Lion tracking in Queen Elizabeth national park 2022
Lion tracking in Queen Elizabeth national park 2022 : Lions are the largest animals in the cat family still existing in the African wilderness balancing the eco-system by maintaining the population of herbivores animals like elephants, Buffaloes and the different species of antelopes. Unfortunately, the overall population of lions in Africa has reduced over the years with about 25,000 individuals still living in the wild. The main cause of this massive reduction in number is due to human interference whereby the increased human population has seen lion territory reduce as more land is cleared for farming and settlement.
In Uganda, Lions can be found in Queen Elizabeth national park, Murchison Falls National Park, Kidepo national park and Lake Mburo national park. There are about 400 lions in Uganda and Queen Elizabeth national park has about 130 lions and its ranged as the most visited park in Uganda. Queen Elizabeth national park receives good rains and retains its scenic beauty for most parts of the year unlike the drier Maraa mara national park. The park also stands out because of its amazing landscape Maramagambo forest, Kazinga channel, craters and Kyambura gorge, birding population and wildlife especially the rare tree climbing lion which are one of the leading tourist attraction in Uganda.
About tree climbing lions
Tree climbing lions are very rare as most of the lions keep away from trees once they reach a certain size, except for safety when surrounded by a herd of buffalo. Tree climbing lions are only found found in the Ishasha sector of Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National park and Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park. However, lions have also been sighted climbing trees in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and Kruger National Park in South Africa although they are rare sightings. In Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth national park, large prides of lions can be spotted on a tree but tree climbing lions in Lake Manyara are more difficult to locate and finding them is not guaranteed.
Why do some lions climb trees?
Although lions prefer staying on the ground and leave tree climbing for their cubs, lions have deviated from usual behaviour and now can be seen lazing around acacia and fig trees in the early afternoon in Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth national park. Several theories that have been proposed to explain this unique behaviour of the tree climbing;
- Some believe that lions have a natural ability to climb trees since they are in the cate family therefore climbing trees should not be a surprise
- They have sharp claws. It’s also believed that the lions in Ishasha adapted their behaviour from countless generations of lion prides before them.
- Some lion researchers believe that the lions climb trees to avoid bites from pests and insects like Tse-tse flies and mosquitoes that live on lower ground.
- The researchers also believe the lions climb trees to escape the midday heat on the ground especially during the dry season. The leaves and tree branches offer a cool breeze and relief from the great afternoon heat.
- By climbing to the top of the fig and acacia trees, the lions can get uninterrupted rest while also monitoring their territories for prey and other their competitors like hyenas and leopards.
Tree climbing lions in Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth national park
The remote Ishasha plains are remarkably different from other sectors of Queen Elizabeth National Park. The plains consist of mainly savannah grasslands and riverine forests and a testament to the variety of attractions in Queen Elizabeth National Park that few visitors actually go to see the tree climbing lions of Ishasha. Most visitors to the park, visit the Mweya and Kasenyi plains for game viewing, boat cruises along the Kazinga channel, chimpanzee tracking in Kyambura Gorge or taking a nature walk in the Maramagambo forest, leaving Ishasha sector rarely visited since they are usually satisfied after spotting the common lion prides in the Kasenyi sector. A reason for the fewer visitors in Ishasha sector could be due to lack of information about the existence of these unique cats.
The tree climbing lions of Ishasha are in danger of extinction and the greatest threat to the lions is the community that lives close to the park. Of recent, about 11 lions were found dead as a result of poisoning and it is suspected that the lions were poisoned by pastoralists who had lost their domestic animals to the lions. The communities living near the park sometimes lead their animals into the park during the dry season in search of water and grass. Lions and other park animals also frequently wander outside park boundaries eventually coming into contact with human communities. The big cats find domestic animals very attractive and easier to catch especially during the dry season and when thrown out of the pride. When they lose an animal to the lions, some individuals within the communities have resorted to setting up traps/snares and poison for the big cats. The Uganda Wildlife Authority has tried hard to ensure that there is a harmonious relationship between the communities living near the park and the park animals. Uganda Wildlife Authority strives to ensure that the communities benefit economically from tourism through direct employment and giving back 20 percent of the money earned from tourism to the community. The park also compensates the locals whenever they lose their livestock to the lions and arranges for community sensitization meeting about the importance of the lions to the people and posterity. The Uganda Carnivore Project introduced lion tracking experience in Queen Elizabeth national park to help raise funds for lion conservation.
