Lonely Planet Writer

What has Uganda's famous tree-climbing lions roaming further from their natural habitat?

The famous tree-climbing lions of Africa are spreading much more widely across their natural habitat as they go in search of prey. Scientists studying the big cats in Uganda said that the “home ranges” of the animals are reaching much further than in previous decades.

Tree-climbing lions are making a comeback
Tree-climbing lion numbers on the rise across Africa. Image courtesy of Dr Andy Plumtre

New research looked at lions in the Queen Elizabeth National Park and compared how far the animals travel compared to a similar study back in the 1970s. The wandering habits of the climbing lions is thought to relate to a decrease in the amount of large prey for them to catch.

The tree-climbing lions of Uganda normally keep close to home with their ranges in the Ishasha region generally around 40 square kilometres. By comparison, lions in the Serengeti have ranges of 400 sq km. The study said that the smaller ranges of the tree-climbing lions was based on their dependence on the Ugandan kob, a type of antelope, for prey. Less kob for them to eat has meant smaller prides of lions and bigger ranges and fears over the long-term survival of the species.

Simon Nampindo of the Wildlife Conservation Society said: “The tree-climbing lions of Ishasha are an important ecotourism draw for the country, yet these big cats are starting to decline in number. “One way to ensure a future for lions in Uganda would be to invest in increasing prey density in Queen Elizabeth National Park while protecting the important grassland and open woodland habitat that the lions rely upon.”

While lions across Africa will occasionally climb trees, the big cats of Ishasha do it every single day. Why they climb is not known for certain, but it is thought to be a combination of the cool breeze above the hot ground and avoiding biting Tsetse flies.