I have been puzzling over, and moved by, a scene from Eye of the Leopard, a film by Dereck and Beverly Joubert, a handsome couple (above) who are quite the up-and-coming wildlife-documentary makers.
It is the second clip in this video, called “Unlikely Surrogate”.
The “plot”, as provided by Mother Nature (and as narrated by Jeremy Irons):
A leopard hunts a baboon mother, kills her and begins to drag her up on tree for the feast. Suddenly, something wriggles, and it is the one-day old baboon baby that was clinging onto her mother and now falls out.
The leopard pauses. … It does not know how to react. It watches the baby for hours. Then it gently picks the little primate up with its fangs and carries it further up to the tree to safety from other predators. The leopard licks and comforts the baboon baby whose mother the cat has just killed. The baboon baby recognizes the kindness and snuggles into the leopard’s chin. They cuddle for hours together against the cold. Then the leopard moves back down to eat the baby’s mother.
You can study biology, Darwin, evolution. You can hypothesize why this trait is passed on and not that trait. You can throw around fancy terms, such as cross-species altruism. And just when you’re feeling reassuringly scientific, nature reminds you of her eternal, sublime, moving mystery.