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Male Baboon Shows Unusual Maternal Side to Lion Cub

Male Baboon Grooms Lion Cub in Kruger

“I drove onto the S21, one of the roads near Skukuza where I came across a troop of baboons being restless. Being early morning this is relatively common, but then I noticed a baboon carrying something and the rest of the troop were interested in that baboon. The baboon was not visible and I spent some time at the sighting as I was told it was possibly a lion cub.”

On Saturday morning I entered the Kruger Park fairly early and was on my way to Skukuza as I had a breakfast appointment planned. I have been working in the Kruger, guiding Kruger Park safaris and running www.kurtsafari.com, for the last 10 years and I spend most of the week in the office.

Weekends are my time to take out my camera and get into the Bush, and I was speaking to my manager just the week before and mentioned that I didn’t have the best of luck recently. But things were about to change.

I went to an area that I knew was very active and had lots of lion sightings recently, and I happened upon a troop of baboons that were really excited and playful, which was not unusual this early in the morning.

There was another vehicle at the baboon sighting and there was talk of a lion cub being seen among the troop.

After waiting for some time, we noticed that one baboon, we thought to be a female, was carrying a lion cub that I assumed was dead. This area has large granite boulders and hills and is known for leopards and lions hiding their newborn cubs among the koppies (small hills). The baboon had crossed the road and climbed into a nearby Marula Tree when we then noticed that the cub was alive.

The baboon was grooming the lion cub as if it was a member of the troop. Male baboons do a lot of grooming, but the care and grooming given to the cub by this male baboon was the same as that given to a baby baboon by a female.

kruger national park animal sighting

The rest of the troop got settled after getting used to the lion cub’s presence. The male baboon moved between the Marula’s branches, grooming and carrying the cub for a long period of time.

The cub seemed very tired and though no injuries were immediately visible, it may have received some internal injuries as lion cubs aren’t used to being carried like this. Baboons are very strong animals and since they were all excited about the lion cub, and were fighting over it in the beginning, it may have been hurt in the excitement.

It was already about 8 am and temperatures were already reaching 30 degrees. Dehydration seemed like it was starting to set in for the cub. The baboons started to move further into the bush and I left the sighting when more vehicles started to arrive, to give space to those who wanted to what was happening.

kruger park animal sighting
kruger park animal sighting
kruger park animal sighting

In the 20 years of guiding tours in Southern and Eastern Africa, and being in the Kruger Park for almost 20 years, I have seen leopard cubs being viciously killed by baboons and I’ve seen baboons killing lion cubs, but I have never seen a baboon give such care and attention to a lion cub.

Unfortunately I don’t see a chance of this poor cub surviving; the troop of baboons was big and a lion would not be able to get the cub back. Nature is cruel at the best of the times and the survival of a young predator is not always a guarantee. The lion cub will pose a threat to baboons as the cub grows older, so naturally, the change of survival at this young age is minimal.

When you see something like this, you do care for the lion and you hope it will grow up and live a wild and free life, but unfortunately, nature has its own ways and we cannot get involved.

We need to keep the Kruger Park wild and simple. These were the wishes of the park’s First Warden and protector, James Stevenson-Hamilton. And in the Kruger where wildlife wanders freely between the vehicles, you can understand why it must stay this way.

Having said that, this will remain one of my most interesting and memorable sightings.

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