Stunning treat as wild Tanzanian lioness nurses leopard cub

Lioness and Baby Leopard at Ndutu Lodge

Lioness and Baby Leopard at Ndutu Lodge

The mother pictured is a 5-year-old lioness named Nosikitok, living in Tanzania's Ngorongoro Conservation Area, while the leopard cub is estimated to be just a few weeks old.

'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'.

Inter-species caring for wild cats is extremely rare, and between lions and leopards, it's the first time something like this has been observed - despite the very strong maternal instincts of lionesses. Although certain cats like lions have been observed taking in and nursing the young of others of their own species-usually kin of their relatives-this sighting of cross-species adoption is unprecedented.

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The lioness recently gave birth to her own cubs, making her "physiologically primed" to take care of baby cats, he said.

The lactating lion, fitted with a Global Positioning System collar so that researchers can track her, may have lost her own cubs and therefore was open to feeding the leopard cub, Jansson said. "She's awash with maternal hormones, and this fierce, protective drive that all lionesses have - they're formidable mums", the lion expert notes.

As for how the leopard cub ended up with the lion, and whether it's possible that its mother could take it back-that also is unknown.

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Even if Nosikitok continues to foster the cub, Hunter said, it is unlikely that the lioness' pride will accept it and the odds of it reaching adulthood were not good.

A weeks-old leopard cub suckles a lion in Tanzania. The guest alerted KopeLion, a nongovernmental organization that works to promote lion and human coexistence and tags lions with radio collars to track them (including the nursing lioness, known as Nosikitok). Her survival-and that of other lions in the region-is no doubt due to the efforts carried out by KopeLion's team, who past year prevented 26 lion hunts, including those targeting the Masek pride, to which Nosikitok belongs. "Nature is unpredictable. Up until earlier this week, we would have said 'Nah that never happens and now it happens". The Maasai no longer hunt lions to prove their manhood, but in retaliation and to prevent attacks on livestock.

The startling photographs, taken in Tanzania's Ngorongoro Conservation Area, are the first evidence of such inter-species bonding between predators that are normally mortal enemies.

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It's unknown how the leopard cub ended up with Nosikitok. "Lions kind of go out of their way to get rid of them". Leopards and lions diverged about 2.5 million years ago, but they still have similar milk and nursing periods, Hunter said.

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