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Does interspecies breastfeeding occur in the wild?

Say, for example, a zebra feeding a wildebeest, or a bushbuck feeding a gazelle.

There is a Wikipedia page on this topic but it only shows animal-human and human-animal feeding. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human%E2%80%93animal_breastfeeding

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  • $\begingroup$ Not specifically "the wild" but pet cats and dogs have been known to nurse wild animals or other pet species, possibly inadvertently. There are several YouTube videos of cats nursing baby raccoons, for example. I'm unsure if they're aware the animal they are nursing is not a kitten or if they can't tell the difference. $\endgroup$ Sep 29, 2023 at 16:49

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Yes, interspecies adoptions have been observed. They're rare enough that study is limited to case reports, and the causes are guessed at but not fully understood. However, I think it's clear that there are strong biological drives towards participating in mothering for the species that do so, and it's not too surprising that these drives could be at times "misplaced" from a biological perspective and directed at non-offspring.

A couple papers:

Carzon, P., Delfour, F., Dudzinski, K., Oremus, M., & Clua, É. (2019). Cross‐genus adoptions in delphinids: One example with taxonomic discussion. Ethology, 125(9), 669-676.

Izar, P., Verderane, M. P., Visalberghi, E., Ottoni, E. B., Gomes De Oliveira, M., Shirley, J., & Fragaszy, D. (2006). Cross‐genus adoption of a marmoset (Callithrix jacchus) by wild capuchin monkeys (Cebus libidinosus): Case report. American Journal of Primatology: Official Journal of the American Society of Primatologists, 68(7), 692-700.

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  • $\begingroup$ I didn't ask for adoptions, but specifically breastfeeding. Has this ever been recorded? If so, between which animals? $\endgroup$
    – Samid
    Sep 29, 2023 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Samid Read the papers in the answer. They involve breastfeeding. Do you think these animals would otherwise get milk from the grocer? $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Sep 29, 2023 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause while your comment is true, it'll be more proper as an answer to the question if you include at least the word "breastfeeding" in your answer :) $\endgroup$
    – justhalf
    Sep 30, 2023 at 11:59
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This video describes a cat feeding ducklings, and shows the ducklings subsequently still having the emotional attachment to their foster mother even after growing up.

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  • $\begingroup$ Not "in the wild" and the ducklings didn't breastfeed. The bit at the end about the lioness may qualify. $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Oct 1, 2023 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ @JamesK: They did breastfeed; it was clearly stated that they were observed to be sucking at the nipples. Even though it's on a farm, one could argue that cats are kind of semi-wild, and there is no reason to believe that the same thing couldn't happen in the wild. No doubt the quality of evidence provided by this is low, but it's worth knowing. $\endgroup$
    – user21820
    Oct 2, 2023 at 3:30

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