Lion seen nursing leopard cub in Tanzania

Lion baby leopard

Lion baby leopard

A baby leopard has been pictured suckling a lioness in the wild, in the first ever documented example of interspecies parenting of its kind.

The lactating lion, fitted with a Global Positioning System collar so that researchers can track her, may have lost her own cubs and therefore was open to feeding the leopard cub, Jansson said.

There have been cases of adoptions and suckling among wild cats and other animals of the same species, as well as cases of birds feeding chicks of another species whose eggs were inadvertently laid in their nests, according to conservationists.

"It's really mysterious", Luke Hunter, president and chief conservation officer of Panthera, said of the new images. "This simply wouldn't have happened if she wasn't suckling her own babies", Hunter explained.

It's possible the maternal instincts of the lioness kicked in and overrode the usual instinct to kill a leopard cub. Both species produce similar milk and undergo comparable nursing periods.

"This is all speculation, and I'm hoping for the best", says Hunter, "but I think the challenges to this little fellow surviving are really huge".

First, Hunter says the lioness would have to bring the cub back to her litter. But eventually, she will return to her den where several other hungry mouths await.

Jansson of KopeLion jokingly described the extraordinary lion-leopard cub nursing as a case of "confusion at the supermarket" in which the lion "picked up the wrong kid".

It's unknown what happened to the leopard cub's mother.

This is the sort of sighting that is pretty much mind-blowing to lion experts like Hunter.

"So the odds are against this poor little thing even if it becomes part of her litter, just because the litter itself might not survive the den period", he says.

Moreover, the leopard cub needs to be accepted by the lion pride. Lionesses break away from their prides to give birth, then usually introduce new cubs to the family when they're about 8 weeks old - if the little ones make it to that age, Hunter said.

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

If the leopard cub is left alone to survive, things will be equally hard for it. Normally, leopard cubs remain with their mother for 12 to 14 weeks after their birth.

Like this adorable leopard cub they are around two to three weeks old.

The five-year-old lioness, called Nosikitok was reclining on the grass and nursing a leopard cub, thought to be no more than three-weeks-old.

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