Spot the Difference!


Spot the Difference!

The mother lion, her lion cubs and her adopted spotted leopard baby, all got along just fine. (Dheeraj Mittal/Deputy Conservator of Forests in India)
The mother lion, her lion cubs and her adopted spotted leopard baby, all got along just fine. (Dheeraj Mittal/Deputy Conservator of Forests in India)

Nature is a weird and wonderful thing, and in a really remarkable occurrence, a lioness, in India’s Gir forest was observed adopting an abandoned leopard cub and caring for it like it was her own baby. She even seemed to be protecting it from the other lionesses in the pride.

Now, everyone knows that lions and leopards are not exactly the best of friends. They compete fiercely in the wild for food and territory, and will often even attack each other, so this case of adoption in the wild is truly special.

So, what happened?

Animal behaviour specialist, Strotra Chakrabarti and his team first noticed the little leopard cub, all spots and bright blue eyes being nursed by the lioness and playing with her two biological lion cubs sometime in December 2018. This was the first case of this kind of interspecies adoption between big cats. Two known previous instances of interspecies adoption involved a group of monkeys adopting a marmoset and a mother dolphin adopting a baby melon-head whale, but those animals are not natural enemies in the wild. Dr. Chakrabarti started observing the new family closely and recording his findings which he reported towards the end of 2019 in the journal Ecosphere.

Lots of theories are being talked about as to why the lioness adopted the little leopard cub, but no conclusion has been reached. One possible reason is that because she was lactating (producing milk to feed her own babies), the lioness’s hormones led her to adopt the leopard cub as her own.

Even the lion cubs seemed to accept their new adopted brother and were observed playing with him over the course of one and a half months.

Asiatic lionesses (like the ones in the Gir forest) also exhibit a unique type of behavior when they become mothers. The new mother will separate herself from the rest of the pride to raise her babies on her own. This might also have made it possible for the lioness to adopt the baby leopard as there was less chance of it being rejected by the other lionesses.

It would have been very interesting to observe whether the leopard cub would grow up to adopt the characteristics and traits of its adoptive lion family, but sadly, this story did not have a happy ending. After 45 days, the baby leopard was found at the side of the forest where he had died due to a birth defect.

Written by: Disha Mirchandani. Disha is a former lawyer turned freelance content writer. She is a fitness enthusiast and amateur aerialist with her own fitness photo-blog as well.


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