The story of the man-eating lions of Tsavo

The story of the man-eating lions of Tsavo

The story of the man-eating lions of Tsavo : The largest national park in Kenya and among the largest in the world is Tsavo National Park, which is spread over almost 22,000 km². The Nairobi to Mombasa highway serves as the division line between Tsavo West and Tsavo East, the two distinct regions that make up the Park due to its immense size. On a kenya safari, the experiences in the two regions differ.

Tsavo National Park is the perfect location for anyone looking to mix the excitement of a Kenya safari with some leisurely beach time because it is fairly close to Mombasa—less than 100 kilometres away.  For visitors who are seeking a two-centre Kenya safari vacation, combining a visit to Tsavo with a stay in the Amboseli National Park is also quite simple. Most likely, Tsavo is best known for its red elephants and man-eating lions. Continue reading this article to know more about the story of the man-eating lions of Tsavo

Man Easters of Tsavo National Park

Many construction workers on the Kenya-Uganda Railway perished at the hands of a pair of man-eating male lions known as the Tsavo Man-Eaters, who lived in the Tsavo region of Kenya between March and December 1898. 28 people were allegedly killed by the lion couple. Although the British public’s fear of man-eating lions was not new, the Tsavo Man-Eaters became one of the most well-known examples of the threats faced by Indian and native African workers on the Uganda Railway. Lieutenant Colonel John Henry Patterson, who later wrote a semi-biography titled The Man-Eaters of Tsavo, killed them. Patterson wrote about his hunting experiences.

Given their habit of hunting humans in pairs and the dental injuries that have been reported in one of the lions—a cause that is frequently attributed to big cats turning to humans as prey—the Tsavo Man-Eaters are currently the most extensively studied man-eating pantherine cats.

The story of the man-eating lions of Tsavo : How the lions were killed

In March 1898, the British began building a railway bridge across the Tsavo River in Kenya as part of their project to build a railway that would connect Uganda with the Indian Ocean at Kilindini Harbour. The construction site, which employed several thousand mostly Indian labourers, was made up of multiple camps spanning an area of eight miles (13 km). Lieutenant-Colonel John Henry Patterson oversaw the project; he arrived a few days prior to the start of the killings and disappearances. Two mane less male Tsavo lions prowled the campsite for the next nine months while construction was ongoing, dragging labourers from their tents at night and feeding them. The attacks stopped for several months, but rumours of similar attacks by lions spread to other nearby settlements. After the lions came back, the attacks became more vicious and the deaths were nearly daily. In an attempt to keep the man-eaters out of their camp, crews constructed campfires, bomas, or thorn fences made of whistling thorn trees.

However, their efforts were ineffective, since the lions were able to leap over or squeeze through the thorn fences. Patterson observed that in the early stages of their murdering rampage, a lone lion would approach populated regions and capture victims; but, as time went on, they became more bold, entering in groups and capturing victims one by one. Bridge construction came to an abrupt halt as hundreds of workers fled Tsavo as the attacks intensified. Colonial officials started to step in at this moment. Patterson claims that even Mr. Whitehead, the District Officer, came dangerously close to being killed by a lion after showing up at the Tsavo rail depot in the evening. However, Whitehead managed to escape with four claw lacerations running down his back, while his assistant, Abdullah, was killed.

The story of the man-eating lions of Tsavo
How the Man Eating Lions Were killed

Eventually, more officials showed up to help with the hunt, bringing with them about twenty armed Sepoys.80–81  Patterson set traps and attempted multiple times to ambush the lions at night from a tree. Eventually, on December 9, 1898, he shot the first lion, measuring 9 ft 8 in (2.95 m) from nose to tip of tail. The first lion was found and killed twenty days later. It took eight men to carry the lion carcass back to camp.

According to Patterson’s story, he used a single bullet from a high-caliber rifle to injure the first lion. The lion was hit in the hind leg by this bullet, but it managed to flee. Afterwards, when Patterson went to hunt it, it came back at night and started following him. The following morning, he discovered it dead not far from his platform after shooting it through the shoulder and striking its heart with a more potent weapon.

Nine shots were fired at the second lion, five of which were from the same gun, three from a second rifle, and one from a third rifle. Six of the shots hit their target. The initial shot was fired from atop a scaffold Patterson had erected next to a goat that the lion had killed. Eleven days later, as the lion stalked Patterson and attempted to escape, it was hit by two bullets from a second gun. The lion was seriously crippled when Patterson shot it three more times with the same gun when they located it the following day. Patterson then shot it three times with a third rifle—twice in the chest and once in the head—to kill it. He said it was still trying to get to him when it died, nibbling on a fallen tree branch.

The two lion specimens housed in the Field Museum of Chicago are designated as FMNH 23970, which is the ‘standing’ mount that was slain on December 9, 1898, and FMNH 23969, which is the ‘crouching’ mount that was killed on December 29, 1898. 2009 saw the publication of recent research on the isotopic signature analysis of Δ13C and Nitrogen-15 in their keratin and collagen in their hair. By making practical assumptions about the amount of consumable tissue each victim, the lions’ energy requirements, and their absorption rates, scientists compared the Δ13C signatures of the man-eaters to a range of reference standards:

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