The Tree Climbing Lions in Uganda are part of the wider lion family in Africa. Lions play a big role in balancing the Eco-system which maintains the population of herbivores animals like Buffaloes and the different species of antelopes. Unfortunately, the overall population of lions in Africa has gradually reduced from 250,000 over the years, close to 25,000 individual lions still live in the wild today. Human interference is the major cause of reduction in the population of lions, human beings have cleared more land for farming and settlement hence encroaching on the lion territory.
Uganda is one of the countries where lions can be found in Africa. With over 400 lions in Uganda, about 130 lions are found in Queen Elizabeth National Park the most visited park in Uganda. The park receives enough rains and retains its scenic beauty for most parts of the year. The park stands out because of its amazing landscape and various tourist attractions like Maramagambo forest, Kazinga Channel, crater lakes and Kyambura gorge, the birding population and wildlife especially the rare tree climbing lion in Uganda which are one of the leading tourist attractions in Uganda. The other places where lions can be sighted include Murchison Falls National Park and Kidepo Valley National Park.
Where to see tree climbing lions in Africa?
Adult lions rarely climb trees especially when they reach a certain age and size, except when surrounded by a herd of buffalo and climbing a tree is the only safe option. Tree climbing lions in Uganda are mainly found in the Ishasha sector of Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National park and Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania. Some lions have been sighted climbing trees in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and Kruger National Park but these are quite rare compared to Ishasha. In Ishasha, prides of lions are spotted on different trees and thats what makes Queen Elizabeth National Park the best place to visit for tree climbing lions in Uganda.
Reason why some lions climb trees
Lions are naturally not climbing animals, most lions prefer staying on the ground, the lions in Lake Manyara and Queen Elizabeth National parks have however deviated from the usual behavior and are always seen lazing around acacia and fig trees in the early morning and late afternoon.
Why do they do this yet they are not a unique sub species?
This unique behavior is explained by several theories, some people believe that lions have a natural ability to climb trees like all cats. Climbing trees should therefore not be a surprise given that like all cats, they have sharp claws. Others believe that the lions in Ishasha have adapted this behavior from countless generations of lion prides before them. Some lion researchers believe that the lions climb trees to avoid bites from pests and insects like Tsetse flies and mosquitoes that live on lower ground. The researchers also believe the lions climb trees to escape the midday heat on the ground especially during the dry season. The leaves and tree branches give the lions a cool breeze and relief from the great afternoon heat. When lions climb to the top of the fig and acacia trees, they get uninterrupted rest while also monitoring their territories for prey and other competitors like hyenas and leopards. All these reasons for the intriguing habit of climbing trees could be true, the lions attract more and more visitors each year to Queen Elizabeth and Lake Manyara National Park.
The Ishasha Sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park
The remote Ishasha plains are uniquely different from other sectors of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Ishasha is made of savanna grasslands and riverine forests with a variety of attractions in Queen Elizabeth National Park that few visitors actually go to see the tree climbing lions of Ishasha. Majority of the visitors go to Mweya and Kasenyi because it is easy to access other activities like game drives, boat cruises along the Kazinga channel, chimpanzee tracking in Kyambura Gorge or even taking a nature walk in the Maramagambo forest. They are usually satisfied after spotting the common lion prides in the Kasenyi sector. One reason for the fewer visitors could be the lack of information about the existence of these unique cats. Many of the parks visitors only get to know about them when they are already on a planned safari. Squeezing time within a planned safari to go and see the tree climbing lions can be difficult. There are four prides of lions living within the Ishasha plains. About 50 individuals are estimated to be living within the four main prides. The lions love climbing the common acacia and large sycamore fig trees in the plains especially during the dry seasons. Because the entire prides spend their day on top of trees, the chance of seeing the lions in Ishasha sector are very high. The park authorities monitor their movements and can easily track them on request.
How to get to the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park?
The Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth is easily accessible both by road or air. Ishasha has an airstrip which offers an opportunity for one to take a chartered flight from Entebbe international airport or Kajjansi in Kampala directly to the park. There is also another option for those who wish to explore Uganda’s countryside and tour the small towns leading to the park can take a car from Kampala or Entebbe to the park through Mbarara town in a journey that takes about six hours.
Taking the Kampala Mbarara highway often uses the Katunguru-Mweya route in the northern part of the park to get to Ishasha. This is a shorter route but very unreliable during the wet season. When using this route, it is important to be in touch with the park officers to see if the route is passable.
Using a private car is possible and very comfortable but international visitors may need to hire a car or use the reliable services of a tour operator/company. The vehicle must be a 4X4 wheel because the roads in this remote section of the park are not tarmacked for conservation purposes and can be dusty or muddy depending on the season of the year. The park authorities do their best to maintain the rough roads but heavy rains damage several sections of the road.
Visitors arranging their own tree climbing safari need to hire a guide or move with a park ranger to help with choosing the right routes and locating the lions. Once you spot a group of lions, prepare to see them resting on the trees lazily as they look out at herds of grazing antelopes. Their stomachs are usually full (the previous night’s meal) with some struggling to position themselves in the tree branches. The lions are not as agile as leopards and you will probably spot some individuals struggling to balance as they climb or descend down the trees. On a good day it is possible to see up to 16 lions hanging on the same tree branches.
The best time to visit Ishasha sector in Queen Elizabeth
Seeing tree climbing lions is open to visitors on a Uganda safari throughout the year. The dry season (April, June, July and August) is considered the peak season for tourists for most activities in Uganda. This dry season is perfect for a safari because the park is less muddy and the lions are easier to locate. The months of April, May, October and November are the rainy seasons and are more ideal for bird-watching and other activities in the park.