On a beautiful early morning game drive, just after sun rise, my guests and I came across a pride of lions:  three adult females and five young cubs about a year old.  They were sleeping, as is often the case with lions.

While we sat watching them, one of the adult females started walking around giving low pitched calls – ‘time to wake-up’ she seemed to be saying. Soon they were all on the move following the female as she made her way through the bush.  The cubs became very playful as they walked.

We continued to follow them until they stopped at a beautiful Marula tree.  One of the cubs immediately started to climb the tree, but did not quite make it up.  The next cub however gave it a bash and soon reached the top where he lay and surveyed his kingdom – which was our vehicle and the rest of the pride.

The adult female must have felt left out, or concerned for her son, because she too decided to jump up the tree.  The huge female managed to climb over her son – only to find herself, and her cub, in a tight spot. They both seemed to be stuck up the tree.  As we watched this encounter unfold we knew something funny was about to happen.

After a quick rest to gain strength (and possibly think about a plan of action), the large female made her move.  She started making her way out of the tree very carefully until she reached ground zero. For an experienced female, she managed to get herself out of trouble quite easily.  Watching mom climb down motivated the cub to follow suit, but it was not as easy as mom made it look.

He tried and tried, but could not get down.  The brave king of the tree was soon reduced to yelping like a baby.  Finally, he lost his grip and tumbled out the tree quite unceremoniously!

Now lions have been known to climb trees, contrary to what many people think.  They are extremely large and it is sometimes hard for them to balance – but they can climb – they are just rather clumsy about it.  They are certainly not as dexterous as leopards, who are true tree masters.

This was an incredible sighting for us to witness – also a rather amusing one.  For the cub, the lesson is to remember that getting up a tree is tricky enough, but it is getting down that tests the true courage of a lion.


Kapama Karula

Gregory Heasman