A lioness is pictured on November 18, 2012 in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.
JOHANNESBURG - Photographs of a lioness nursing a leopard cub are being circulated worldwide.
Taken in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation area, this is the first evidence of predators bonding in the wild.
"There is no other recorded case where a big cat in the wild has suckled a cub belonging to another species," Luke Hunter, president of Panthera, a wild cat conservation group, told Reuters.
The lioness, known locally as "Nosikitok", wears a radio collar and is monitored by the conservation group KopeLion.
She has three cubs of her own in a den nearby, but it is not clear where the leopard cub’s mother is.
Agnes Maluleke, a curator at the Johannesburg Zoo, said a lion feeding a baby leopard had probably never been seen in the wild before.
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She said the lioness's maternal instinct had clearly overpowered her killing instinct.
"I suppose what happened is this lioness saw a baby leopard and realised:i f I don't take care of it, it will die. So the natural instinct of having to kill the baby leopard just completely went out of her head and the maternal instinct kicked in and she saw a baby that she needs to feed.
"I don't know how long that is going to last, whether she is going to feed this baby leopard until it grows older or she will start to realise this is actually not supposed to be one of the animals she should take care off. I don't know what the future holds. I suppose [by] monitoring for a long time [they] will see what is going to happen in the future," she said.