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Lioness adopts 3 oryx -- nomally her prey
By Nathan Welton
The Boston Globe
April 23, 2002


A lioness in Kenya's Samburu National Reserve has adopted her third baby oryx in as many months, according to reports from the African Wildlife Foundation.

Since an oryx is a type of antelope upon which lions usually prey, experts are at a loss to explain the big cat's affection towards the calves. The lioness, nicknamed Namunyak, or The Blessed One, by locals, has protected her adopted young from danger and has allowed them to nurse from their biological mothers.

In order to compensate for not eating oryx, Namunyak ''has further specialized in eating warthogs and gerenuks [other antelope species] that are very common in the area,'' according to Fiesta Warina, an African Wildlife Foundation spokeswoman.

In late December, the lioness adopted her first oryx and kept its predators at bay for two weeks, until a lion ate it while Namunyak drank from a river. She adopted her second calf, nicknamed Valentine, around Feb. 14, but it became malnourished and wardens moved it to an animal orphanage in Nairobi National Park. Namunyak's latest adopted oryx, named Easter for the weekend she adopted it, is alive and well and has not been separated.

According to the foundation, wildlife experts in Kenya believe the lioness may be unable to conceive her own cub and has ''unfulfilled maternal instincts."

"I haven't heard of this happening with a lion and oryx,'' said Boston University biology professor Thomas Kunz. ''Certainly a lion and oryx is a little odd.'' He added that cross-species nursing occurs occasionally, but the animals are usually members of the same family.

Other reports of cross-species care include a Ugandan child named John Ssebunya, reared by a group of monkeys in the 1980s, and a Chilean boy rescued from a cave last summer, where he had been living with a pack of dogs for two years, as reported by the BBC News.