It used to be Lake Manyara National Park that was famous for its tree climbing lions. However, more recently it seems to be a common sight in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park to see lions climbing trees.
A number of destinations have indeed reported sightings of tree climbing lions, including Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park, Botswana’s Savuti region, and South Africa’s Kruger National Park with the Vurhami pride of tree climbing lions in the far south of the park near Crocodile Bridge.
It now appears as if tree climbing lions are not as rare and unusual as was initially thought, and there are increasingly more reports from various game reserves of lions climbing trees. But the question remains – do all lions do this or only some prides?
While climbing trees is unusual behaviour for most lion prides, it seems to be fairly common and repeated behaviour among specific prides. This may indicate that there is a measure of behavioural learning that occurs. Young lions see older lions climb trees and copy the behaviour so the habit remains in that pride. And like any skill, the more that they do it, the more adept and confident they become.
Some believe that lions opt to climb trees to get a better view, while others believe it is so that they can catch a bit of a cool breeze on a hot day or get away from tsetse flies and other nasties that may bite them at ground level.
But perhaps they just climb trees for fun…
Whatever their motivation, watching these lions carefully and gingerly move about among the branches highlights their lack of natural tree climbing ability. Their awkward hesitance contrasts sharply with the agility and ease of a leopard’s movements in trees.
Lions are just not built to climb trees. But clearly someone forgot to inform the lions of the Serengeti about that fact as we encountered three different sightings of lions lounging lazily in trees in the space of just two days.