Tourist Joop Van Der Linde, a guest at Ndutu Safari Lodge in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area on the border of the Serengeti National Park, took the above photo of a lioness nursing a leopard cub.
The 5 year old lioness, named Nosikitok, has a GPS collar fitted by Kope Lion, a conservation NGO, has three young cubs of her own – born around June 27-28.
Dr Luke Hunter, President and Chief Conservation Officer for Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization which supports Kope Lion, notes the incident was “truly unique. It’s not something that I’m aware has ever happened before between large cats like this. “We know there are cases where lionesses will adopt other lion cubs… but this is unprecedented. I know of no other case – between any large cat, for that matter – where the species has adopted or nursed the cub of another species. Most lionesses would normally kill a baby leopard if they found one, seeing just another predator in a competitive food-chain”.
Dr Hunter says Nosikitok was around a kilometer from her den, where her own cubs are hidden, when she found the spotted substitute. “She’s encountered this little cub, and she’s treated it as her own. She’s awash with maternal hormones, and this fierce, protective drive that all lionesses have – they’re formidable mums”.
It is not clear yet where the baby leopard’s mother is, or if the lioness will try to adopt it full-time.
Ndutu Safari Lodge say there is a resident female leopard 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.
Dr Hunter says his team are on tenterhooks to see what comes next. “It’s a unique thing, it will be fascinating to see how it unfolds. Nature is unpredictable. Up until earlier this week, we would have said ‘Nah, that never happens’ – and now it happens!”
This article is reprinted from the Kenya’s “The Star” newspaper.