AT the middle of this month Ngorongoro Conservation Area came under spotlight from local and international media after a report which indicated an exceptional and unique occurrence among all animal sanctuaries in the world.
From Arusha, Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg, London, New York and other big cities across the world people through different media sources were searching for picture and information about lioness which is nursing a leopard cub.
From Tuesday, July 11, 2017 when the photo of an innocent looking leopard suckling from a humble lioness surfaced, zoologists, tour operators, tourists and media people were surprised with what was depicted on the pictures from the unique animal sanctuary in the northern circuit.
Together with jaguar, tiger, leopard and lion are found in a scientific group called panthera a genus which scientists estimates for the first time it evolved on the earth about 11 million years ago in an area within the modern continent of Asia.
After going through different morphological and habitual changes, the true ancestors of modern jaguar, tiger, leopard and lion are believed to evolve about 3.8 million years ago but from that time the four species are rivals who kill each other for resources of food and shelter.
In Tanzania the greater Serengeti ecosystem has the largest population of lions, other important animals sanctuaries with these big cats are Mkomazi, Mikumi, Udzungwa, Ruaha, Katavi and Mahale but game reserves such as Selous, Muhesa, Kigosi, Ugala and Moyowosi are well known for having good number of lions.
In different zoo across the world, lions are known to breed with jaguar, tiger but when they pair with leopard the offspring is a hybrid which is known to zoologists as leopon which due to unknown reasons they don’t live to maturity stage.
Leopon are known to have been breed in Germany, Italy and Japan where scientists describe these unusual cats to be larger than common leopards which roam and rule the tropical savannah forests of Africa and Asia.
Scientists say the leopon starts its life with closer sets of spots like the common leopard while its spotted tail is decorated with black long tuft hair just like lions who rule the savannah forests of Africa and Asia. I
n Lerai forest inside of Ngorongoro and other tropical forests in Africa and Asia female leopards give birth to two to four cubs who start their lives with closed eyes which are opened after nine days.
At this stage their furs tend to be longer and thicker than that of adults at the same time they appear to be grey with less defined spots while lion’s cubs are born with black spots or rosettes which are used for protection and fed away as they grow older and adapt yellowish, reddish, or dark brown which enable them to conquer the savannah.
Different researches indicate after six to eight weeks, a lioness may introduce her cubs into maternal pride where they are received by their sisters, aunties, grandmother and father.
Due to the socialist economy of lions which enable cubs to suckle indiscriminately from any or all of the nursing females in the pride, it is possible for what is happening in Ngorongoro to be borne out confusion from a rebellious lioness which was forced out from her maternal pride.
Lionesses are exceptional mothers of the savannah where at the end of 2012 in Queen Elizabeth’s national park of Uganda another female lion was seen for several days walking in different parts along with an impala’s calf.
Details from Elizabeth’s national park show that the lioness assumed the responsibility of nursing the little and weak impala after killing its mother.
According to Mr Adri De Visser after eating enough meat from an impala which it killed some minutes ago, the lioness appeared to be shocked when she saw an innocent calf walking out from nearby bush. Without what knowing what may happen, the little and weak calf walked and stood in front of a lioness which tried to scare it with a roar.
Courageously the calf walked into the legs of a shocked lioness where it started to search for nipples, surprisingly instead of killing the predator walked away from where she was standing.
Through his naked eyes Mr Adri De Visser witnessed the two mammals watching at each other for about forty five minutes before the predator decided to extend its foreleg to calm a calf which was crying for milk.
The captivating event forced Mr Adri De Visser to take pictures from different angles but before he could do more a motorbike passed and its roar forced the lioness to grab the calf and run deep into the savannah.
What made that event in Elizabeth’s national park to be popular across the world is how the lioness managed to carry the innocent calf from the back of its neck just like how do to her own cubs. When the pictures reached the different media houses they caused arguments which fueled debates among zoologists from different parts of the world.
Some scientists said that the lioness took the calf to play with it because it was not hungry and this act is seen commonly among domestic cats which play carcasses before devouring them.
At the middle of the debate, through local and international media the management of Elizabeth’s national park shocked the world when it announced the two mammals were still seen friendly walking from one part to another.
It was reported that the innocent impalas calf due to lack of milk from its mother it was starved to death while enjoying protection from the lioness. In 1990 Samburu game reserve of Kenya reported several cases of a lioness which was taking into hostage calves from other mammals including impala such as Oryx.
Game wardens from Samburu game reserve said they saw the lioness chasing away a large impala which was trying to lure the calf which was later killed by a lion when the adaptive or stepmother was asleep.
This may also happen to little leopard of Ngorongoro because it is not easy for the two specie to get along peacefully due to the fact that the two species are rivals in the food chain.
Scientists say what is happening inside Ngorongoro between lion and leopard is very strange in history of conservation, it is a double coincidence whereby a mother who lost its cubs came across a motherless cub and fell in love with it.
One zoologist from America said this is an exceptional love affair because throughout history of conservation cross species nursing for wild cats are not recorded anywhere for that matter the one from Ngorongoro is extremely unique in the world.
In Tanzania leopards are found in different game reserves and other animal’s sanctuaries including Serengeti, Arusha, Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mikumi, Ruaha, Udzungwa, Katavi and Mahale national park.
Scientists from different parts of the world are following the lioness and its foster cub but future of the innocent leopard is in gloomy because there is a great possibility that at a certain point in life the lonely mother will take the cub into the pride where other lions will recognize it.
Usually, the mother does not integrate herself and her cubs back into the pride until the cubs are six to eight weeks old, when pictured the small leopard looked to be few weeks old.
This lioness is estimated to be five years old which put the leopard’s cub in more danger because if its adaptive mother manage to offer total protection, things will change when she get into heat and attract lions.
Meanwhile there are some reports from Ngorongoro which show that the innocent leopard was still alive mysteriously fairing well within a group of other lionesses.
Scientists say the small leopard is strong and courageous offer opportunity to its biological mother to come and retrieve it for a bright future in the wildness of Ngorongoro Conservation Area.