Mother lioness adopts a leopard cub (when it’s normally expected to kill it)

July 14, 2017 3:27 pm Last Updated: July 14, 2017 3:27 pm


There are different types of families in the world, and even animals occasionally take in other animals as if they were one of their own. A mother lioness in Tanzania has been found adopting a baby leopard and nursing it as her own, something believed to be a rare action from a lioness in the wild—normally, one would expect her to kill it.

What do we know about the leopard and the lioness?

A photographer, Joop Van Der Linde, took the photos of the adoptive mother and child while a guest at Ndutu Safari Lodge in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The lioness is named Nosikitok and is five years of age, with three other young cubs of her own. Her children were born in late June, explaining how she is able to produce milk for her new child.

That said, little is known about the leopard cub, including its gender, but it is believed to be either two to three weeks old. It is also unknown if the cub is truly an orphan or is simply separated from its parents. In addition, it is unknown if the cub will stay with the lioness or not.

The leopard cub is lucky the lioness allowed it to live.

What makes this unique is that, given the shared predatory nature of large cats, a lioness would normally kill the leopard cub, possibly seeing it as a potential rival in the food-chain. Given that she is a recent mother, it is possible that maternal hormones have convinced her to nurture the leopard. While it is unusual for this to happen between big cats, cross-species are not unheard of, and lionesses have also been known to adopt other animals before, as well as other lion cubs.

“It’s not something that I’m aware has ever happened before between large cats like this,” said Dr. Luke Hunter, President and Chief Conservation Officer for Panthera.

“We know there are cases where lionesses will adopt other lion cubs… But this is unprecedented.”

“I know of no other case—between any large cat, for that matter—where the species has adopted or nursed the cub of another species.”

It’s a reminder that nature is unpredictable.

“It’s a unique thing, it will be fascinating to see how it unfolds,” added Hunter, according to the BBC. “Up until earlier this week, we would have said ‘Nah, that never happens’—and now it happens!”