Lion brothers make risky swim across crocodile-infested canal

Despite their mighty roars, fearsome jaws, and ambush hunting tactics, lions are not known for their swimming prowess. Other large predators often lurk in the water, so these big cats must have a big incentive to get wet.

In February, a team of scientists documented two African lion siblings swimming through dangerous waters in Uganda. Using high-definition cameras and thermal-detection cameras mounted on drones, the team observed the males as they made a daring crossing of the hippo- and Nile crocodile-infested Kazinga Channel. The record-breaking long-distance swim is detailed in a study published July 10 in the journal Ecology and evolution.

[Related: Invasive ants leave lions scrambling for prey on the savannah in an ecological chain reaction.]

The journey of Jacob and Tibu

One half of this dynamic duo of lion swimmers was a local icon known as JacobThis 10-year-old lion has become famous for surviving several life-threatening incidents.

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

Jacob was accompanied by his brother Tibu, whose survival is also significant. According to Braczkowski, they live in an area with high poaching rates, where the population has halved in just five years.

Jacob and his brother Tibu. CREDIT: Alexander Braczkowski.

“His swim, through a canal teeming with hippos and crocodiles, is a record-breaker and a truly astonishing demonstration of resilience in the face of such risks,” Braczkowski said.

Why did the lion cross the canal?

Previously reported swims by African lions have ranged from about 32 feet to just a few hundred feetSome of these swims have resulted in crocodile attacksso it seems that the lions need a good reason to cross rivers in this way. Jacob and Tibu swam almost a mile, or 1.5 kilometers.

“It is likely that the brothers were searching for females,” Braczkowski explained. “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 is likely that the duo undertook the risky journey to reach the females on the other side of the channel.”

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CREDIT: Alexander Braczkowski.

The canal also has a small connecting bridge on the other side and the human presence there was probably a deterrent. Study 2023 discovered that humans are the biggest predators on the African savannahs. Animals are more afraid of human voices than the sounds of lions.

Although swimming is exciting, this behavior is a direct symptom of a certain Previous research by this team, which highlighted skewed sex ratios in lion populations here. During six months of intensive monitoring and filming in this new study, the team observed only one female over a three-day period.

[Related: The rare case of a lioness with a mane.]

“Jacob and Tibu’s great swim is another important example of how some of our most beloved species must make difficult decisions to find a home and a mate in a human-dominated world,” Braczkowski said.

Braczkowski is currently Scientific Director of the The Kyambura Lion Project of Volcanoes Safaris Partnership TrustSince 2017, he has been working with the Ugandan government to count lions and other predators in the country.

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