A letter about unusual lion behaviour in the Serengeti National Park, brought back memories of our own observations in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya, in the 1980’s.
As it can be seen above, the letter describes that, a couple of tourists on a photographic safari, witnessed a lioness kill a wildebeest cow and her calf. Afterwards the lioness suckled the cow, then consumed the calf and returned again to suckle and lick the milk from the now dead female.
While in the Maasai Mara one evening we witnessed a lioness kill a topi. While the lioness was busy strangling the animal, two cubs appeared on the scene and, without hesitation, went directly to the Topi’s udder and suckled the animal for a few minutes.
Eventually the animal died and the cubs stopped suckling and joined the mother at eating it. We did not see he lioness suckling.
The explanatory reply from Brian Jones, a very knowledgeable person on raising lions at the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre (South Africa) among other activities, confirmed that lions do lick carcasses, a fact that I can also corroborate through personal observations. As he made no mention of the suckling of prey by lions, I decided to write to Brian to let him know of our own observations and somehow reinforce the tourists’ observations. The following is a record of our exchange:
From: Julio de Castro <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Moholoholo <email@example.com>
Dear Mr. Jones,
Reviewing old magazines I saw your comment of a couple of years ago (Getaway, May 2013, p.13) to a sighting of a lioness suckling and licking a wildebeest female in the Serengeti National Park.
In the 1980’s, while working in Kenya, one evening in the Maasai Mara we witnessed a lioness kill a Topi. While the lioness was busy strangling the animal, two cubs appeared on the scene and, without much hesitation, went directly to the Topi’s udder and suckled the animal for a few minutes. Eventually the animal died and the cubs stopped suckling and joined the mother at eating it. I do not recall if the death of the female Topi coincided with the cubs stopping to suckle. The cubs were about 6 months old or older (not suckling babies).
I have also witnessed lions licking wildebeest and zebra prey (mainly in the abdominal area) but I believe that there are two different phenomena, one is the deliberate suckling of a female prey and another is the licking of a dying/dead animal, including males.
I hope you find this interesting and look forward to your comments.
Julio de Castro
19 November 2015
From: Moholoholo <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Julio de Castro <email@example.com>
Good morning Julio,
Thank you very much for your e–mail.
So interesting to hear of your experience witnessing the cubs trying to suckle from the Topi – really amazing!!!
Probably the smell of milk and I’d say the Topi must have had a youngster!!
Yes the licking of a dead animal is normal. I have often seen even cheetah licking their pray before eating!! I have a few tame Cheetah and they lick my friends on their arm, I tease them by saying “they always lick their prey before they eat them” (ha, ha).
Thank you so much for sharing your experience, it always a story I can tell to other folk.
All the Best
I thank Brian for his time to reply and his valuable contribution. Please visit http://www.moholoholo.co.za/ to see the valuable work that the Centre performs.
 Koetze, R. Unusual sighting. Getaway (Letters), May 2013, p.12.
 The Topi (Damaliscus lunatus jimela) and the Tsessebe (D. lunatus lunatus) are sub-species of D. lunatus.