Thursday, December 3, 2009

Kamunyak: The Blessed Lioness among African Lions

I just finished watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom: Heart of a Lioness on Animal Planet. I think my heart is broken. I've never cried so much during an animal special!!!!

Basically, a lioness defies nature and logic and adopts a baby oryx (kind of like an antelope). She sees the calf as her cub and over the year discriminates between her oryx calf and all other antelope species. While she would kill other antelope, for her, the oryx calf was her cub. Here, i'm just going to let the discovery website do the explaining while i tissue up.
On this Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom special, an inversion of nature baffles the scientific world when a young lioness in Samburu Reserve, Kenya, sets aside her predatory instincts to adopt a baby oryx antelope. She mothers it with infinite tenderness for 16 days, foregoing her most basic needs and proving to be both a compassionate and wise protector. Wildlife expert Saba Douglas-Hamilton sets out to explain this intriguing mystery. What complex motivation has stirred the heart of this lioness? The local Samburu people — who've named the lioness Kamunyak, which means "the blessed one" — have never witnessed anything like this before, and experts are also baffled by Kamunyak's motives. When Saba encounters the pair, it is clear that they are in a bad way. The young lioness is unable to nurse the oryx calf, and it is weak and thin. Kamunyak refuses to leave her young charge, so she's not feeding herself and is woefully undernourished. In an effort to help the park warden throws her a chunk of meat but Kamunyak refuses to eat it. As the days go on she becomes less and less able to protect herself or the oryx from other lions. Will this precarious bond last, or will it end in tragedy?
Well it ends in tragedy when Kamunyak turns away for just a frickin moment and suddenly a male lion that had been hiding in the shrub pounces and kills the calf. The calf's desperate cries are horrible and Kamunyak seems beside herself, unable to do anything about it because the male could just as easily rip her to shreds. As her calf is dragged away bleating, she moves to the spot where the calf was killed and smells the blood, the way that a lioness would if she had lost her own cub. And then she disappears, never to be seen again.

I found it so interesting and heartwarming how the Samburu people explained, "Kamunyak was barren, so God gave her the gift of child." Omg, waterworks are starting again. I'm going to go die now.

Did you know that there are instances of humans being adopted by animals? When asked if there have been any other documented cases of lionesses or big cats adopted a prey species, wildlife expert Douglas-Hamilton says:
Nothing that I know of. However, when we did our research we came across a book called Wild Boys and Savage Girls about human children that had been adopted by animals. The most interesting story was about two young girls who were adopted by the same pack of wolves in India on different occasions, I think with an eight year gap between them. There was also a young boy in Russia who was taken in by a pack of feral dogs on the streets of Moscow, and a young child in Uganda adopted by a troop of vervet monkeys. In legend, there is the story of Romulus and Remus who founded Rome and were raised by a pack of wolves. And of course Daniel and the lion's den. When it is humans we pay attention, but it is only recently that we have the knowledge of animal behavior that we are able to investigate some of the instances in the natural world between different species.
Fascinating. I think i'm going to have to do some research on this book and the young girls in India with the wolves and the boy in Russia with the wild dogs. Anomalies of nature are absolutely compelling to me!
"Even today, three years down the line, Kamunyak is seen as a symbol of peace. Shortly before our last election, politicians stood up in Parliament and said, 'If traditional enemies like the lion and the oryx can be friends, so we too can work together'." - Saba Douglas-Hamilton

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