In this first ever astonishing photo of such cross-species behavior, a wild lioness lounging nursing a three weeks old leopard cub.
The photo was taken on Tuesday in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area of Tanzania and was sent to lion experts Dr. Luke Huntera, a biologist and President and Chief Conservation Officer for Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization.
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“This is a truly unique case,” wrote Dr. Luke Hunter to the media via email.
The five years old lioness, known as Nosikitok, recently gave birth to her own three cubs which look very similar to the baby leopard and are of similar age.
“She is awash with maternal hormones and that instinct to take care of her babies,” Hunter told the Washington Post. “This simply wouldn’t have happened if she wasn’t suckling her own babies.”
Hunter is doubtful that the leopard cub would survive for much longer.“Lions are very well equipped to distinguish their cubs from others,” Hunter explains, “If the rest of the pride finds the cub, it is likely would be killed.”
Breast feeding among captive animals has been documented before, and on rare wild carnivores adopt an orphaned cub of their kind, usually one that is related, especially leopards and pumas.
However never before has interspecies suckling among large carnivores been recorded, according to Hunter.
“It’s unprecedented,” he said, “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event.”