Lion seen nursing leopard cub in Tanzania

Photos: Wild Lion Adopts Leopard Cub, an Unprecedented Sight

While people may see the lioness's maternal gesture as adorable, the future of this leopard cub is dangerously uncertain, Hunter said.

The photographs were taken at Tanzania's Ngorongoro Conservation Area earlier this week and published by the wild cat conservation group Panthera.

So it was quite surprising when a five-year-old lioness was seen nursing a weeks-old leopard cub recently in Tanzania's Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The two species are normally mortal enemies.

Pumas have been found to adopt members of their own species, but cross-species adoption among big cats remains rare.

The lioness was about a kilometer from her den where her own cubs were.

However, after about eight weeks, lionesses bring their cubs to the pride, and then raise them communally with the other adults.

Hunter says Nosikitok, who's wearing a Global Positioning System collar for tracking purposes, wouldn't be nursing the cub if she "wasn't already awash with a ferocious maternal drive", which he says is typical of lionesses.

"She would not be nursing the cub if she wasn't already awash with a ferocious maternal drive".

Photos: Wild Lion Adopts Leopard Cub, an Unprecedented Sight

Interspecies suckling has previously been seen among captive animals - but Hunter says it's never been seen in the wild between large carnivores.

Further tracking of the big cat indicated that she was neither spotted near her den where her cubs should be, nor around the area where she fed the leopard.

However, he said that if the cub was not under the care of its mother its chances of survival were very low. It is unlikely that the other lions would accept the leopard cub as part of their group, and most likely would kill it.

Hunter said, 'My jaw just dropped'. "If the rest of the pride finds the cub, it is likely it would be killed".

Humans are unlikely to threaten the cub. Hailing from the Maasai community, KopeLion's "Lion Scouts" mitigate conflict and serve as ambassadors for the species-finding and retrieving lost livestock, reinforcing corrals attacked by predators, providing wound treatment when livestock is attacked, monitoring lions and notifying local communities when prides are near, discouraging hunts, and reinforcing why lions are beneficial to local communities.

Next, the leopard kitten would need to be welcomed into the lion pride.

Should the cub somehow survive to adulthood, would it behave more like a lion or a leopard?

"I suppose what happened is this lioness saw a baby leopard and realised:i f I don't take care of it, it will die". "I'm speculating wildly, but if the cub make it to 12 to 14 months, my guess is that instinct would kick in and that it would go off on its own" and eventually seek out other leopards, Hunter says.

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