People say it takes a village to raise a child. But in this case it takes two dogs, two cats, and a zoo to raise an endangered leopard cub.
Zookeepers in the Far Eastern Russian city of Vladivostok have paired a newborn Amur leopard cub with a canine foster mom. The golden retriever, named Tessa, already has her paws full with four pups of her own, but she cares for the newcomer with licks and love. Thanks to a healthy diet of Tessa's milk, supplemented with formula and rabbit meat treats by the zoo, the cub has already outgrown her adopted siblings.
As a big cat-in-training, the leopard cub needs some friends of her own size. As of 2015, there were 57 Amur leopards in Russia, so the rare subspecies is in short supply. So the zoo matched the cub up with a lioness and a tigress. The feline playmates are both two and a half months old and about the same size as the critically endangered leopard.
"Although it seems these are both big cats, their behavior is completely different," veterinarian Viktor Agafonov told CCTV+. "The tigress is quieter. But the lioness … most of the time she keeps jogging and playing."
Zookeepers have also set up the trio with a Central Asian shepherd dog. Sergei Asnovin, the Vladivostok Zoo's director, also told CCTV+ that the fluffy white dog has "good pedigree, good blood," and its size and temperament make it a good match for the cubs.
Now, the furry foursome will bond for at least the next year and a half. After that, their friendship could continue, depending on how much they like each other.
Cross-fostering, in which baby animals are separated from their birth parents and raised by surrogates, is fairly common. In California, Larry the tortoise and the retriever Cricket became best friends after a Santa Barbara woman adopted the reptile reject. In Liberia, a dog named Princess took in a chimp as her own after the primate's parents had been killed for bushmeat. Also in Vladivostok, eight hedgehogs flocked to Musya the cat for motherly influence.
The Vladivostok Zoo initially decided to pluck the leopard cub from her mother's care out of concern for her safety—the leopardess Alain had a history of making meals out of her last three litters.
"We can't say for sure why this happened. But we decided not to risk another baby," Agafonov told CCTV+.
Sometimes, mother animals will resort to infanticide for the sake of efficiency. If their babies come out sick or deformed, the mother will often consume them. She’ll also eat them if there's not enough food to go around, or if they die.
"There are reasons," Tony Barthel at Smithsonian's National Zoo told National Geographic in 2014. "They might sound cold to us, but they're simple—and they have to do with resources."