Amputee lion who survived gore and poaching attempts makes record-breaking swim through predator-infested waters

At just 10 years old, a lion named Jacob has survived being gored, his family being poisoned for body parts, and having his amputated in an attempted poaching. But now the animal dubbed “Africa’s most resilient lion” has broken an incredible record alongside his brother by swimming through waters infested with crocodiles and hippos known to be deadly to their species.

Jacob's story was captured in a new study published in Ecology and Evolution led by researchers from Griffith University in Australia and Northern Arizona University. Using drones equipped with high-definition heat-detection cameras, they filmed Jacob and his brother Tibu as they crossed the Kazinga Channel in Uganda. According to the Queen Elizabeth National ParkThe channel is 32 kilometres wide and is home to 'the largest population of hippos and numerous crocodiles in the world'.

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Jacob, an amputated lion who has already survived the unthinkable, has completed a record-breaking swim across a waterway in Uganda with his brother, researchers have found.

Alex Braczkowski


Most lions that attempt to cross that canal only get 10 to a few hundred meters in, because the waterway is full of predators. Some of those attempts have been fatal because of the crocodiles.

And yet the two brothers made it, swimming overnight, researchers estimate, a total of 1.5 kilometers from shore to shore, or just under a mile. While big cats have been documented swimming long distances, the study says data and footage of such incidents are “sparse and inconsistent.”

Alexander Braczkowskia researcher from Griffith's Centre for Planetary Health and Food Security, said it was likely the search for females prompted the lions to make the perilous journey. Although there is a small bridge connecting both sides of the waterway, he said the presence of humans likely deterred the animals from using the bridge.

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

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Lion brothers Jacob and Tibu swam a record distance through the Kazinga Channel in Uganda. This waterway is known to be deadly for lions, as it is home to many crocodiles and hippos.

Kaganda


While both brothers accomplished an astonishing feat – even hippos can be deadly to lions with their aggression, size and jaw strength – it was Jacob's success that left researchers astounded.

“Jacob has had the most incredible journey and is truly a cat with nine lives,” Braczkowski said. “I would bet everything I own that we are looking at Africa's most resilient lion: he has been gored by a buffalo, his family has been poisoned for the lion parts trade, he has been caught in a poacher's snare and ultimately lost his leg in another poaching attempt where he was caught in a steel trap.”

Just surviving these conditions, which are largely human-induced, “is an achievement in itself,” Braczkowski added, saying the lion population to which they belong has nearly halved in five years. According to the IUCN Red List, lions are considered a vulnerable species, with an overall decline in population numbers. In some areas, particularly in West Africa, the IUCN says it is likely that populations have declined so much that the animals could be classified as endangered.

“His swim, across a channel filled with high concentrations of hippos and crocodiles, is a record-breaker and a truly astonishing demonstration of resilience in the face of such risks,” Braczkowski said. “…Jacob and Tibu's great swim is another important example that some of our most beloved species must make difficult decisions just to find a home and a mate in a human-dominated world.”

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