Tsavo Lions

– Understanding These Majestic Creatures

By: - Reference & Education - May 29, 2011
tsavo lions

Tsavo lions were also known as the tsavo maneaters .  They were notorious in Kenya for the deaths of workers on the construction site of the Kenya-Uganda Railway, which happened from March to December in 1898.  Started by the British, the railway construction included a bridge that was being built over Kenya’s Tsavo River.  Head by Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson, the construction site was marred with lion attacks.

During the months of attacks, the male lions, maneless and highly aggressive, began stalking the site’s camp, dragging away workers from Indian during the night as they slept, eating them alive.  Despite efforts of the crews to scare the lions away, building thorn boma fences and campfires around the camp to protect everyone, the lions kept coming and attacking workers.  Eventually, as new attacks occurred, many hundreds of anxious workers left in a mass exodus, bringing the bridge’s construction to a complete stand still.  Co. Patterson tried on a few occasions to ambush and trap the lions from a nearby tree at night, but he was finally forced to shoot one of the lions on December 9.  The 2nd lion was located and killed three weeks after the first capture.

The Tsavo maneaters were huge.  The first of the Tsavo lions measured a full 9 feet and 8 inches in length from its nose to the tip of its tail. Though the numbers of victims has never been revealed, Col. Patterson estimated that about one hundred and thirty-five people lost their lives.  Once the Tsavo maneaters had been killed, workers returned to the bridge site and completed the project in the February of the following year.

The Tsavo maneaters, the infamous Tsavo lions were shot with a Lee Enfield 303 rifle.  The lions even tried to stalk Patterson as he tried to hunt thme.  It took four shots to finally kill the first lion and eight times to kill the other.  However, even after being mortally wounded, the second lion continued its attack on the ground, gnawing on a tree to try and get closer to Patterson, though this was unsuccessful.   Twenty-five years on and the rugs created from the lions’ valuable skins were finally bought in 1924 by the Chicago Field Museum, though the skins had been poorly maintained.  As a final testament to the killings, the animals were put back together along with their real skulls and displayed for all to see.

Photo: the stuffed and reconstructed real Tsavo lions – copyright 2008 Jeffrey Jung, reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License 3.0


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