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The baboon was seen grooming the cub © Kurt Safari

Baboon sightings in the Kruger National Park in South Africa are always entertaining but visitors watching one particular baboon troop experienced far more than expected when they realized that one of the baboons was clutching a tiny lion cub – no older than four weeks old. The male baboon carried the small cub around, climbing into a nearby tree and grooming and caressing the little cub as he might have done with a young member of his troop.

According to witnesses, the baboons were initially extremely excited about the presence of the cub. They fought over it for an extended period before the young male emerged victorious to play with his prize. It is a known fact that baboons are a potential threat to the offspring of most predators – lions and leopards included. Still, it is extremely unusual for these moments to be observed or photographed.

The male baboon carrying the lion cub © Kurt Safari

The photographs were captured by Kurt Schultz of Kurt Safari, who escaped his company office in Hazyview for some time spent with his camera in the Kruger National Park, unaware of the extraordinary experience awaiting him. He describes how in an area of large granite hills and boulders known to be a preferred spot for lion and leopard den sites, he encountered a troop of baboons and tourists in another vehicle informed him that they believed that there was a lion cub amongst the baboons.

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He waited patiently until one of the baboons emerged with the cub, which he initially believed to be dead. As the male baboon carried it into the tree and moved from branch to branch, the cub stirred, and he realized that it was alive, albeit weak and exhausted. Although Kurt did not spot any visible injuries, he does not dismiss the possibility that the cub had internal injuries. What struck Kurt was how gentle the male baboon was with the cub and how he was grooming it. In his twenty years of guiding experience, he has been witness to baboons killing leopard and lion cubs but had never seen care and attention being given.

The baboon carries the cub up a large marula tree © Kurt Safari

Pragmatically, Kurt acknowledges that the lion cub did not have a chance of survival. By 8 am it was 30 degrees Celcius and a lion cub that young would dehydrate quickly, even if the baboons did not harm it further.

Says Kurt, “This will remain one of my most interesting sightings. Naturally, one cares for the lion cub and would want it to grow up and live a wild and free life, but nature has its own ways, and we cannot get involved. We need to keep Kruger simple and wild – true to the wishes of Stevenson Hamilton: that nature should wander freely, and people remain in their vehicles.”

The dehydrated cub tries to suckle © Kurt Safari

Kurt Safari offers one to five-day safaris into the Kruger National Park, operating mostly in southern and central Kruger. Based in Hazyview and operating mainly with Umbhaba Eco Lodge, they provide their clients with quality and educational safaris. With top safari guides from the local Hazyview community and a modern fleet of 23 vehicles, the company is rated number 1 on TripAdvisor for Kruger Park safaris.

© Kurt Safari

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