The Man-Eating Lions Of Tsavo

Samuel Reason | February 21st, 2019

Perhaps known as some of the most notorious lions to have ever lived in the wild, the man-eating lions of Tsavo were hunted and vilified for generations. In the huge swath around the Kenya savanna living around the Tsavo River, these groups of wild lions were notorious for hunting humans.

Tsavo lion prides are generally smaller than their cousins in Serengeti, another unique characteristic is that male lions do not share power. Each pride has around 10 females and 1 male lion, they also look different. Male Tsavo lions normally have a smaller mane and are darker colored this is simply due to the lack of water in the region. Tsavo is hotter and drier than Serengeti which is why their manes cannot be as heavy.

But the real thing that makes Tsavo lions so different than other species, is their fierce reputation of preying on people that enter their region. There are hundreds of stories for centuries of Arab slave caravans that went through Tsavo on their way to Mombasa, where lions attacked them repeatedly. The death rate was extremely high, the area was terrible for sleeping due to the sickness that came from tsetse flies. Historians believe this is how Tsavo got a taste for human flesh: they started by feeding on the dead slaves whose corpses were left behind.

But the real horror story started in 1898 when a crew constructing the railroad bridge over the Tsavo River were terrorized by two lions. Apparently, the lions killed as many as 135 crew members. They had to call in a specialist to deal with the situation and the killer man-eating lions were eventually shot by Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson. He then sold their bodies for over $5,000 to a museum in Chicago.

Tests on their stuffed flesh do confirm that they were feeding regularly on humans, however, zoologists today believe it would have been more in the range of 35 people and not 135. Even today hearing news in Tsavo of a farmer being eating by a lion is not rare, locals are not surprised.

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