In early 1898, British soldier and author Lieutenant-Colonel, John Henry-Patterson was sent to Kenya to oversee the construction of a railway bridge over the Tsavo River. This bridge was aimed at connecting the Tsavo region in Kenya with Uganda starting at Kilindini Harbour in the Indian Ocean.
However, before the arrival of Patterson, rumors of ‘Tsavo man-eating lions’ began spreading around this region even though; very few lions are known to be man-eaters.
So, to uncover why these lions were so notorious, we’ll go back in time to the year 1898 and unmask the story of these beasts…
The rumors of some missing workers being eaten by lions began spreading in March 1898, just a few days after Lieutenant-Colonel John Henry-Patterson had arrived in Kenya. Such cases were reported to Patterson, but no action took place.
So, several weeks and months passed by, with more and more of the workers continuing to vanish. The initial rumors were now seen as a reality as the man-eating lions became even more brazen. They initiated their attacks by stalking the railway construction workers from their campsite at night, and dragging them from their tents while sleeping. These attacks took place frequently followed by a couple of weeks of calmness before the attacks could return again, with more intensity.
The Killing of the Man-Eating Lions.
By December 1898, most workers had begun fleeing Tsavo because they could no longer withstand the lion attacks. It was also during this time that the British colonial reinforcements of 20 armed men were tasked to hunt and kill these lions.
The first lion was shot on its hind leg by Patterson on 9th December 1898 but managed to escape with injury, returning later the same evening to stalk and maul Patterson at the camp, where he was able to shoot it again, this time killing it.
According to Patterson, this lion measured approximately 2.95 meters from nose to the tip of its tail.
The second lion was also discovered twenty days later, on December 29th. It was shot six times over the course of 11 days before succumbing while gnawing on a fallen tree branch.
The Aftermath of the Tsavo Lion Attacks.
After both Tsavo lions were killed, construction workers returned and completed the bridge in February 1899. The two maneless lions were also turned into rugs by Patterson for his home, where they remained as trophies until they were sold to the Chicago Field Museum in 1925.
Here, they were restored into visually appealing exhibits, displaying them in a diorama that is still on display today. Furthermore, the X-ray images of the two man-eating lions’ also revealed that they were suffering from dental issues. One of the lions had a severe root-tip abscess in one canine tooth and this could have prompted the lions to start preying on humans for the practical reason that they were easier to catch and chew.
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