Spots and manes: the curious case of foster care between two competing felids

Dheeraj Mittal, Stotra Chakrabarti, Shailesh B. Khambda, Joseph K. Bump

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adoption of unrelated young can have detrimental consequences to the caregivers’ fitness in the form of costs emanating from maladaptive altruism. Owing to such costs, complete adoptions and allo-nursing are relatively rare in the animal world, more so between species that compete with one another. Lions and leopards compete through both exploitative and interference mechanisms, resulting in profound aggression and suppression at mutual encounters. Through intensive monitoring, we provide a detailed and prolonged account of a complete adoption of a leopard cub by a free-ranging Asiatic lioness. We briefly review existing literature on foster care in the animal world and suggest that maternal instincts and inexperience, coupled with behavioral and physical resemblance between lion and leopard cubs, could have acted as proximate cues in initiating such an unprecedented association. Furthermore, the unique sociobiology of Asiatic lions wherein the sexes live separately in small groups likely favored the duration of this interaction (~45 d). We also discuss and speculate about broader perspectives of offspring recognition in the animal world and ask whether the study of such important yet rare associations has implications for our understanding of parental care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere03047
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Sunil Berwal, Lalit Vara, Tushar Limbadiya, Dilipkumar Sisodiya, Ramkubhai, and Vanrajbhai for their dedicated field skills, keen recording of this incident, and sharing of information. We thank Craig Packer for providing insights. We also thank Ingela Jansson for sharing comprehensive information about the lioness?leopard association from Ndutu, Ngorongoro. We thank the Wildlife Institute of India for its support. Indranil Mondal is thanked for his help with the map. Special thanks to Andrew J. Matthews and Academic Technology Support Services at the University of Minnesota. We thank Mayank Kohli and Aamod Zambre for constructive comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.?DM and SBK collected field data on the association; SC provided information on the lioness and her life history; SC, DM, and JKB conceptualized the paper; SC, JKB, and DM wrote the manuscript. DM and SC contributed equally to this work. All authors read and commented on the manuscript drafts. We declare that there is no conflict of interest associated with this research and its submission.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors.


  • competition
  • interspecific adoption
  • kin recognition
  • leopard
  • lion
  • parental care


Dive into the research topics of 'Spots and manes: the curious case of foster care between two competing felids'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this