Tree-Climbing Lions in Uganda (1)
Tree-climbing lions are most common in Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park, in Ishasha, western Uganda. PHOTO/QENP

In western Uganda, the Ishasha area of Queen Elizabeth National Park is where you can find the majority of Uganda’s tree-climbing lions.

To see tree-climbing lions, one needs to travel to the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. To learn more about this species, read on.

Of all the African wild creatures, the lion is undoubtedly the most feared and revered. This is because it is a powerful predator capable of hunting most savannah species for sustenance. 

Climbing lions are one of the most misunderstood of all the big cats. Besides their tree climbing nature, they are identical to the other lions in every way. 

They usually climb up the acacia trees after a heavy meal when the sun begins to warm up and/or to keep an eye on their prey.

A lion’s natural behaviour when it comes to trees is to lie under them for shade and to study its prey. This is why lions climbing trees are so unusual. 

The Ishasha area of Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda is home to the biggest number of Uganda’s tree-climbing lions

On rare occasions, tree-climbing lions can be found in other locations of Uganda, such as Kidepo Valley National Park and Murchison Falls National Park.

Why do lions climb trees?

There are two possible explanations for why these lions have adapted to tree climbing

To avoid being irritated by insects and pests on the ground, and to receive some fresh air while escaping the Savannah heat by sunbathing on the branches. 

These arguments are bolstered by the fact that these tree climbing lions sleep on the ground at night and when it rains, both of which are conducive to the elimination of insects, pests, and heat.

While the foregoing explanations are hypothetical, there is no doubt that basking in the trees aids them in keeping an eye on their prey. Animals that are usually seen grazing in the grassland are the most common prey, such as antelopes and other ‘lion food’. 

Their ability to educate even their young pups on how to climb trees is seen as a behavioural adaptation that they have mastered. This is why they train beforehand.

Because they are such a rare species with no data or research available, the only way to see them is to travel physically to where they are. 

The King of the Jungle isn’t well-known or naturally structured for such an endeavour. It’s amazing to see how they get up on the branches and hug them to rest in such an unusual and yet natural way.

Places where tree-climbing lions can be found

Uganda kob
This lion population in Ishasha usually eats Uganda kob as its main prey (food). PHOTO/iStockPhoto

Are you looking for where to go to have a glimpse of the tree-climbing lions in Uganda? Queen Elizabeth National Park is the place to be. 

When you visit the Ishasha area in Queen Elizabeth National Park, you have the opportunity to watch more than 50 lions ‘lounging’ all day among the acacia trees. 

Because of the skin colour and the trees in this region, they are a little difficult to see at first. 

However, with the help of a tour guide, you can locate them dozing or peering out into the wilderness on the tree limbs. Sometimes you may need binoculars as they could be at a distance suspended on the branches of acacia trees. 

The Uganda kob is the most common prey (food) eaten by these lions in the Ishasha area. When it comes to looking for food, the lions have a superb view position in the trees.

Status of Conservation

The number of climbing lions is rapidly diminishing. Humans are the greatest threat to these tree-climbing lions (and all lions in general). 

For example, 11 lions were poisoned and found dead in the Ishasha area of Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda in April 2018.

Encroachment on national parks for agricultural land, poaching, hunting, and illicit wildlife trading are all reasons humans continue to harm lions. The responsible bodies put forth a lot of effort to stop poaching and encroachment, but the effectiveness of such efforts is contingent on several factors operating in perfect harmony.

So far, the best method for conservation in Uganda has been a collaborative effort by many stakeholders and local populations to achieve a single conservation aim. While the tree-climbing lions have yet to attain full success, the work continues, and we all hope for improved conservation outcomes.


Tree-climbing lions (1)
To maximize the chances of catching a glimpse of the tree-climbing lions, consider spending a night in Ishasha and visiting the park both in the morning and in the evening. PHOTO/QENP

The fascination with tree climbing lions stems from their differences from their fellow lions, not from what they consume or how their social systems are organised. 

All lions in the wild share the same social, physical, nutritional, and repopulation traits as them.

The theories on why they ascend the tree aren’t entirely true (as earlier stated). This is because lions are deadly, and the best you can do in terms of research is to keep a close eye on them. 

Whatever the case may be, tree-climbing lions are a wonderful sight to behold, as they gracefully move their massive bodies up the tree.

Seeing the tree-climbing lions in Ishasha significantly enhances a visitor’s experience of Queen Elizabeth National Park

While remaining in Queen Elizabeth National Park, it is typical to go on a game drive to see all of the other species, take a boat ride on the Kazinga channel, track some chimps and other monkeys, and track the tree-climbing lions.

You will be mesmerised by the sight of these lions frolicking in the trees, seemingly unconcerned about anything. 

If this is something you want to do, let your tour guide know so that the Ishasha region of Queen Elizabeth National Park can be included in your Uganda safari itinerary. 

Even if you avoid the Ishasha area, you can spot some lions on the trees in other parts of the park as you pass through them. However, the chances are very few. 

Alternatively, you can leave the main Queen Elizabeth park early in the morning and spend the day in the Ishasha sector looking for tree-climbing lions, returning to your lodge later in the evening. 

Another alternative is to spend a night in Ishasha and visit the park both in the morning and evening to optimise the possibilities of sighting the tree-climbing lions. 

Queen Elizabeth National Park can be visited as a weekend getaway from the city or as part of a longer Uganda safari plan.