Stories tagged Madmartigan

Sep
17
2007

Tsavo Maneaters: Even scary in black and white.
Tsavo Maneaters: Even scary in black and white.
Last week I made a trip to Chicago with the sole purpose of going to the Field Museum. I had never been there before, and I was not disappointed. I saw plenty of cool stuff, including the stuffed bodies of the famous Tsavo man-eating lions. Coincidentally, last week the National Museum of Kenya demanded the return of the lions to Nairobi, claiming that they are important artifacts of the country’s history and heritage. I’m all for it – as long as I’ve seen the lions, I really don’t care what happens to them. I make all my decisions that way.

I do recommend that you look into the story of the lions, though. It’s pretty “badass” (I got that term off of the text on the Field Museum’s display). The short version of the story is this: In 1898, during the construction of a bridge over the Tsavo River for the Kenya-Uganda railway (dubbed “The Lunatic Express”), two exceptionally large, maneless male lions killed and ate about 140 railway workers over the course of nine months. That’s so many people.

The workers built thorn fences around their encampment, and set traps for the animals, but the lions were always able to crawl through the barriers, and avoid the traps and any ambush attempts, to drag men from their tents and eat them. Eventually Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson (an engineer overseeing the bridge’s construction) was able to shoot and kill the lions, although he claimed that each was able to withstand several shots from his rifle before falling.

Scientists are still unsure as to cause of the Tsavo maneaters unusual aggression and preference for human flesh, but several theories have been put forth. Some think that the lions’ skulls indicate that each had abscessed gums, which could have made attacking large and tougher animals too painful. Another theory is that an outbreak of rinderpest disease (a viral infection effecting cattle and related species) had decimated the lions’ usual food source, and forced them to seek other prey (i.e., humans). John Patterson’s journals also indicate that the graves of deceased workers had been disturbed and that the bodies had been removed, and some believe that the lions developed their taste for humans by scavenging in this way, and then modified their behavior to capture the sleeping workers from their tents.

The movie The Ghost and the Darkness is about the Tsavo events. It stars Michael Douglass and international film sensation Madmartigan.

Any thoughts on artifact repatriation, or about the lions specifically?