There are about 4 prides of lions living within the Ishasha plains despite the community threats of the lions, about 50 individuals are estimated to be living within the four main prides. At Ishasha sector, the lions love climbing the common acacia and large sycamore fig trees in the plains especially during the dry seasons and chances of spotting the tree climbing lions is very high. The park authorities monitor their movements and can easily track them on request. Visiting the tree climbing lions of Ishasha can be arranged alongside an overall Uganda safari tour of Queen Elizabeth national park and other nearby parks like Kibale national park and Bwindi impenetrable national park.
Once you spot a group of individuals in Ishasha sector, you will see them lazily lying resting on the trees as they look out at herds of grazing antelopes. The lions are not as responsive as leopards and you will probably spot some individuals struggling to balance as they climb or descend down the trees. On a good day it is possible to see up to 16 lions hanging on the same tree branches.
Other things to do within the Ishasha sector of the tree climbing lions
The Ishasha plains of Queen Elizabeth National Park are known for the tree climbing lions but there are several other activities that one can get involved in while there including;
Cultural Visits – While in Ishasha sector, one can request for a local Bakiga community tour. The Ishasha community uplift program introduced a tour opportunity for example one by a lady Agartha with her female friends share information about the Bakiga culture and way of life. You will be taken to local homesteads and individual huts to learn the local way of preparing meals (millet porridge, bananas). You can go with the women to their gardens and help harvest millet, grind it into flour and turn it into a ready meal. Agartha and her group of women will share with you what it means to be a wife among the Bakiga and how to take care of the husband. By the end of the tour you would have learnt a lot about the Bakiga culture and even tasted some of their potent local brew.
Game drive to see other animal species – The Ishasha plains are home to the Topi (type of antelope) Kobs, warthogs, buffaloes, elephants, baboons, leopards, other smaller antelopes and birds like the black coucal, compact weaver, herons and storks. You can arrange for a game drive to see some of the beautiful wildlife within the Ishasha sector. If you have more time to spare, you can decide to go for a game drive at the Kasenyi plains sector to see more lions, or the beautiful Kyambura gorge is for chimpanzee trekking or the Maramagambo forest for nature walks or take a boat trip on the Kazinga Chanel for one of the largest collection of wildlife and birds in the world.
How to access Ishasha sector for lion tracking activity
Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth national park can be accessed by both air and road. There is an airstrip in the park called Mweya airstrip offering visitors an opportunity to take a scheduled and charter flight from Entebbe international airport directly to the park. Travellers who wish to drive through Uganda’s countryside and tour the small towns leading to the park can take a car from Kampala or Entebbe to the park can access the park through Mbarara in a journey that takes about 6-7 hours. Visitors using the Kampala-Mbarara highway often use the Katunguru-Mweya route in the northern part of the park to get to Ishasha sector. This route is shorter however very unreliable during the wet season since the route is also used by heavy trucks that leave the road muddy and with potholes. Ishasha sector can also be accessed from Bwindi Impenetrable forest after mountain gorilla trekking in Bwindi impenetrable national park which is a journey of about 5 hours on the road.
It is possible to travel with a private vehicle but international visitors may need to hire a car or use the reliable services of a tour operator/company. The vehicle must be a 4X4 because the roads in this remote section of the park are not very good and can be dusty or muddy depending on the season of the year. The park authorities do their best to maintain the marram roads but heavy rains damage several sections of the road. However, visitors arranging their own safari need to hire a guide or move with a park ranger to help with choosing the right routes and locating the lions
The best time to visit Ishasha setor for tree climbing lions
Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park can be visited anytime throughout the year however the best time will be during the dry season of June, July and August is considered the peak season for tourists in Uganda. This season is perfect for a Uganda safari because the park is less muddy and the lions are easier to locate. The months of April, May, October and November are the rainy seasons and are more ideal for bird-watching experience