Lions certainly don’t have the arboreal finesse of some of their feline cousins, but when there’s a juicy carcass up for grabs, you can bet they’ll take their chances in the treetops - especially if the cat in question is a lioness with a trio of tiny cubs to care for.

Footage, recently uploaded to the Caters Clips Youtube channel, shows a lioness at the base of a large tree gazing skyward with keen interest. In the boughs above, a disgruntled-looking male leopard sat guard over a fresh carcass draped on a nearby branch. The stage was well-set for a feline face-off.

It took some time, however, for the tawny cat to brave an ascent, eventually making her move under the cover of darkness. But as the clip cuts to a night-time scene, the plot thickens when three tiny cubs appear at the lioness’s feet. While kleptoparasitism (stealing meals from other animals) is common among big cats, this lioness may have had some extra motivation for pursuing the treetop meal. Although her cubs are probably still too young to share in the meaty spoils, suckling a litter places added strain on any mother, and this meal could be a vital one.

Just before giving birth, lionesses break away from the the rest of the pride. The mama cats keep their vulnerable youngsters hidden away in the early stages of their lives, during which time lionesses will often hunt on their own. A free meal can be a lifeline for a female with cubs.

Scaling the tree is a calculated risk for the lioness. For all their strength and stealth, leopards are no match for an adult lion in a head-to-head confrontation. The solitary cats are outranked by most of Africa's big predators, and they lose as many as a fifth of their kills to other carnivores. To avoid losing meals, leopards cache their bigger kills in trees and return nightly to feed. A mid-sized antelope can provide several meals for an adult leopard (provided a tree-scaling lioness does not get her claws into it).

Although it’s unusual to see lions taking to the trees, it’s not unheard of. Lion prides with arboreal tendencies have been recorded in Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa. But while these cats seem to have honed their tree-clambering skills, most lions look decidedly awkward when they take to the branches. Unlike leopards – cats that are equipped with powerful rear legs, claws that are easily unsheathed and bodies with a low centre of gravity – lions are a bit too bulky for lofty conquests. Just take a look at this for a comparative perspective:

Despite their apparent evolutionary shortcomings, though, lions will climb trees if the are motivated. And sometimes, their lofty aspirations are handsomely rewarded.