Do ‘tree climbing lions’ exist? They are said to, apparently only in two places, the Ishasha sector of Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park and Tanzania. Having had good sightings of lions on the ground in the north of the park, our optimism was high, and we had both morning and afternoon game drives to increase our chances.
The reason the lions climb trees is thought to be to protect themselves from the constant irritation of insect bites while lazing on the ground, and it’s a way of escaping the sweltering heat whilst having an excellent vantage view of potential prey.
The sector has two routes: the south circuit and the north circuit, and during our drives, we got to recognise the various landmarks in both. On arrival, we’d checked with the rangers at the gate, but were told there had been no recent sightings although there was some talk of a mother and two cubs ‘near the community’ whatever that meant.
Every time we passed a vehicle, we checked and became familiar with the word ‘hakuna’ – the Swahili word for nothing.
There was a variety of terrain: narrow tracks with tall bushes, flat plains, areas that had been burned, acacia trees and also the sycamore fig which the lions favour because of their strong branches.
On our travels, we passed lots of round thatched huts belonging to an army detachment and visited two small campsites on the banks of the narrow Ishasha River, which separates Uganda from Congo, where hippo were wallowing in the shallow waters.
Other sightings included a herd and single elephants, two large herds of buffalo, warthog, lots of topi and Ugandan cob, a huge troop of baboons and vervet monkey.
Birdlife was also prevalent and included an open billed stork (it does have an open bill), the black headed gonolek, the Verraux Eagle Owl chick and mother with their distinctive pink eyelids and big eyes, and a juvenile fish eagle.
We did a good turn, stopping to help a broken-down vehicle. Whilst the drivers were busy under the bonnet, a spotted hyena walked down the track towards us and crossed directly in front of our jeep. Having got started again, we later spotted the couple who were staying at the very upmarket Ishasha Wilderness Camp, enjoying a
splendid al fresco breakfast overlooking the gorge. Sadly they didn’t invite us to share their scrambled eggs.
We reluctantly gave up on finding Uganda’s tree climbing lions. Whilst we were on game drives within another part of Queen Elizabeth National Park, we came across a BBC filming unit who were said to be filming the tree climbing lions for a programme to be broadcast in February 2023. Perhaps we might get to see them after all.