Representing the most comprehensive effort of its kind, Panthera partners with local and international NGOs, scientific institutions, local communities, governments around the globe, and citizens who want to help ensure a future for wild cats.