'Truly Unique:' Lion Seen Nursing Baby Leopard For The First Time

Photos: Wild Lion Adopts Leopard Cub, an Unprecedented Sight

What's more, the lion cubs are nearly the same age as the leopard cub, according to KopeLion, the Tanzanian conservation nonprofit that has been tracking Nosikitok by radio-collar.

An incredible image of a wild baby leopard drinking milk from a lioness at Serengiti in Tanzania has emerged, leaving everyone spellbound.

The lion may have lost her own cubs and so was open to feeding the leopard cub, Jansson said. So, technically, Nosikitok could bring the leopard cub back to her litter and raise it with her offspring.

There are other cases of big cats adopting cubs that are not their own, but it's always within the same species.

"This is a truly unique case", wrote Dr. Luke Hunter, Australian biologist and President and Chief Conservation Officer for Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization, in an email.

As well as nursing her adopted baby, five-year-old mother Nosikitok has three small cubs of her own to feed who were born around June 28.

According to a statement by wild cat conservation group Panthera: "Cross-species nursing for wild cats, and other wildlife for that matter, is extremely unique". "She is physiologically primed to take care of baby cats and the little leopard fits the bill", he says.

"That would be the most fascinating encounter to observe", Hunter said. This lioness is known to have recently given birth to her own cubs, which is a critical factor.

However, if the cub became independent, which usually occurs between 12 and 18 months for leopards, it would return to behaving like one. "Even if she continues to foster the cub, the obstacles to its survival are, sadly, formidable", he says. Lionesses have their litters in seclusion, away from the pride.

"Lions have very rich, complicated social relationships in which they recognise individuals by sight and by roars and so they are very well equipped to distinguish their cubs from others", says Hunter.

Humans are unlikely to threaten the cub.

KopeLion's scouts find and retrieve lost livestock, reinforce corrals, provide medical treatment for attacked livestock, and track lions, notifying locals when prides are near, and discouraging hunts. For instance, there's a record of a leopard adopting a leopard cub that was not biologically hers, and two records of mountain lions (also known as pumas) in Wyoming adopting cubs that were not theirs, Hunter said.

"I strongly suspect it would revert to behaving as a leopard", says Hunter. If the leopard cub makes it this far and is introduced to the pride, that meeting could be its last, Hunter said.

The lion cubs may not accept the leopard cub, and even if they did, the latter would have many more challenges to face. "I am sure it would go its own way".

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