Meet the treehuggers

Hugging trees is scientifically proven to be good for our health, but it’s absolutely vital for these arboreal animals


Leopards enjoy lazy days in the trees

Leopards might be the smallest species of the Panthera family, but they’re top of the pack in other areas. They’re the strongest climbers and are in fact the largest cats to regularly scale trees. With powerful legs and a long tail, they move easily and gracefully through the branches.

After a night spent creeping up on prey, these nocturnal predators need to rest. They’ll often flop down with their legs on either side of a tree limb to snooze, sheltered from the harsh Sun by the leaves. It’s often not just their own weight that they have to get up the tree; the rewards of a hunt are brought up into the bows to avoid having the hard- earned carcass stolen by lions or hyenas while the leopard sleeps.


Sloths make ‘quick’ trips to the ground

With their long limbs and claws, three-toed sloths are so well suited to a life of tree hugging that they find it hard to move on the ground. For the majority of their lives they hang out in the trees, moving slowly in search of foliage to munch on. While a two-toed sloth may travel no further than 40 metres (131.2 feet) on an average day, their three-toed cousins cover even less distance.

Once a week sloths descend to the ground to get rid of their waste. After burying their dung they make a (relatively) quick getaway back up to the canopy, because the ground is a dangerous place for a sloth. Since they can’t flee, hide or fight back, they’re at risk of being attacked by dogs, coyotes and jaguars every second they’re at the base of the tree. Their best tactic for avoiding getting eaten by a predator is simply to never be anywhere near one.


Tree hugging is a cool pastime for koalas

The koala is one of the most famous tree huggers in the world. They’re almost always found clinging to a branch or nestled into the fork of a tree, and it turns out that this behaviour helps these cuddly marsupials to deal with Australia’s heat. When the weather is cooler koalas venture out onto leafy branches, but in summer
they shimmy back down and get as close to the tree trunk as possible.

Because of their thickness, these lower parts of the tree heat up slowly and can be several degrees cooler than the air around them, so hugging tight helps the animals to reduce their temperature and avoid overheating. It’s an efficient way of keeping cool because, unlike panting and licking their fur, it doesn’t cause the loss of any water.


Baby bears grip on for dear life

There’s a misconception that black bears climb trees and brown bears stay firmly on the ground. Adult brown bears aren’t as agile as their cousins and their blunt claws don’t provide as much grip, but females will occasionally clamber up a tree trunk if they really need to.

Young brown bears find climbing much easier because they don’t have the problem of immense weight like the adults. Cubs are taught by their mother to run to a tree and find safety on a branch should they find themselves in danger.

Adult bears use trees to communicate with others in the area. Standing on their hind feet, they scratch at the bark with their claws and rub their backs against it to let everyone know they’re there. The scent left behind gives other adults information about the resident bear, and during breeding season males can recognise the smell of rivals they’ve previously fought.


For more of nature’s treehuggers, get your paws on a copy of World of Animals Issue 60, available in store and online.