Surprise in the Kenyan Wild as Lioness Adopts Oryx

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Adapted from the Daily Nation

In the Samburu Game Reserve in Kenya, a lioness recently struck up friendship with an oryx calf in a spectacle that puzzled everyone including wildlife experts.

In a radical departure from its instincts, the full-grown lioness had been roaming in the reserve for the last two weeks in the company of the oryx, which it would ordinarily have killed for a meal. Tourists and game rangers watched in disbelief as the lioness and the frail brown baby oryx walked side by side and rested together, with 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 yet been offered for the strange friendship which lasted for 15 days before 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 the easy prey.

The predator pounced as the lioness turned her back to drink from the Ewaso Nyiro river, late on Sunday evening. It was an unusual lapse of care on the lioness's part. During 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 have with its own cubs.

The lioness is said to have taken watch over the calf after frightening off its mother at birth. The two animals appeared to be starving in the early days of their friendship but soon settled into their separate feeding routines.

Tourists interviewed by the Daily Nation after witnessing the episode were lost for words while others saw it as another wonder of the world. The two animals have sharply contrasting habits. Lions are voracious carnivores and commonly prey on animals like antelopes, waterbucks and zebras. The oryx is a gentle herbivore which survives on grass and leaves. It spends much of its time dodging predators such as big cats, mainly by its speed, although adults are also adept at defending themselves with their long, sword-like horns. The lioness sleeps for up to 16 hours a day and is active for only eight, while the oryx spends 65 per cent of its time grazing. Lions rely largely on their sight while oryx survive by their sharp sense of smell, which deepened the mystery of how the two animals had been communicating in the wild.

Samburu rangers had ruled out separating them, preferring to let nature take its course, but like everyone else, they crossed their fingers in the hope that the mysterious relationship would last.

The spectacle had attracted a growing stream of nature lovers, tourists and Samburu villagers.