A record-breaking swim by two lion brothers across a predator-filled African river has been documented by a team led by a researcher from an Australian university.

The two-male lion coalition was filmed crossing the Kazinga Channel in Uganda at night using high-definition heat detection cameras on drones.

After two failed attempts, the pair swam about 1.5km to make it across the channel.

One half of the duo was a 10-year-old local icon known as Jacob, who has survived several life-threatening incidents including the severing of one of his hind legs in a poacher’s snare.

Jacob is ‘a cat with nine lives’, according to researchers who’ve been tracking him Photograph: Alexander Braczkowski

Griffith University’s Dr Alexander Braczkowski, who led the research, said Jacob “really is a cat with nine lives”.

“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,” he said.

Braczkowski said the fact Jacob and his brother Tibu had managed to survive as long as they have in a national park under significant human pressures – including from high poaching rates – was a feat in itself.

Braczkowski’s research has found the population in the park has halved in the past five years due to a range of factors. They include several human-caused catastrophes – poisoning by poachers and electrocution on a fence in the park among them.

He said the impact had been particularly severe for the park’s female lions.

“This population is skewing two males to one female and that’s the reason we suspect these lions have swum across the Kazinga Channel – because they’re searching for females,” he said.

He said it was “just sad” the animals were being pushed in this way by pressures created by humans.

Braczkowski’s team included South African film-maker Luke Ochse and field coordinators Bosco Atukwatse, from Uganda, and Orin Cornille, from Belgium. Scientists from Griffith University and Northern Arizona University worked on the research.

“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,” Braczkowski said.

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

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