Nature suggests that the lion should kill the leopard as direct competition for food. Nurture suggests otherwise, as these photos show.
The pictures, taken in the Serengehti, Tanzania, show a lioness feeding a baby leopard – something that is thought to have never been seen before.
Mother Nosikitok, as she is known, was found with the little cub around a kilometre from the Ndutu Safari Lodge at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
The lioness has three cubs of her own to feed, all born at the end of June, however, according to those close to the beast, those cubs may have died.
“Up until that time her behaviour was indicating that she had cubs and the cubs had been seen in previous days,” Ndutu Safari Lodge manager, Ainslie Wilson, told the Telegraph .
“Since the incident she’s been ranging far and wide and hasn’t been staying near to the den area.
“This suggests her cubs have died although there’s no way to be sure.”
Ecological management and conservation biologist, Nicholas Mullan said that a mother to be away from the main pride at this time is not uncommon.
He told LADbible: “The mother will take herself off to a secret den away from the pride when she realises she’ll soon be giving birth.
“She’ll stay with her cubs in this den for up to three months before introducing them to the rest of the pride.”
It is unsure where the leopard baby’s mother is, or if Nosikitok will take the vulnerable youngster on full-time.
Dr Sarah Durant, of the Zoological Society of London, told the Daily Mail: “It is possible that she came into contact with this leopard cub and adopted it before her maternal hormones switched off.
“Lions are known to suckle each other’s cubs; however, they are also known to kill adults and cubs of other big cat species.”
Dr Luke Hunter, president and chief conservation officer for global cat conservation organisation, Panthera, added: “We know there are cases where lionesses will adopt other lion cubs but this is unprecedented.
“I know of no other case – between any large cat, for that matter – where the species has adopted or nursed the cub of another species.”
Hunter described the scenes as an ‘incredible act of motherly love’ but warned it would not have happened if Nosikitok hadn’t nurtured babies of her own.
However, should Nosikitok return back to her own pride, there is a danger that the leopard cub may not be as welcome.
“It’s a unique thing, it will be fascinating to see how it unfolds,” added Doctor Hunter.
Featured Image Credit: PA