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Uganda’s famous tree-​climbing lions roam­ing far­ther as prey ani­mals decrease

pub­lished 14 May 2017 | mod­i­fied 14 May 2017

Lions in Uganda’s Queen Eliz­a­beth National Park have fewer prey and smaller pride sizes as a result. Pro­tect­ing prey ani­mals for lions and their habi­tat nec­es­sary steps is safe­guard­ing these big cats in perpetuity.

Sci­en­tists in Uganda study­ing the behav­iours of the country’s famous tree-​climbing lions have found that the home ranges of lion prides in the study areas have increased over time as they search far­ther for dimin­ish­ing num­bers of prey animals.

African Lion behind bushes in UgandaAn African lion behind bushes.
Credit: ©Julie Larsen Maher/​WCS.

In the study, researchers com­pared recent data on the home ranges of lions liv­ing in Uganda’s Ishasha dis­trict with sim­i­lar research from the 1970s to mea­sure changes in home range size over time. They dis­cov­ered the region’s lion pop­u­la­tions have responded to an over­all decrease in prey bio­mass with smaller pride sizes and larger home ranges, pre­sum­ably to com­pen­sate for fewer ani­mals to feed on.

The study enti­tled “Home ranges of Ishasha lions: size and loca­tion in rela­tion to habi­tat and prey avail­abil­ity” appears in a full-​colour edi­tion of the Jour­nal of East African Nat­ural His­tory that com­mem­o­rates the 80th birth­day of Jonathan King­don, famed zool­o­gist and illus­tra­tor of the wildlife of Africa.

Over­all, the home range sizes of Africa lions in Ishasha dis­trict — an area located in Queen Eliz­a­beth National Park — are smaller in size (between 35 and 43 km2) than the ranges of lions in places such as Serengeti National Park, where lion home ranges can extend up to 400 km2.

The smaller ranges of the tree-​climbing lions, along with their pref­er­ence for grass­land and wooded grass­land habi­tat are related to their depen­dence on their main prey species, the Ugan­dan kob. Aver­ag­ing slightly over 100 pounds, Ugan­dan kob are known for their dis­tinc­tive lekking behav­iour, with males stak­ing out prime patches of ter­ri­tory to attract females.

The smaller lion pride size due to fewer prey num­bers likely has another impact on the abil­ity of lions to hunt larger, more chal­leng­ing prey. One such prey species is the Cape buf­falo. Whereas lions in other areas often prey on buf­falo, one of the larger prey species for lions, the big cats in Ishasha tended to avoid buf­falo, prob­a­bly as a result of fewer lions in each pride to help bring the big her­bi­vores down.

The tree-​climbing lions of Ishasha are an impor­tant eco­tourism draw for the coun­try, yet these big cats are start­ing to decline in num­ber,” said Simon Nampindo, Direc­tor of Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Society’s Uganda Pro­gram. “One way to ensure a future for lions in Uganda would be to invest in increas­ing prey den­sity in Queen Eliz­a­beth National Park while pro­tect­ing the impor­tant grass­land and open wood­land habi­tat that the lions rely upon.”

(Source: Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety news release, 11.05.2017)

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