Tree Climbing Lions – a major drawcard to Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park

To those who know and love Africa’s wild spaces, each one offers its own particular brand of unique beauty, and Queen Elizabeth National Park is no exception. The land is pockmarked by explosion craters, magnificent calderas filled with either saltwater lakes or rich savannah, each capturing a feeling of a world within a world, a place where time seems to stand still. Seen from the air, it is easy to imagine the violent explosions of superheated gas that created the Katwe and Bunyaruguru crater fields.

A mosaic landscape of unique features and habitats, the parks fortunate visitors can go from exploring expansive savannahs dotted by euphorbia trees to the lush paths beneath the canopy of the Maramagambo Forest or drift down the Kazinga Channel on a boat, past one of the largest populations of hippos in Africa.

While the scenery is in itself a mesmerizing, Queen Elizabeth National Park offers first-rate wildlife viewing as well, with over 95 recorded mammal species including elephants, buffalos, hyenas, leopards, lions, giant forest hogs and chimpanzees as well as herds of Ugandan cob. It is also one of the few places in Africa where visitors are almost guaranteed to see tree-climbing lions, found only in the southern Ishasha region.

Unlike their leopard cousins, lions are not typically particularly skillful tree climbers. Their impressive bulk puts them at the top of the predator hierarchy and imparts the power to pull down powerful prey, but they are not well designed for nimble balance or agile leaps. While all lions can and occasionally do climb trees, it is very seldom that they make a habit of it. Yet, in Queen Elizabeth National park, the lions are famed for their climbing tendencies. Not even a shared familial ability to look comfortable whatever the situation can bely the incongruity of 150kgs of lion draped over the spikey limbs of a giant euphorbia tree. The most likely explanation for their behavior is that it helps them to escape from the tsetse flies that plague the area and perhaps capitalize on the cool breezes a few meters above ground level.

The Ishasha sector is 62km north of Bwindi Impenetrable national park, which is famous for gorilla tracking. While planning a safari to Uganda, a combined safari with gorilla tracking offer an opportunity to do a game drive through this sector in search of the Queens and Kings or even full prides as they lazily rest in the fig trees.