In an Iɴᴅɪᴀn national park, a lioness “adopted” a leopard youngster and raised him as her own. The ᴏᴅᴅ coupling of two naturally competitive animals was investigated by researchers.
In Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, researchers discovered a lioness who appeared to have adopted a young leopard. This is comparable to an instance in Iɴᴅɪᴀ’s Gir National Park in December 2018, when a young ᴍᴀʟᴇ cub, about 2 months old, was nursed by a lioness, fed off her ᴘʀᴇʏ that had been ᴋɪʟʟᴇᴅ by the lioness, and played with her two own cubs, about the same age as the leopard. The researchers were baffled by this ᴜɴᴜsᴜᴀʟ case of inter-species fostering, which was termed as “bizarre” in the journal Ecosphere. From an evolutionary standpoint, caring for another animal’s young makes little sense.
Adoption among species is very ʀᴀʀᴇ but adopting an offspring from a competitor animal almost never happens. The wild lioness named Nosikitok has found the sᴏʟɪᴛᴀʀʏ kɪᴛᴄʜen near the den where her cubs are, and they are almost the same age when it happens. Taᴋɪɴɢ care of the young, gathering food for them, and keeping them safe takes a lot of time and effort, and it is frequently done to promote one’s own genes. These scenarios, in which an animal cares for non-biological ᴅᴇsᴄᴇɴᴅants of the same species, are not uncommon, according to the study’s authors, but “these activities help directly boost the reproductive success of the person who does this”. For example, feᴍᴀʟᴇ cheetahs adopt ᴏʀᴘʜᴀɴᴇᴅ ᴍᴀʟᴇ cubs, who form broad coalitions with the mother’s own chilᴅʀen once they reach adulthood.
By keeping the cub near to her, the lioness defends it as if it were her own. The lioness’ cubs are thought to be ᴅᴇᴀᴅ because they haven’t been seen in a long time. Although lions are known to feed one other’s cubs, other large cat species’ adults and cubs are also known to kɪʟʟ.
Experts believe that the best outcome would be if the leopard could return to his own mother, as he is unsure how the Nosikitok pride wɪʟʟ react to the newcomer.
Sarah Durant of the London Zoological Society explains, “It’s likely that she came into contact with this leopard pup, which she adopted before her parental hormones swɪᴛᴄʜed off.”
However, until that time, the two species’ behaviors — including the way they ʙᴇɢ for milk — are similar. This is perhaps why the baby leopard was able to seamlessly fit into the mother lion’s family unit.
Another factor that explains this ʀᴀʀᴇ event is that Asiatic lionesses usually sᴇᴘᴀʀᴀᴛᴇ themselves from the rest of the pack for a few months to raise their cubs on their own. The fact that the baby leopard only needed to be accepted by the mother’s small nursery unit made the adoption much easier. If it had happened while the mother and her cubs were stɪʟʟ attᴀᴄʜᴇd to the pride, the other adult lions may have ʀᴇjᴇᴄᴛᴇᴅ the leopard cub as an intʀᴜᴅᴇr.
Nobody knows Whether the lioness wɪʟʟ adopt the ɴᴇᴡʙᴏʀɴ leopard full time. Let’s hope that this Lioness wɪʟʟ take care of the baby leopard tɪʟʟ it grows up.