Lions, known to make a habit of killing leopards, are the last things you'd expect to adopt a leopard cub. Then again, stranger things have happened.
This may not be all that surprising if this had happened in a zoo or a conservation park. After all, animal behaviors common in the wild change when the animal is in captivity. However, this strange behavior took place in the wild, where conditions are harsher. Both lions and leopards kill the cubs of the other species to reduce the competition they have for resources. That said, a lioness seems to have gone against nature itself to nurse a seemingly orphaned baby leopard.
Photographs show the little cub, estimated to be about three weeks old at the time, nursing on a five-year-old lioness called Nosikitok. KopeLion, a Tanzanian conservation NGO, is monitoring the two felines. No one knows yet why the little cub is all alone, but some do have an idea as to why the lioness has taken in a cub she would otherwise kill.
So here we have a vulnerable, motherless cub faced with a full-sized adult belonging to a rival species. Typically, this would end badly for the little cub, since that's the way of the wild. This time, however, something urged the lioness to nurture the cub instead of killing it.
KopeLion says that Nosikitok had given birth to her own cubs late last month. Thus, her maternal instincts have probably overcome her instincts to kill cubs from other species. The leopard cub is about the same age as Nosikitok's cubs, which makes the lioness's maternal instincts even stronger.
Thus, Nosikitok would never have left the little cub alive, much less nurture it with her own milk, had she not been nursing little ones of her own.
Still, the little cub isn't out of the woods. Its adoptive mom may have accepted it, spots and all, but the lioness's pride most likely won't. Nosikitok may be filled with maternal urges, but the rest of her pride probably won't be. Lionesses have their cubs alone, then return to their pride about six to eight weeks after birth. It's likely that the other lions in Nosikitok's pride would listen to their instincts and kill the leopard cub on sight.
The little cub has a lot going against its chances of survival. Even before its adoptive mother has to return to her pride with her cubs, the denning period can be dangerous. The cub can fall prey to hyenas, and wildfires can occur. Thus, there's a chance that the cub might not even survive long enough to meet Nosikitok's pride.
It might take a miracle for the little leopard cub to survive into adulthood. These are quite heavy odds stacked against it. It's more likely that the rule of nature will prevail, and that means that the cub likely won't live long. However, stranger things have happened, after all. There's still a possibility that the cub would survive to adulthood, after which its instincts will take over and it will behave more like a leopard than a lion.
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