(NYTIMES) - Visitors to Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda or Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania may see lions resting on horizontal branches above the ground, such as those of umbrella acacia thorn trees.
Other big predatory cats climb trees all the time. "Anatomically, leopards are just better built for climbing," said Dr Luke Hunter, executive director of the big cats programme of the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York City.
The enormous power of lions, he added, comes at the cost of agility.
Most lions do not climb trees. They live in prides and can defend their meals from other predators. Solitary leopards, though, must stash their kills somewhere safe.
In Zimbabwe, there are very few records of lions climbing trees, said conservation biologist Moreangels Mbizah, who works in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. "The only reason they would want to climb is if there is something on the ground that they're avoiding," she said.
After heavy rainfall in 1963, for example, a plague of Stomoxys biting flies drove lions up trees and down warthog burrows to escape.
Lions may also climb to avoid the heat and survey the landscape for prey, said Mr Joshua Mabonga, a carnivore research coordinator with the Uganda programme at the Wildlife Conservation Society.
In Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda, lions live in smaller prides than those in other habitats, and share the park with herds of buffaloes and elephants. When faced with a stampede, the lions escape into the trees.
Lion expert Dr Craig Packer, who oversaw the Serengeti Lion Project for some 35 years, said: "Lions climb trees to escape pests, whether they're as big as an elephant or as small as a stable fly."