The Tree Climbing Lions Of Ishasha Wilderness Plains – Queen Elizabeth National Park

March 15, 2022
News Journeys Uganda

This remote section of the prowling savannas is famous for the tree climbing lions and attractive wilderness not to mention the alluring birds.

Inside Uganda’s most popular, second largest and most diverse National Park: Queen Elizabeth, is a remote section in the south which is a hidden secret yet one of nature’s greatest and amazing adaptations. In the large caldera tress that dominate the biggest part of the ishasha sector lay huge lions in the hanging branches chilling away. This is possibly the most remote part of the park and not really visited by many. The plains lie approximately 90km from the main gate way at the center of the park at Mweya

Due to its remoteness and distance from the heart of the rest of the park, this part of po   is barely explored except for the occasional visitors that go through on their way to a Gorilla trekking experience in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. However in the acacias, figs, Albyssia and numerous trees that dot these savannah plains live plentiful animals of course the climbing ‘King of the Jungle’ being the dominant attraction. There are however other big cats like the leopard. Another motivational factor for the carnivores is the large population and variety of Antelopes, herds of Cape Buffaloes, African Elephants among other wild game and the only member of the big five you will not find here is the Rhino. There are over thirty tree climbing lions in this area and still growing steadily from one generation to another.

It is a common occurrence for the lion cabs to occasionally climb trees playfully and rather uncommon for the adult lions mostly the males to climb trees, this is what makes the prides of the Ishasha in Queen Elizabeth National Park exceptionally special, there have been rare occasions of them in the northern part of the park as we find some in the Cactus trees and also in acacias of Murchison Falls and the rocks of Kidepo Valley National Parks with some reports in Manyara and the Serengetis of Tanzania, but the Ishasha sector still remains unique as the blend of the fig trees and lions portrays a great vagary of nature.

Why lions of Uganda Ishasha sector in Queen Elizabeth National Park climb

It is believed that they have specially adapted this skill to escape the biting and irritating ants and other insects that are pertinent in making the Ishasha eco system unique.  Other theories suggest they creep up in trees as a mechanism to pounce on unsuspecting prey that shares these savannas as the trees are a spectacular camouflage and offer them an advantage over the prey since they act as vintage points. And others suggest they are escaping the heat from the ground as the branches offer a cooler environment, however there is no clear accountability for this behavior and is  subject to debate and speculation because limited research has been done on the tree climbing lion and this unexplainable behavior which becomes an adaptation from generation to generation.

On an occasional visit to the park you may encounter the irksome creatures lying lazily in the fig or acacia trees mostly sleeping off the afternoon heat and normally descend the trees before dusk, lions are sleepy heads and could spend about 18 hours doing it. Although you may encounter these peculiar behaving creatures all year round others argue that it is more easy to see tree climbing lions during the rainy seasons, however given the proven experience of our young, energetic plus enthusiastic guides, these lions can be found almost all year round, the guiding joke has always been that at times they make regular visits to the Congo and that can make then be missed once they choose to change borders and have lunch over the other side! The best time for them to climb is mostly in the afternoon heat as the favorable smooth branched figs provide cool shades and resting places for them.

Other attractions in the Ishasha sector other than tree climbing lions

The kings of the jungle do not reign in this land alone lest they need subjects to serve them thus the hunted live with the hunters without choice.  A number of Antelopes mostly the Uganda Kob, Topi and Bushbuck, Cape buffaloes, some elephants dotted this seemingly isolated savannah land and it doesn’t go without mentioning the sweet melodious birds that share the trees with the king for his amusement like the Africa-cuckoo Hawk, many Eagles including the Martial, Flappet Lark, Western Banded, Bateleur, White-backed, White Headed, Hooded, White-headed Barbet, Yellow Fronted Tinkerbird, Brubru, Lappet, Rufous-naped, Red-capped and reports of the Dusky Lark, Faced and Ruppell’s Griffon Vultures, Common Scimiterbill, Green-wood Hoopea, Fawn-breasted, Crimson-rumped, common and Zebra Waxbill, best sight for the Stout Cisticola Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Gabar Goshawk and many more.

So, the next time you are on a Uganda safari and you find yourself in Queen Elizabeth national park, on a foot patrol remember climbing a tree is no escape route or hiding place for you from the lions just in case they charge at you instead it is dinner served on a silver platter for the lions of the ishasha plains.

The tree climbing lions are not the only thing that one can experience while in the Ishasha section of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Travellers can also have a cultural encounter with the local Bakiga culture as part of the initiative to support communities living in and around the national park. A visit to the local community homesteads can be arranged, where you will learn more about there day to day lively hood and culture including their food, the local beer and also probably help harvest their vegetables or even engage in dancing and singing.

Where to stay near the tree climbing lions

While you are visiting the ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park there is no need to worry about where to stay as the area has a variety of accommodation facilities to choose from which include but are not limited to the Savanna Lodge which has a golf course nearby and Airstrip near the Kihihi town, Ishasha Ntungwe River Camp, Njojo lodge named after the elephants that drink in the watering hall close to the lodge , the Luxury and comfortable Ishasha Wilderness Camp located strategically on the Ishasha river, Ishasha Jungle Lodge among others, the sector is also about 3 hours of driving from the main Park headquarters so some clients prefer to stay there and start early for the Ishasha drive with a picnic lunch and spend the entire day there.

How to get to the tree climbing lions

In spite of the remoteness of the Ishasha sector, it is accessible by road and by air. By air you can catch a chartered flight or take one of the scheduled flights at either Entebbe international airport or Kajjansi airstrip.   It can also be reached by road from Kampala and it is approximately 410km and a 6-7hours drive. The ishasha sector can also be accessed from Bwindi impenetrable forest National Park and is a major stopover as many outside the world of tree climbing lions want to prove for themselves by searching out for them here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.