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ENVIRONMENT REPORT - November 8, 2002: Kenya Lion Cares for Oryx - 2002-11-07

This is the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

Scientists do not understand the unusual actions of a female lion in a protected wildlife park in northern Kenya. The lioness in the Samburu National Reserve has been caring for baby antelopes that it would normally kill and eat. The lioness has become the most popular animal in the wildlife park. Many people have visited the park to observe her unusual behavior. Scientists say the lioness has defied the laws of nature.

Local people in Kenya named the lioness Kamuniak, which means “the blessed one” in the local Samburu language. She has cared for five young oryxes since January. An oryx is a kind of African antelope. At birth, the oryx is a light brown color. When it grows up, it develops black and white markings on its face. It develops long straight horns. Lions in the wild usually eat them.

The lioness became famous in Kenya when pictures of her were published on the front page of a local newspaper. She was walking side by side and lying in the grass with a baby oryx.

The lioness has cared for each of the five baby oryxes and protected them from other lions. Most of the oryxes later escaped with the help of their mothers. Sometimes, park officials had to intervene to rescue a baby oryx as it became weak from lack of food. Their mothers were usually too afraid of the lioness to get close enough to feed their young. One time, however, a baby oryx was eaten by a male lion while Kamuniak slept.

The lioness usually does not hunt for food while raising the baby antelopes. Experts say she apparently is too concerned about the safety of the oryxes to leave them alone.

Wildlife experts do not understand Kamuniak’s actions. Some have said the lioness wants to be like a mother to the baby antelopes because she is unable to give birth to her own babies. Others say she has a mental disorder. Park officials have welcomed nature experts and researchers to the park to study the lioness’s strange behavior.

Last month, one of the oryxes died of starvation and the lioness ate it. It was the first time Kamuniak had eaten one of the young animals. A wildlife official at the park and many visitors were surprised to see this. But the official said it was only nature.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk.