Life in the wild for animals is often depicted as a unending struggle for survival, where danger lurks at every turn. But playing out alongside those daily life-and-death dramas are lesser-seen moments of apparent compassion — ones that defy easy explanation.
In this remarkable footage from the Smithsonian Channel, taken in the Serengeti in Africa, a familiar scene of hunter and hunted appears ready to play out as expected, but then it takes a surprise twist.
A lioness on the prowl for prey seizes upon a mother wildebeest's newborn calf, but rather than go in for the kill, she suddenly pauses. As if disarmed by the baby's lack of fear, the lioness is then seen allowing him to linger by her in the shade. And in turn, the helpless baby wildebeest appears to imprint upon the predator as his parent, nuzzling with her like he would his mother.
But most incredible of all is how it plays out in the end.
It's impossible to say for certain why the lioness decided to spare her would-be prey, allowing him to reunite with his rightful mom. But the mysterious incident hints at a truth worth remembering — that animals have the capacity for empathy, and the wild world in which they live isn't devoid of heart.