Inter-species fostering makes little sense from an evolutionary point of view. For that reason, researchers use the word “bizarre” to extensively describe this uncommon incident. Despite the odds, this “bizarre” incident has been reported several times befuddling researchers, the latest being a lioness and a baby leopard in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.
In the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, researchers encountered a lioness who seemingly adopted and nursed a newborn baby leopard. This wasn’t the first time researchers stumbled upon an analogous story involving the same species.
In December 2018 at the Gir National Park in India, a lioness seemed to have adopted a baby leopard, around two months old at the time, who was nursed, and fed on the lioness’s kills. The little cub was even seen playing with the two biological cubs of the lioness who was around the same age as the leopard.
From the evolutionary perspective, it is not likely that an animal would care for the offspring of another animal. The sole purpose of raising, nursing, feeding, and protecting the young which requires a great deal of time and energy is propagating the species. However, in rare cases such as this, where an animal nurses a non-biological descendant, it helps them to directly “boost the caregiver’s lifetime reproductive success.”
To give an example, the adoption of orphaned male cubs by cheetah moms helps the adopted form an alliance with the biological offspring once they reach maturation.
Interspecies adoption happens, but very occasionally. There are only two documented instances up until now. One such reported instance is the adoption of a marmoset by some wild capuchin monkeys. The other is a much recent one where a bottlenose dolphin was sighted caring for a melon-headed whale calf for more than three years.
The probability of adopting from a competitor species is far less slight. Lions do feed each others’ cubs but when it comes to cubs of species, they kill. However, when Nosikitok, the benevolent lioness, found the lonely cub near the den where her owns cubs were, she took a chance at the odds. Researchers believe that the lioness’s biological cubs must be dead as they were not spotted around her for a considerable period of time. She keeps the cub close to her at all times and protects it as if it is her own.
Experts point out that if the cub’s real mother decides to visit her biological son, the forthcoming wouldn’t be very pleasurable.
Sarah Durant of the London Zoological Society explains, “It is probable that she has come into contact with this leopard cub, which she adopted before her parental hormones shut off.”
Whether the lioness will adopt the cub full-time is yet to be known. All we can do is to hope that she will look after him till he becomes ready to face the wild on its own.