Reaching heights of around 40 feet, the tree-like saguaro is the second-tallest cactus in the world (after the somewhat less graceful cardón). It's a ramrod-straight column of spines that would seem unclimbable for most mammals ... Well, tell that to this bobcat seen recently at the summit of a saguaro pole around Gold Canyon in south-central Arizona.

Ahoy up there! Image: Renee Lynn Bayer‎/Facebook

Photos of the cactus-climbing cat were posted to Facebook last week by Renee Bayer, and later featured on, who noted that the feline stayed on its thorny perch for "at least several hours".

Bobcats are proficient tree-climbers, and, as it happens, a saguaro doesn't present a major challenge for them. This is probably due both to the wildcat's arboreal nimbleness and the fact that the giant cactus's spines are aligned in rows along its raised pleats, rather than completely crowding the trunk. Ascending to the very pinnacle of a tall saguaro, however, is probably not an everyday undertaking for most bobcats.

We don't know why this particular "bay lynx" climbed the cactus ladder, but one likely reason would be to escape from a threat of some kind. Back in 2011, for instance, an Arizona bobcat was seen shinnying up a 45-foot roadside saguaro to get away from a pursuing puma:

Though in this case the big cat merely circled the base of the cactus briefly before giving up the chase, the bobcat didn't take any chances: it kept to its lofty refuge for a reported six hours.

In 2009, meanwhile, a Sonoran bobcat was chased up a saguaro by another bobcat, according to the Arizona Daily Star.

So an enemy – a territorial rival, a mountain lion, perhaps a coyote, certainly a human being – might compel a bobcat to make the potentially prickly scramble up a soaring saguaro. (In 2011, more unusually, an Arizona puma itself scaled a 30-foot-tall saguaro, apparently fleeing hunting hounds.)

Keeping desert wildcats out of harm's way on occasion, then, is just one of innumerable ecological services the tree-sized cactus provides. A host of creatures utilise the saguaro's mighty loft: woodpeckers, elf owls, woodrats and other animals nest in trunk cavities, while horned owls, hawks and ravens brood in the crooks of saguaro arms. Bats, birds and insects lap saguaro-flower nectar; the fruits go to feed everything from tortoises to coyotes – not to mention the Tohono O'odham people, whose traditional calendar begins with the month of harvesting saguaro fruit (Hashañi Mashad). And a menagerie of invertebrates lives within saguaro flesh, especially when the venerable cactus (it may live for two centuries or more!) peters out and decays.



Top header image: Ade Russell/Flickr