By Paige Haydon
This is the heart-warming moment a lioness adopted her sisters orphaned cubs after she died.
The sisters, from the same pride, gave birth simultaneously to seven cubs between them in August 2016.
But disaster struck in January when one of the mothers unexpectedly died from a virus when the cubs were just four months old, leaving her litter orphaned.
The 10-year-old sisters maternal instincts immediately kicked in and she began raising all seven cubs as her own, leaving her in charge of feeding and protecting all of them.
The new adorable family were captured on camera by private Safari Architects guide, Mike Sutherland, 29, two weeks ago at the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve in South Africa.
Mike said: “This sighting was an incredible morning with great interaction in the pride.
“Unrelated lions will kill young lions, especially unrelated adult males, or new dominant males that move into an area.
“But thankfully lionesses in the same pride try to synchronise their breeding and females will readily treat all like-age cubs as their own, especially when they’re sisters.
“They will nurse them, allow them to suckle, hunt for them, protect them, groom them and look after them and in this pride, it meant that one female was now left to raise seven juvenile cubs on her own due to instinct and focusing on the future of the pride.
“The pride had been feeding on a kill the night before, and were on their way to a watering hole to drink.
“With full bellies, these cubs were boisterous and playful the entire morning, their playful behaviour is also a way in which these young lions hone their skills for later on in life, when they will need to stalk, chase and hunt their own prey.
“The lioness has proven that she is able to hunt and fend for all seven and so this should be a successful story in the end.”