Image: Cody Pope, Wikimedia Commons

One of only two groups of rare lions that climb trees on a daily basis is being forced outside its normal range to hunt for prey.

This population resides in Queen Elizabeth National Park in the Ishasha area of Uganda. These lions climb trees to escape the heat and the bugs. They are a popular tourist attraction.

Recent studies show that poaching has reduced the number of prey usually available in their home range area, forcing the lions to travel further to hunt for food.

Poaching in the park has slashed the total weight of prey animals for the lions, like antelope, down from 50,700 lbs. per 0.6 square miles in the 1970s to just 17,750 lbs. per 0.6 square miles today, Live Science reports.

Image: Fanny Schertzer, Wikimedia Commons

The Ishasha lions prefer to feed on Uganda kob, a type of antelope endemic to sub-Saharan Africa. The reduced density of prey in their native woodland habitats has attributed to a decrease in pride size.

Data collected from lions radio collared between 2005 and 2010 allowed researchers to calculate average range size to be between 13 and 15 square miles, which is extremely small for lions when compared to their Serengeti relatives.

A decreasing density of prey, smaller pride sizes, and small normal range territories serve as indicators for the increased level of conservation needed to continue to protect these revered animals.

“The tree-climbing lions of Ishasha are an important ecotourism draw for the country, yet these big cats are starting to decline in number,” stated Simon Nampindo, Director of WCS’s Uganda Program, to “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.”