"After 20 years of guiding this is the first time I have seen a baboon nurturing and caring for a young predator cub," said one safari guide.
A sight that most people may never see in a lifetime was captured at both the Pilanesberg Private Game Reserve and at the Kruger National Park at around the same time of the year, where baboons at both parks snatched leopard cubs away from their mothers. One might think that the primates would stay away from the predatory animals, but the reason these baboons separated the little cubs from their mother is quite bizarre - to raise them as their own.
Paul Wood, who saw the rare sight at the Pilanesberg National Park told Latest Sightings, "As we came around a bend in the road, we all saw what turned out to be the very last member of the troop, a young adult male baboon, and he was visibly clutching something small under his belly with one arm... Within seconds, and with all eyes on him, he juggled what he was carrying and we all gasped as it was clearly a tiny leopard cub."
At first, Paul and the guide thought the cub was dead and even assumed the baboon might have had a hand in this. "However, after a few more seconds, it was obvious that the cub was very much alive!" Paul added.
"At that point, the sighting took on a whole new aspect as we were confronted, in nature, with something that seemed somehow… unnatural. An adult baboon shouldn’t be carrying around a leopard cub!"
Days after Paul laid his eyes on the unnatural sight, wildlife photographer Lauren Pretorius spotted something similar,
a baboon that was also carrying around a stolen leopard cub at the Kruger National Park.
At the Kruger National Park, this was not the first time a baboon was seeing taking care of a predator cub and grooming it as if it were their own baby. Kurt Schultz, who has spent about 20 years living close to nature and wildlife, first saw this in February 2020 when he was on his way back home after a meeting at the Kruger National Park.
The safari operator chanced upon the sighting of a male baboon, who took into his arms a lion cub and started grooming it whilst sitting on top of a tree.
"I first thought it was a female baboon but it was in actuality a young male baboon," Kurt told Latest Sightings in February, 2020. "The baboon was grooming and caring for the lion cub as if this was a young baboon. I spent about 1 hour at the sighting... It is normal for a troop of baboons to kill young leopard and even lion, however after 20 years of guiding this is the first time I have seen a baboon nurturing and caring for a young predator cub."
As the baboon made his way from branch to branch, the lion cub seemed exhausted and also showed signs of dehydration. Normally, lions and leopards hide their cubs before they go hunting, and it's likely that the baboon stumbled upon the hidden lion cub, who managed to pique his interest.
"I don't see a chance of this poor cub surviving," Kurt told Associated Press, as quoted by CBS News. "The troop of baboons was large and a lion would not be able to get the young back. Nature is cruel at most times and the survival of a young predator cub is not easy. The lion cub would pose a threat to the baboons when it gets older. I have witnessed baboons viciously killing leopard cubs and have heard of baboons killing lion cubs."