Serengeti’s tree climbing Lions

Serengeti is known for its tree climbing Lions. On the open plains of the Serengeti, the trees are not in groves but are scattered around, with belts of trees and bushes on the fringes of the open plains.  The Balanites and Sausage trees seem to be preferred by the Lions.

“Every living thing is a masterpiece, written by nature and edited by evolution.”

~ Neil Degrasse Tyson

There are apparently four prime reasons for Lions climbing trees in this area. The first is that they are likely to catch any passing breeze higher in a tree rather than lying in the grass. Secondly, they have a good visual of the surrounding area and can see game approaching from afar. Thirdly, seemingly the tsetse flies due not bother them as much up in the trees. Finally, the Lionesses can get away from the cubs and get some peace.


After her stretch this Lioness walked down to the dam for a drink and was inevitably joined by a cub.


This female was not impressed with the cubs. She literally walked right over this cub.


“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

~ Khalil Gibran
The irritated Lioness walked away from the pride to a tree about forty metres away. First things first – she sharpened her claws to ensure her grip on the tree trunk she was about to climb. Looking at the muscular shoulders of this Lioness, she was one really powerful cat.


“Your mind is your best camera . . . Go out and take some beautiful pictures.”
~ Daryl Ryman

It is quite clear that Lions are not built for climbing trees due to their bulk. This Lioness, rippling with muscle, used all her strength to get into the tree. It also helps when you have grappling hooks on your feet.


Once in the tree she seemed to visibly relax and after a while looked quite content.


“Life is really simple but we insist on making it complicated.”

~ Confucius

After  a decent break the Lioness decided to come down the tree – head first. She was still suckling her cubs so there must have been a call or sound that we did not hear which motivated her to come down. She walked straight over to her cubs and they started to suckle.


The next day we returned to the dam where we had found the pride from the previous day. They had moved some way from the dam but were still within easy walking distance of it. On this occasion our timing was good as we watched a number of the lionesses climb a tree in what looked to be an effort to get away from the constant demands of their cubs. One by one the Lionesses climbed the tree.

“If you desire to see, learn how to act.”
~ Heinz von Foerster


Some of the older cubs decided to follow their mothers to the tree and watched as they climbed the tree.


Each Lioness sharpened her claws on the trees trunk before climbing. This very young cub was mimicking its mother but had no chance of getting up the tree trunk

“We do not remember days, we remember moments.”

~ Cesare Pavese

 Peace at last. The Lionesses looked suitably relaxed and seemed to mould their bodies along the shape of the branches.


Lions are big and bulky so do not have the grace and ease of a Leopard in a tree. Watching these lions 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. 


Once up, they seemed to be quite comfortable.

“Learn to see, and then you’ll know that there is no end to the new worlds of our vision.”
~ Carlos Castaneda


The Lionesses could watch the cubs from above with out being constantly pestered by them or the flies.


Lion wind chimes!?!


This Lioness does not look comfortable but she lay in this position for over half an hour.


This Lioness looked reluctant to go down the tree to her calling cubs, knowing only too well that their needle-like teeth would latch onto her already tender nipples.


Some trees offer better shade and even camouflage. Comfort is a relative concept in the bush.


Peace does not last long. One of the older cubs decided to copy the adults and managed to get up the tree, then a second cub followed but only two were able to get up the tree trunk. The adults did not afford them any special place once in  the tree. They had to find their own spot.

“We never see anything completely. We never see a tree, we see the tree through the image that we have of it, the concept of that tree; but the concept, the knowledge, the experience, is entirely different from the actual tree.”
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti


Once up the tree the cub blended in well with the well feed adults.


One of the two cubs  managed to climb the tree. They were afforded no special positions in the tree.


Not comfortable with its position and no where to lie.

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

~ Buddha

It does not look comfortable but this Lion remained in the same spot for an hour and was still there when we left.


Every now and then a Lioness would descend the tree to go and attend to her cubs.


“One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure.”

~ William Feather
Descending the tree was always face first but there was no jumping from great heights.


Slowly the mothering instinct took over and one by one the Lionesses descended the tree to attend to their calling cubs.


Climbing trees is unusual behaviour for most Lion prides, though 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. Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

“Life just seems so full of connections. Most of the time we don’t even pay attention to the depth of life. We only see flat surfaces.”
~ Colin Neenan

Have fun,


6 thoughts on “Serengeti’s tree climbing Lions

  1. Hi Mike, stunning images again! We also found tree climbing lions in Queen Elizabeth NP, Uganda. There they favoured a specific wild fig tree, we saw a huge pride in one such tree.

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