First-of-their-kind photos show a lion nursing a young leopard cub

This is a very rare event.

This doesn't happen very often.

A lion in Tanzania was recently spotted nursing a 3-week-old leopard cub, and the rare encounter was photographed by Joop Van Der Linde, a guest who is staying at a lodge in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the conservation group Panthera says.

See and share these incredible photos--THE FIRST EVER--of a wild lioness nursing a leopard cub! Cross-species nursing such as this is highly unusual for big cats, but Joop Van Der Linde, a guest at Ndutu Safari Lodge in Tanzania's Ngorongoro Conservation Area, was lucky enough to catch the rare event on camera this week. The ultra-maternal lioness, 5-year-old 'Nosikitok,' is currently collared and monitored by Kope Lion, a conservation NGO supported by Panthera, and thought to have given birth to a litter of cubs in June. Learn more about these beautiful species at panthera.org--and stay tuned for more details on this story!

Posted by Panthera on Thursday, July 13, 2017

Panthera says these photos are the "first ever" to show a wild lioness nursing a leopard cub, noting cross-species nursing like this is "highly unusual for big cats."

How did this end up happening?

The 5-year-old lion, named Nosikitok (it means "mothers milk" in the language of the Maasai people), is currently collared and monitored by Kope Lion, a conservation nonprofit supported by Panthera, a Facebook post says. It's believed she gave birth to a litter of cubs in June – none of them leopards of course.

"She would not be nursing the cub if she wasn’t already awash with a ferocious maternal drive (which is typical of lionesses)," Panthera President and Chief Conservation Officer Dr. Luke Hunter said in a statement. "Even so, there has never been another case like it, and why it has occurred now is mystifying."

Hunter said it's possible her cubs died, and she found the leopard while in a "particularly vulnerable" state.

Although the photos are adorable, Hunter says if the lion continues to foster the cub there's a good chance it won't survive – her pride may end up killing the young cub.

However, if the cub makes it to 12-18 months – when leopards become independent – Hunter thinks he'll go on to act like a leopard, and not like the lion it was raised by.

"Even its early exposure to lion society would not override the millions of years of evolution that has equipped the leopard to be a supreme solitary hunter,” Hunter said, according to Panthera. "I am sure it would go its own way."

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