Located about 450 kilometres south west of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, in the Western Rift Valley, the Ishasha sector of the famous Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda’s sole habitat of climbing lions.

While the rest of the game park is predominantly savannah grassland, Ishasha has the vegetation pattern of a tropical rainforest. This is most probably why the climbing lions make their home here.

Because of the peculiarity of these wild cats, the National Geographic Traveler magazine gave Queen Elizabeth National Park the nod as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. The park certainly is one of the continent’s lesser-known gems.

Ishasha lions
Elephant populations are also feature mostly in the Ishasha Sector – Photo by Alex Taremwa

As Uganda’s most visited national park, Queen Elizabeth as a whole is a “wonder” but it is the spectacle of the Ishasha climbing lions that earned the park its rightful place as one of Africa’s destination greats.

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Joseph Byamukama, CEO of Adventure Kama Safaris, a travel and tour company in East Africa, told TIA that he was compelled to add the Ishasha sector to his itinerary because his clients were most interested in seeing the “king of the jungle” casually resting on a tree branch rather than lazing around on the ground as usual.

“This park has hundreds of lions, but most of them don’t climb,” he said. “There is something about the Ishasha lions that makes them special and ‘superior’. Only a few places in the world can boast of this lion species.”

Byamukama is referring not only to the lions’ unusual behaviour but also to their physical characteristics, which differ somewhat from other prides across the continent. The male climbing lions have black manes – locks unlike those of their counterparts.

The spectacle of the Ishasha climbing lions earned the park its rightful place as one of Africa’s destination greats.

 

A lion snoring away in one of the trees in Ishasha Sector, part of Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. Photo by Alex Taremwa

According to the park’s website, the lions mostly ascend the trees in the afternoon, especially on extremely sunny days, probably to escape the vigorous sting of the tropical tsetse fly.

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In Africa, there are only two known climbing-lion habitats: Ishasha in Uganda and Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania. However, reports indicate that sightings of climbing lions in a few other national parks are on the increase.

The climbing lions of Ishasha live alongside other wildlife that add to travellers’ delight: elephant, buffalo, various antelope species, and warthog. This is indeed a destination that earns its place on every discerning traveller’s bucket list.

The Uganda Kob is one of the other wildlife that are most common in the Ishasha Sector. Photo by Alex Taremwa