Caturday felid: Why don’t lions climb trees?; cat butt pencil sharpener; refugee cats from Ukraine

March 12, 2022 • 11:00 am

Today will be a short Caturday Felid post as I’m afloat and also lecturing. First, the answer to the question we’re all asking.

Note that the question is “Why don’t ALL lions climb trees?”, not “Why don’t lions climb trees?”, because some lions do climb trees—just not many of them.  Here’s a photo from that NYT Trilobites article by Anthony Ham showing the lions as low-hanging felids:

From the NYT: Lions in an acacia tree in Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania.Credit…Daniel Rosengren

Well, the answer is simply: they’re a lot more powerful and heavy than, for example, leopards. While they can get up okay, they could hurt themselves trying to get down:

Other big predatory cats climb trees all the time. “Anatomically, leopards are just better built for climbing,” said Luke Hunter, executive director of the big cats program of the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York City. “They’re lighter, and a leopard’s scapula, their shoulder blades, are proportionally bigger, flatter and more concave than a lion’s.

“Lions, on the other hand, are built with enormously powerful forequarters, and a very, very stiff back,” he continued. “That’s for wrestling heavyweight prey, such as a buffalo, to the ground.” Their enormous power, he added, “comes at the cost of the agility and the vertical power that a leopard has in being able to whip up a tree with an impala.”

But there are other reasons as well. When I saw the headline, my first response was “they don’t need to to spot prey or stash their kills, for, unlike leopards and cheetahs, lions are social animals.” And that’s part of the explanation as well:

Most lions also have little need to climb trees. They are social and live in prides and can generally defend their meals from other predators. Solitary leopards must stash their kills somewhere safe and would, according to one study, lose more than one-third of their kills to hyenas if they were unable to hoist their captured prey up a tree.

And in some areas the lions do climb: if the trees are of the right sort with low, horizontal branches, or where they’re tormented by ground-level biting flies or when fleeing elephants.

Now here’s my question, “Do cheetahs climb trees? And if not, why not?” I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cheetah up in a tree in photos or videos, but I can’t be arsed to look on Google image. Ten to one you’ll find at least one, but cheetahs simply aren’t known for being up in trees the way leopards are.

Googling around, you get a variety of answers ranging from “Sure, they’re good climbers” to, very often, “No; they can’t climb trees because they can’t retract their claws.” And it is true that cheetahs are one of only three cat species that can’t completely retract their claws, but it seems to me that this wouldn’t put them at a disadvantage when climbing trees. You want to use your claws to get up a tree! I swear, you can find any answer you want on the Internet.

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From OddityMall, there’s a gift that every cat lover must have. Cat haters will also like this, as you get to poke the cat in the butt with a pencil. Click on the screenshot to see more or to buy one:

We like to pride ourselves on having the best selection of weird butt products. If you’re looking to pull something out of a dog or cat butt, like tissue paper, toilet paper, or maybe rest your drink on a cat butt coaster, you’ve come to the right place. This cat butt pencil sharpener, is just another weapon in our arsenal.

To use the cat butt pencil sharpener just insert your pencil and twist like you would any normal pencil sharpener, and then best of all, the cat meows as you sharpen. This way you’ll know the cat is enjoying having a pencil jammed up and twisted into its butt. Either that or it’s meowing in protest of having something jammed up its butt without their consent.

It also comes in white:

Sadly, it’s out of stock at Amazon US and Amazon UK. In fact, if you can find it for sale, post the link in the comments. Why wouldn’t every cat lover want one of these?

A video of its use, which I haven’t seen as we can’t watch YouTube videos on the ship.

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Finally, refugee cats (or rather, refugee staff with their cats) from Ukraine, and you’re probably seen many similar photos. How could you leave home without your beloved moggie? Here are just a couple.

