Astounding images just captured in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area illustrate the first documented instance of interspecies nursing as 5-year-old lioness is shown nursing a leopard cub.
While interspecies nursing has been documented among captive animals, it has never been recorded among large carnivores, explained Australian biologist Dr. Luke Hunter, President and Chief Conservation Officer for Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization, in an interview with the Washington Post. So why now? The lioness is known to have given birth to three cubs in late June, making her physiologically primed to take care of her young offspring. “This simply wouldn’t have happened if she wasn’t suckling her own babies,” Hunter explained. It also helps that the leopard cub appears to be the same age as the lioness’ cubs.
While the images are adorable, Hunter notes that a happy ending isn’t likely for the leopard cub. While it’s not clear whether or not the tiny cub’s mother abandoned it or is alive, the best case scenario would be that they reunite, as it’s highly unlikely the lion pride will accept it if the lioness did adopt it.
“That would be the most fascinating encounter to observe,” Hunter added. “I would love for this to end nicely. But I think the challenges facing the little leopard cub are formidable.”