The tree climbing lions of Ishasha in Uganda
Why do lions climb trees? There could be several possible reasons for this phenomenon.
It is not usual for lions to climb trees. True they are cats with claws like domestic and wild cats. Leopards too go up in trees. So is it part of cat culture?
In the whole world, there are only two places where lions climb trees as part of their normal everyday behavior.
One of the places to find these rare behavior is in Ishasha, Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. The other population is found in Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania.
It is believed that the lions climb trees in order to cool off from the too much heat on the ground. They are normally seen lying on branches from the early afternoon. Some lie in the trees seemingly asleep. Others keep gazing at their prey-the grazing antelopes and buffaloes on the plains below. The sycamore fig tree branches provide a resting place with a cool breeze. This may hold some truth- you will never find the them climbing or in the trees when it is raining or immediately after. But again it may be that they fear slipping off the wet branches!
It is further believed, that these tree climbing lions do it to protect themselves against the ferocious bites of tsetse flies and other insects below. However like the Buffaloes, antelopes and elephants, one would assume that these lions in Uganda have developed a harder skin or make use of their long tails to ward off the flies.
It is also possible that lions in Uganda climb trees as an ambushing tactic to pounce on unsuspecting prey. Antelopes graze near the trees where they are lying without noticing their presence above.
The tree climbing lions in Uganda also use their vantage points in the trees to their advantage. From above, they clearly see the weak, the young, the old and the sick prey that are easy to attack.
It is further claimed that the lions in Uganda climb trees, so as to have a wider view of their territory. They are able to see other invading prides or their other deadly enemies the Hyenas from a distance.
Ishasha in Uganda is well known for the tree lions and it is one of the highlights of a safari in Uganda. They can be seen on game drives along the various tracks that crisscross the sector.
Getting to Ishasha can be by air or road. There is an airstrip and you can fly straight from the Entebbe airport to Ishasha. Using ground transportation, one can use the route from Mweya and Katunguru (along the Mbarara-Kasese road) just before the Kazinga channel bridge. It is 70km (2 hrs drive) a long a bumpy dirt road. Although the road is manageable during the dry season (December-February and June-September), 4X4 is recommended during the rainy season (March-May, October-November). Ishasha can also be accessed from the Bwindi side through Kihihi town.