Picture it: you’re sitting in your 4×4 witnessing some of Africa’s most majestic wildlife when you come across a pride of lions reclining on the branches of an acacia tree. Don’t worry, you haven’t spent too much time in the midday sun, tree-climbing lions are becoming an increasingly common sight on a Tanzania safari. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the other African animals you can expect to see above your head.
For a while, it was thought that tree climbing lions were native to Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park, but it seems they are not as rare as initially thought. Tree climbing lions have now been spotted everywhere from the Serengeti National Park to South Africa’s Kruger National Park, with sightings also reported in Botswana and Uganda. Unlike leopards, whose powerful muscles and svelte form make them natural tree climbers, lions are bulky and less agile, making them unlikely climbers!
Lions are sometimes seen lounging on the branches of acacia and sausage trees – known for their wide, supportive branches. However, most lions don’t usually venture too far up the branches of these trees, choosing instead to stick to the more supportive lower branches.
They want to be high enough off the ground to catch a breeze on a hot day, but not high enough to fall and hurt themselves. The more adventure-seeking lions have been spotted relaxing 15 feet up a sausage tree in the Serengeti!
No one knows for sure why lions climb trees. It could be that they like being up high as it gives them a better vantage point to spot potential prey. Another reason would be to avoid something that could cause them harm on the ground such as elephant, buffalo, or blood-sucking tsetse flies.
As with most mammals, lions learn how to behave by watching their parents. They learn social skills, how to hunt and in the case of tree-climbing lions, how to scale a tree. Unlike other big cats such as leopards, lions never eat in trees, preferring to feast on the ground. Leopards, who are much more evolved to climb, will take their pray to higher ground in order to hide it from thieving lions and hyenas.
But after lions, which other African animals climb trees?
Yes, leopards absolutely climb trees. In fact, they tend to take their kills and stash them in trees. By dragging what they’ve caught up into the branches, they protect their food from scavengers and other predators that might come and steal their precious catch. Hyenas in particular are responsible for a lot of theft from leopards.
Leopards’ bodies are built for climbing – they have powerful back legs that can propel them into high places, heavily-muscled backs, and strong claws that easily dig into tree bark. They also have a low centre of gravity, and relatively compact body size, both of which help them keep balanced. This means they can climb a lot higher than even the most adventurous tree-climbing lions.
Cheetahs are not natural climbers. Cubs can, and do, clamber up the trunks of trees, but they tend to stay close to the ground.
Cheetahs are unusual for big cats, in the fact that their claws do not retract – much more like dog claws than cat. This limits their tree-climbing abilities. Added to that, they may be lithe and extremely fast, but their muscles are built for speed rather than climbing.
Poor old hyenas are yet to master scaling the trees in Africa’s national parks. A hyena’s body is made for endurance running, and it doesn’t have the agility or power needed to climb a tree. Great news for leopards who don’t want to share their prey, but not so good for the hungry hyenas who have to wait at the bottom of the tree hoping for the leopards to drops some morsels and scraps.
Africa is home to some of the most stunning animals in the world – tree-climbing or otherwise. Get in touch with us today and we can help design and plan your perfect wildlife safari.