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13 Jul, 2024
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Nairobi’s Climbing Lions- Article by Gareth Jones

Climbing Lions Of The Nairobi National Park

On a cloudy Saturday afternoon as I drove through the park, in the valley below No5 junction, a group of giraffe caught my attention. The giraffes were all standing still and looking in the same direction for quite some time. As it was quite far, I looked through my binoculars and scanned the area across the valley. After a short while, a lioness came into my view walking up the hill, so I drove to that area and found her in the road, then watched as she moved into the long grass. Thinking that the lioness could possibly cross the next road near No19 junction, I drove around to position myself for a photograph.

Then as I looked, no lioness? Funny that she just disappeared like that? Then I looked across the grassy plain and then behind me, and suddenly saw that she had turned around and was actually in the act of climbing a big acacia tree near the opposite road not far from No19 junction. So I drove around to that road and watched as she climbed about 7 metres up into the tree, and stayed there for more than 2 hours, as she seemingly enjoyed the view. It is very unusual to see lions climbing trees anywhere, most people hear about such things in Lake Manyara (Tanzania) or Ishasha (Uganda), but Wow! this is Nairobi National Park!

Over a period of many years, I have seen lions climbing trees on quite a number of occasions, one other memorable sighting in December 2019 was watching almost the entire Kingfisher pride climb the trees in the picnic site. One of the lions actually jumped off a high branch at least 5 metres up and landed safely.

(An extract from my diary in October 2012) Driving through the park on a Saturday afternoon I suddenly noticed a lioness walking towards the lone tree, after arriving at the tree, she amazingly actually climbed up the small tree and then proceeded to give low roaring calls, within minutes two large cubs came running through the grass and stopped below the tree as if to say “Hi Mom, have you seen dinner yet ?”. It is rare to see lions up trees, and especially up a tree, like the lone tree, yet amazingly over a period of about 10 years I have personally seen lions up this tree on two occasions, the other incident involved a young lion climbing up and then his mother standing on her hind legs as if trying to get him to come down .….. The history of the park and this particular tree is interesting, the area at one time was an open wild area, and during the 2nd World War was used by the RAF for target bombing, legend has it that a shell landed at the tree site and killed some lions, and it is strange that to this day lions still often frequent to the area around this tree. The tree that used to stand near no5 junction was is a replacement of the original tree but fell down a few years ago.

It has often been asked why lions occasionally climb trees? When it’s not really possible to interview any of them as we have a “slight language problem!”. So from a human point of view, those who study lions believe that some of the main reasons for climbing up trees or onto platforms above ground level are as follows 1) To view potential prey from a vantage point, 2) to avoid the heat and enjoy a cooler condition higher up, 3) to avoid irritating insects like biting flies, 4) to avoid an immediate urgent threat on the ground level, like escaping from a herd of buffalo, 5) Avoiding wet grass after heavy rains.

It should also be noted that lions are actually not agile tree climbers, and can look quite clumsy at times, especially when trying to climb down. It is also normally much younger lions and lionesses that do the climbing. The large heavy pride males are very limited in their ability to do any form of “catrobatic” stunts.

So maybe next time you visit the Nairobi National Park, hopefully, you will see Nairobi’s climbing lions, either up trees or on junction signs! It’s a wonderful adventure to explore the wonders of God’s creation.


Gareth Jones – Nairobi Park Diary – A passionate writer & photographer

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