Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Tree Climbing Lions of Ishasha

There is an area by Queen Elizabeth Park (SW) known as Ishasha Plains. It's not clear to me whether it's actually a part of Queen Elizabeth or a separate park/reserve, but in any event, it's some sort of protected area in Uganda. We drove through it on the way to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, but my story got a little out of order in the retelling. I can't skip the lions of Ishasha, however, and so I have to back up and tell you about them.

On the way to Bwindi we drove through Ishasha looking for lions, which are known in the area to climb fig trees. Being big cats, all lions can climb trees, but they don't always do it. Some say the acacia trees in most areas can't hold their weight and have uncomfortable thorns, so lions don't climb them. Some say it's a learned habit or behavior, so in some areas lions have developed the habit of doing it and teach their offspring, and in other areas they don't. In any event, in Ishasha the lions climb trees. That being said, it's surprisingly hard to spot a lion up a tree - the foliage covers them and it's not easy. Without our guide I would never have seen them. He saw a tan spot in a tree and from a distance we saw them. He also said a few months ago researchers had collared the large male (requiring darting) and that the lion wa darted while in the tree. This caused the whole lion pride to stop climbing trees for about two months, but they were getting over it, lucky for us.

It was just after lunch - we'd had lunch on the banks of a river, on the Uganda side - across the river was Congo. I was closer to Congo than I'd planned to get - I could have tossed a rock into Congo. Interestingly, for a time it was raining in Congo and not Uganda. Then the rain crossed the border and we had a little downpour - our first rain of the rainy season, well into the trip. It lasted 10 minutes or less and then things were sunny. After a rain, cats tend to move, so we were extra vigilant to try and catch sight of some. (Fresh leopard tracks, but no leopard!)

We tried to drive closer to the tree the lion was in, and encountered a large female and large male on the ground, having left the tree. We were all watching them for a few minutes, when the guide said turn around and RIGHT ABOVE ME was a lion, up a tree. Wow!!! Then I looked closer - two lions! Wait - three lions! Yep, three well-camouflaged young male brothers all in the same tree. I got two in one photo a few times, and a few shots are posted above. It was great fun to watch them climbing around, balancing, and just looking over the plains, even just napping up the tree. It would have been cool to catch all 5 up the tree, but 3 was very fulfilling!!!

It was a nice thing to see, and I loved being near lions again (one of my favorites!) It's a great place to visit on the way to Bwindi. There was also a neat feeling of looking UP to see a lion looking DOWN at you. Yes, you feel like prey...and you are...but the lion is not going to bother you since you are in a vehicle, and it would be a long jump down anyway. It's a neat feeling.

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