This is either an extraordinary case of maternal instinct or the eighth wonder of the world.
Either way, it is definitely one of the most amazing wildlife interactions we have ever seen.
The photographs above, from photographer Evan Schiller and Lisa Holzwarth, were taken in northern Botswana’s Selinda Camp. When the two of them approached a large troop of baboons darting through the bush and climbing up trees, they knew something big was about to happen. It appears the baboons were running away from two lionesses.
About “30-40 baboons were heading in our general direction making a lot of noise,” Holzwarth told National Geographic. “Between the baboons shrieking and the lionesses communicating with deep guttural roars, it was a mad scene.”
When one of the baboons tried to descend a tree and make a run for it, she was snatched up in the mighty jaws of a lioness.
As Schiller and Holzwarth took a closer look, they noticed a baby baboon was still clutching onto its mother while she died in the lioness’ jaws.
The helpless baby ended up letting go of its mother and attempted to climb a nearby tree. Almost immediately, the lioness went over to investigate. That’s when things got really interesting.
Instead of killing the youngster, she began to curiously play with it. While it is quite common for cats to play with their prey, and often look gentle doing it, the situation almost always ends in tears.
This, however, is a different story.
Soon after the lioness came within reach of the defenseless baboon, she picked it up in her mouth and walked away.
What happens next we couldn’t believe! Despite being in danger, the baby doesn’t try to escape but actually attempts to suckle the lioness! Perhaps its flight instinct hadn’t kicked in yet.
When two male lions arrived on the scene, it appears that the lionesses were aggressively trying to protect the defenseless baby from being attacked.
But waiting in a nearby tree was a big male baboon.
During the scuffle between the lionesses and the lions, the baboon raced down the tree, grabbed the baby and headed back to safety.
Did the lioness spare the baboon because of its special instinct to care for the young? Perhaps, in this case, the lioness would have eventually killed and ate the helpless baby if its father hadn’t come to the rescue.
We’ll never know.
“No matter what,” Holzwarth says. “The young baboon remains an inspiration to me—and a reminder, that life is fragile and no matter how much we fight to control its outcome, all we can do is live in the moment.”
Check out the incredible footage in the slideshow above.
Image Credit: Evan Schiller