A lioness in Samburu National Park made international news, even portrayed on Kenya’s postage stamps, because she “adopted: and loved as her own, a baby oryx, sleeping beside it, carrying it around, and protecting it from other less friendly lions who viewed it as lunch. Everyone was astounded that a lioness should behave in this way – that its mothering instinct should embrace a newborn of another species.
In Tsavo the same thing happened, this time after lions had killed a mother buffalo, and a lioness “adopted” the newborn buffalo baby, carrying it into one of the huge spare pipes lying alongside the Mombasa pipeline below the Voi Safari Lodge. The scene was witnessed by tourists who found it all too upsetting, and eventually called our Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit to come and rescue the terrified baby buffalo.
When the rescue team arrived, which included some of our Voi Elephant Keepers, and Mobile Veterinary Unit, they found the lioness lying inside the pipe with the baby buffalo beside it, apparently in good health but dazed and resigned to its fate. They moved their vehicle closer in order to get a better view, and saw that the lioness was trying to protect the calf by shepherding it gently deeper inside the pipe. The team then managed to flush the lioness out, and she emerged carrying the baby buffalo by the neck, again as she would her own cub. However, the calf proved too heavy, and eventually she dropped it to make good her escape. The Mobile Veterinary Unit and Keepers then moved in to retrieve it.
The calf was a newborn female, the umbilical cord still fresh. It had a deep wound around the neck where the lioness had held it, and although initially it responded well to its bottled milk feeds, after a day or two it passed away, succumbing to the trauma and shock of its brutal entry into the world. However, this demonstrates that even a lion can sometimes exhibit compassion!