Watch brave lion brothers cross croc-infested waters in search of love

A swim away, a swim away. With apologies to Solomon Linda, and The Tokens from 1961, but amazingly a pair of lions – one with 3 legs – has been documented swimming 1.5 kilometres across the predator-infested waters of Kazinga Channel in Uganda in the pitch-dark night.

Aerial heat detection of Jacob and his brother Tibu in their 2nd, successful attempt at crossing the river. Credit: Alexander Braczkowski

“I’d bet all my belongings that we are looking at Africa’s most resilient lion,” says Alexander Braczkowski, from Griffith University in New South Wales, who witnessed the feat. “He’s 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.“

Previous reported swims by African lions have ranged from 10 to a couple of hundred metres, some of which resulted in deaths by crocodile attacks. 

The lion brothers’ daring feat was captured by drones using high-definition heat detection cameras, which were operated by researchers co-led by Australia’s Griffith University and Northern Arizona University in the US.

A photograph of a male lion at night. One of his legs is amputated just below the knee.
Jacob, the 3-legged lion. Credit: Alexander Braczkowski

The event is documented in a paper published in the journal Ecology and Evolution

One of the lions was a 10-year-old, 3-legged male named Jacob, who is famous locally for having narrowly survive several life-threatening events already.

“Jacob has had the most incredible journey and really is a cat with 9 lives,” says Braczkowski, a conservation biologist from Griffith’s Centre for Planetary Health and Food Security.

“The fact that he and his brother Tibu have managed to survive as long as they have in a national park that has experienced significant human pressures and high poaching rates is a feat in itself – our science has shown this population has nearly halved in just 5 years. 

Aerial heat detection of Jacob and his brother Tibu in their 1st, unsuccessful attempt at crossing the river. Credit: Alexander Braczkowski

“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.” 

But why risk a high-stakes marathon night swim when you’ve already lost 1 leg to predators? Braczkowski says it was likely to look for females.

Photograph of two male lions at night. One lion is laying on the ground looking towards the camera, while the other is stretching.
Brothers Jacob and Tibu. Credit: Alexander Braczkowski

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

“There is a small connecting bridge to the other side but the presence of people was probably a deterrent for them.

“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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