Kenyan Lioness Adopts Another Oryx

Kenyan Lioness Adopts Another Oryx

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A Kenyan lioness which perplexed wildlife experts last month by adopting a newborn Beisa oryx at Samburu National Park astonished them again on Valentine's Day by taking on another. When the lioness adopted her first calf last month, animal behaviorists said she had probably mistaken it for a lion cub. But on Friday she showed full awareness of the calf's species, allowing its real mother to feed it before chasing her away.

But the strange love story between the lioness and the baby oryx came to an end yesterday when game wardens separated them. Nine game wardens surrounded and tranquillized the frail oryx calf as it dozed fitfully in the shade of an acacia tree. Kamuniak - or The Blessed One - as the lioness has been christened by local people, had left the oryx and went hunting.

The oryx, weak from hunger, was loaded gently into a vehicle and taken to Lewa Downs, a private game sanctuary near Nanyuki. Game wardens decided to separate the oryx from the lioness for fear that the oryx would die from hunger. This is the second time in two months that Kamuniak has defied normal behavior and played mother to a species that lions normally prey on.

It is not clear how this second calf and its mother were separated but the Valentine's Day bonding between the lioness and the newborn calf was as exciting and bizarre as the earlier one.

A 24-hour guard mounted by four wardens was maintained throughout the night to keep the friends safe. The wardens were kept busy and at one time, they had to scare away a pride of lions that were prowling too close to the sleeping duo. The warden's bright flashlights and burning torches soon turned the lions away.

Early yesterday morning, Samburu National Park's Chief Warden Simon Leirana found the calf too weak to stand because it had not been fed for two days. Plans had already been made to capture and bring the calf's mother closer.

The strange relationship has wardens and biologists at the park puzzled. Wildlife experts have offered a range of scientific explanations, with most attributing the adoption to unfulfilled maternal instincts. Some suggest the lioness may be unable to conceive her own cub, and has taken to satisfying her natural instincts through another species. But none could say why she is so fond of the oryx, or why she turned to a prey species instead of adopting another lion cub. Game wardens are watching closely for any new developments.