From the Atlantic. Reader Malcolm’s caption: “A Ukrainian civilian takes shelter with a cat in their backpack at the Przemysl train station, 20 kilometres from the Ukrainian border, in Przemysl, Poland, on February 28, 2022. -Interesting picture via The Atlantic”

Another:

And a few more:

h/t: Malcolm

14 thoughts on “Caturday felid: Why don’t lions climb trees?; cat butt pencil sharpener; refugee cats from Ukraine

  1. I would take that girl and cat into my house in a heartbeat. A sweet teenager all alone in a dangerous situation still bringing along her pet cat through god even knows what situations! I think that’s just incredible; how brave both of them are and how lucky! Also, how terrible is that those two are in this situation to start with? I am so glad she and the cat are safe. The poor little sweethearts.

  2. According to Richard Despard Estes, “An actively hunting cheetah walks along alertly, utilizing termite mounds and trees with low branches from which to spot potential prey”. (Richard D. Estes, “Cats – Family Felidae” in The Behavior Guide to African Mammals including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates (1991) University of California Press, pg. 379.)

    I’m not sure how reliable the source is, but I see that the book’s Foreword is by the late E O Wilson. There’s a low-quality pdf of the Cats section available for download here:
    http://www.catsg.org/cheetah/05_library/5_3_publications/E/Estes_1991_Felidae.pdf#page=30

  3. Oops! the second was doing more or less the same but a leopard with a kill and they both fell out of the tree! The leopard scampered after hitting the ground.

  4. “cheetahs are one of only three cat species that can’t completely retract their claws, but it seems to me that this wouldn’t put them at a disadvantage when climbing trees. You want to use your claws to get up a tree!”

    The point of the claws not being retractable is that they get worn down to the point of resembling dog paws and therefore become too blunt to climb trees. When I was in Africa years ago and witnessed cheetahs, our guide told us that because their claws are dull, cheetahs can’t bring down a prey unless it tries to run away. The cheetah outruns the prey and trips it so that, on the ground, the prey is vulnerable. Not sure how accurate this is; you’d think that after a while the prey would learn to just stand its ground.

    1. I guess the cheetahs go after the slow learners. There must be a bell curve in every generation that the cheetahs can’t quite chop the left tail off of. Maybe the slow learners were football stars in high school and had good mating success.

      Or if you were a slow learner but a really really fast runner, you could still survive by running. After all, you don’t have to outrun the cheetah. You just have to outrun at least one other gazelle.

  5. “my first response was “they don’t need to to spot prey or stash their kills, for, unlike leopards and cheetahs, lions are social animals.” And that’s part of the explanation as well:”

    Probably a key part of the explanation, I would guess. None of the species concerned needs to behave like the others because the behaviours they actually typically show have stood the evolutionary test of time. They are good enough for the species to have persisted. The different evolutionary paths the three species followed presumably create self-reinforcing selection pressures too; the physical attributes they have each evolved alongside their social and hunting behaviours to a greater or lesser extent ‘lock them in’ to those behaviours. Leopards have to climb trees, for the reasons you give, and are anatomically suited to doing so. Lions have evolved a physique suited to the large prey they hunt cooperatively and this makes them less capable of climbing trees.

    We can ask why the species concerned don’t behave in certain ways that make sense to us – ‘why don’t leopards hunt cooperatively?’ for example, but the question supposes that these animals approach the problem of hunting as a human would, figuring out alternative methods and weighing all the pros and cons in a given circumstance, whereas their behavioural repertoire is more rigid. Although felids and other predators clearly show some behavioural plasticity and the ability to learn to exploit new prey opportunities in different ways, this plasticity is much more limited than what we humans bring to the problems of survival and this limits the range of behaviours they will display.

  6. For dosh of $60.00 some – smacks, a white one @ USA’s
    https://www.amazon.com/Meowing-Pencil-Sharpener-Novelty-Gadget/dp/B003N4UWJE
    yet apparently available. Not for me.

    I ‘ld purchase a fleeing from a killer’s kitty cat – frontpack, instead.
    And, as Mz Gemma Gillian – Kitty Cat and I ‘re both pacifists, … … flee.

    Learnt yesterday and even with Covid still e v e r y w h e r e:
    UNaccompanied kiddos are being allowed in to the United States from
    its southern border: http://www.dmrs-ep.org/services/legal-representation/ump,
    its program headed up by a kind man, my child.

    Blue

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