The latest issue of National Geographic arrived at my doorstep today, and besides a wonderful (although sad) article about how we’re denuding the oceans of life, towards the back is a striking collection of photos featuring Leopards in the Okovango Delta, Botswana. This particular article follows a mother and her cub, and while this is interesting in of itself, there was something else that was particularly striking in the article. One night the young leopard killed a mother baboon, leaving the baboon’s baby an orphan. Rather than kill the baby as well, the young leopard (according to the article) moved the baby over to a tree, licked the young baboon, and snuggled up to it in sleep. Unfortunately, the baby died (most probably of cold) and the young leopard proceeded to eat the mother, but nonetheless this amount of care given between predator and prey is astonishing. What I’m about to say next is highly anthropomorphic and I don’t consider it to be the same at all, but it almost reminds me of young girls playing with their dollies, practicing to be a mother themselves. Indeed, National Geographic has captured similar behavior on film in their documentary Predators at War in which a leopard happens across an orphaned lion cub and seems to contemplate caring for the youngster. Unfortunately for the cub, she realizes she cannot care for the little one and the baby becomes prey of spotted hyenas, but once again this cross-species altruism for young is quite interesting. I’m not about to simply chalk it up to “maternal instinct” or the argument that babies are just so overwhelmingly cute that you can’t help but take care of them, but I do wonder as to how often this sort of phenomena occurs and why it occurs at all.
Cross-species altruism: A leopard takes in a baboon19 03 2007