Three-Legged Lion Makes Record-Breaking Swim

It was the world’s most unlikely marathon swim. A male lion with only three legs and his brother swam almost a mile across the Kazinga Channel in Uganda. Along the way, the pair dodged dangerous hippos and crocodiles. Like most other cats, lions are not known for their love of water.

The reason for their remarkable plunge? There were more females on the other side of the river.

The two lions were well-known to local researchers. Jacob lost one of his legs in a trap in 2020. Vets treated him and then fitted him with a tracker before releasing him. The Uganda Wildlife Authority monitors his movements to help him if necessary.

Jacob and his brother Tibu roam the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda, which has an unusual lion dilemma. To protect their livestock, local farmers poisoned several lionesses. Now the park has twice as many male as female lions.

Mating opportunities are so rare that the males seem willing to do whatever they can to find a partner. The two brothers had lost a battle for territory just 12 hours before their swim, meaning the closest lionesses to them were on the other side of the Kazinga Channel.

Lionesses calling

He and Timu heard the lionesses roaring on the other side. Researchers observed what happened next. On hearing the sound, the two siblings plunged into the river. At first, they didn’t like the experience and retreated. They tried again. Again, they jumped back out almost immediately. This time, drone footage suggested that a crocodile or hippo drove them out of the water.

Undeterred, they tried again an hour later. This time, they succeeded.

Speaking to The New York Times, Alexander Braczkowski, lead author of an upcoming paper on the two marathon swimming lions, said, “It was pretty dramatic. It looks like two tiny little heat signatures crossing an ocean.”

A mile-long swim is unheard of for lions. Elsewhere, in Botswana’s Okavango Delta and in the Zambezi River, the big cats have ventured into the water, but they have never swum more than a few hundred meters before. Even that is rare.

No word on whether the lions found what they were looking for on the other side.

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.