In Tanzania this summer, a wild lioness was captured on film nursing a lone leopard cub. Lost and alone, the baby somehow found it’s way to the mother lion who nursed it back to health. This is the first documented incident of cross-species behavior between wild cats. Dr. Luke Hunter, whose credentials include being an Australian biologist and President and Chief Conservation Officer for Panthera (a global wild cat conservation organization) stated that this “is truly a unique case”.
We’ve witnessed big cats canoodling before, like this blanco couple from T.I.G.E.R.S in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The Liger kitties are some serious kind of cuteness, but they were born in captivity to two domesticated big cats.
The cats were found in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania, which is a protected area famous for it’s wild lion population. Hunter emphasized the rarity of this event, stating “I know of no other example of inter-species adoption or nursing like this among big cats in the wild”.
The baby leopard is roughly 3 weeks old, the same age as the lioness’ own cubs. While it’s unlikely that she mistook the cub for one of her own (lions are able to distinguish their own cubs from others) it is possible that her maternal instincts caused her to care for the orphaned cub, adopting it for the time being.
Hunter also comments that he is doubtful the baby leopard will survive for very much longer in the lion pride. His concern is that the rest of the pride will be less than likely to accept the cub as one of their own. Although this may be true, anything seems possible right now since the cross-species adoption is such a rarity. Who knows, maybe the leopard will grow up thinking he’s a lion?