Amputee lion who survived being gored and attempted poachings makes record-breaking swim across predator-infested waters

At just 10 years old, a lion named Jacob has survived being gored, his family being poisoned for body parts and an attempted poaching that left him an amputee. But now, the animal known as “Africa’s most resilient lion” has broken an incredible record alongside his brother by swimming across crocodile- and hippo-infested waters known to be deadly for their species. 

Jacob’s story was documented in a new study published in Ecology and Evolution led by researchers at Griffith University in Australia and Northern Arizona University. Using drones equipped with high-definition heat detection cameras, they filmed Jacob and his brother Tibu crossing the Kazinga Channel in Uganda. According to the Queen Elizabeth National Park, the channel reaches a width of 20 miles and holds “the biggest population of hippos and numerous crocodiles in the whole world.” 

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Jacob, an amputee lion who has already survived the unthinkable, has made a record-breaking swim across a Uganda waterway alongside his brother, researchers observed.

Alex Braczkowski


Most lions who attempt to cross that channel only make it between 10 and a couple hundred meters in, as the waterway is filled with predators. Some of those attempts were fatal due to the crocs. 

And yet, the two brothers made it, swimming what researchers believed to be a total of 1.5 kilometers from bank to bank, just under a mile, at night. While big cats swimming long distances has been documented, the study says that data and footage of such incidents are “scarce and inconsistent.” 

Alexander Braczkowski, a researcher from Griffith’s Centre for Planetary Health and Food Security, said that it’s likely that the search for females is what drove the lions to make the dangerous journey. While there is a small bridge that connects either side of the waterway, he said that people being present probably deterred the animals from using it. 

“Competition for lionesses in the park is fierce and they lost a fight for female affection in the hours leading up to the swim,” he said, “so it’s likely the duo mounted the risky journey to get to the females on the other side of the channel.”

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Lion brothers Jacob and Tibu were observed swimming a record-breaking distance across Uganda’s Kazinga Channel, a waterway known for being deadly for lions as it’s filled with crocodiles and hippos. 

Kaganda


While both brothers managed to accomplish an amazing feat – even hippos with their aggression, size and jaw strength can be deadly to lions – it’s Jacob’s success in particular that stunned researchers.

“Jacob has had the most incredible journey and really is a cat with nine lives,” Braczkowski said. “I’d bet all my belongings that we are looking at Africa’s most resilient lion: he has been gored by a buffalo, his family was poisoned for lion body part trade, he was caught in a poacher’s snare, and finally lost his leg in another attempted poaching incident where he was caught in a steel trap.”

Just surviving these circumstances, largely caused by humans, “is a feat in itself,” Braczkowski added, saying that the lion population they belong to has nearly halved in five years. According to the IUCN Red List, lions are considered a vulnerable species, with population numbers decreasing overall. In some areas, particularly in West Africa, the IUCN says it’s likely populations have declined so much that the animals could be considered endangered. 

“His swim, across a channel filled with high densities of hippos and crocodiles, is a record-breaker and is a truly amazing show of resilience in the face of such risk,” Braczkowski said. “…Jacob and Tibu’s big swim is another important example that some of our most beloved wildlife species are having to make tough decisions just to find homes and mates in a human-dominated world.” 

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