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Honeyguide Newsletters: Winter 2001

About Africa

Reflecting on the joys of the day and anticipating the adventures of tomorrow.

The Honeyguide: Winter 2001/2002
15 Days of Strange Lion Behavior

A lioness in Kenya's Samburu National Park did the unimaginable this winter. She adopted a new-born oryx as her own offspring! An oryx is a gazelle whose main predator is the lion. On December 24th, just after a female oryx gave birth, the lioness frightened her away from the new-born. Usually, a lion would have eaten the young oryx, but instead, this lioness adopted it as if it was her own cub. For 15 days, the lioness slept with, cared for and protected the oryx. For the first few days, the two were nearly starved as they tried to combine their very different feeding habits. An oryx grazes for 16 hours a day, while a lion sleeps 16 hours a day!

Read on for the conclusion:

Lioness and a baby oryx: Mystery remains

Daily Nation

The spectacular friendship between a lioness and a baby oryx that has had all Kenya talking remains a puzzle for game workers and wildlife experts. In a radical departure from its instincts, the lioness protected the little calf, which it would ordinarily have killed for a meal, escorting it around the Samburu wildlife reserve. Truck loads of tourists kept following the pair as they strolled around the foot of Koitogor Hills, near the Serena Samburu lodge.

Alongside game workers the tourists watched daily in disbelief as the lioness and the frail brown calf wandered the range side by side and lay down to rest together, with all the intimacy of a mother and her cub. Had the lioness adopted the oryx as her own? What powerful drive overrode all her instincts to kill? No scientific explanation has been offered yet for the strange friendship which lasted for an amazing 15 days before the law of the jungle reigned supreme and sadly an older lion from another pride killed the calf.

Death came suddenly when the odd couple strayed into the territory of another lion, which spotted easy prey. The predator pounced as the lioness turned her back to drink from the Uaso Nyiro river, late on Sunday evening. It was an unusual lapse of care on the lioness's part. For the time they were together, she had successfully warded off all dangers to the frail little calf, including threats from a pride of cheetahs, by walking watchfully behind it as it would with its own cubs. Wildlife experts say that lions - moving in twos or threes - will normally mark out a territory by fighting off the weaker males. They will then subdue the females within the territory by killing all the cubs from previous mates and siring their own as the natural way of ensuring their own perpetuation. Samburu Serena nature expert Vincent Kapeen said there was a high possibility that the killer lion, which the Nation team had spotted about two kilometres from the couple on Sunday morning, could have killed the calf while mistaking it for a rival's cub, but then realised that it was actually a meal.

About The Honeyguide

The Honeyguide - a monthly email newsletter - is named after the Greater Honey Guide, a bird that has developed the remarkable habit of leading tribespeople to wild bees' nests, with the promise of honeycomb and grubs once the humans have opened the nest and taken the honey. The complementary relationship shared by bird and human represents the newsletter's goal - to periodically lead readers to new and timely bits of information about East African wildlife, culture, and travel.

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