These unique and beautiful pictures of a wild lioness, nursing a cub from a different species are the first ever taken and it is an extremely rare event.
The pair was spotted by Joop Van Der Linde, a guest at Ndutu Safari Lodge in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
The pictures are taken in Serengeti with an attentive mother, five-year-old Nosikitok.
The lioness has already it’s 3 young cubs that were born on 27-28 June. She has a GPS collar fitted by a conservation NGO Kope Lion.
President and Chief Conservation Officer for Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization and supports Kope Lion, Dr. Luke Hunter, told the BBC the incident was “truly unique“.
“It’s not something that I’m aware has ever happened before between large cats like this,” he said.
“We know there are cases where lionesses will adopt the other lion cubs… But this is unprecedented.
“I know of no other case – between any large cat, for that matter – where the species have adopted or nursed the cub of another species.”
In normal cases, lioness killed a baby leopard if she found one, just for getting food.
According to Dr. Hunter, Nosikitok has cubs the same age as the young leopard, and they are two to three weeks old.
The cubs of the lioness were around a kilometer from her den because her own cubs were hidden so 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 moms,” the lion expert notes.
It’s not clear yet where the mother of leopards is, or if the lioness will try to adopt it full-time.
According to local safari Lodge, there is a resident female leopard who almost certainly has cubs. And as Nosikitok’s pride is unlikely to prove as generous as she is, the best outcome for the leopard would be a safe return or not.
According to Dr hunter, he and his team are waiting 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!”