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The maneaters of Tsavo

Miranda watched ‘The Ghost and The Darkness’ recently and thought you might want to know that the story was based on fact… In 1898 a couple of thousand men were building a railway bridge over the Tsavo River in East Africa. Their boss was a construction engineer called Colonel Patterson (played by Val Kilmer in the movie). Some of the men got sick and died. Colonel Patterson paid several men to bury the dead, but the men took the money and simply hid the corpses in the bushes. Game was scarce that year and the lions were hungry. Some of them found the bodies and ate them. That gave them a taste for human flesh. More mend died and were eaten. The lions came every night. One night they found no corpses, so they broke into a tent, dragged out two men and ate them.

They kept coming every night. Colonel Patterson had plenty of courage, but was simply an engineer, not a hunter. He didn’t know quite how to go about killing the lions. He would sit up a tree with a gun near the spot where a man had been killed the night before, but the lions had too much sense to visit the same place twice. They would attack somewhere else. One night he sat up on a branch above the body of a man who had just died. Having been up every night he fell asleep. A growl beneath him woke him, he moved too much and fell right onto the lion at the bottom of the tree. The creature was so startled that it ran off.

The Colonel built a lion trap. It was a big box made of wood and iron and the door was fixed so it would close and lock if a spring in the door was stepped on. At the back of the box he fenced off a small room and put a couple of men in it. They were safe behind bars. The idea was that the lion would come into the cage after the men, set off the spring and lock himself in. One of the man-eaters did walk into that trap, stepped on the spring and the door snapped shut. The lion roared and woke the camp. The Colonel and four of his men with rifles came running and fired twenty bullets into the cage. They couldn’t see very well – they missed the lion but one of the bullets broke the latch, the door swung open and the lion escaped.

The Colonel even tried saucepans! He had his men surround the man eater when it lay in the bush. Each man was armed with several saucepans. A passage was left for the lion to escape, where the Colonel posted himself so that he could shoot the lion when it came out of the bush. When everything was ready, the men beat the saucepans together and frightened the lion into running through the escape passage. The Colonel pulled his trigger but the gun only clicked. A misfire. Before he could use the other barrel the lion got away. The Colonel didn’t get much help from the men vbecause they believed the lions were really devils and could not be killed. The lions certainly showed a lot of intelligence. The Colonel had poison put in the corpses of two men left the bush and the lions were heard prowling about them, but in the morning they were still there untouched – but two more men were missing from the camp.

More than a thousand of the workers went on strike. They left on a train bound for Mombasa. The men who were left built shelters for themselves in trees, up on tanks or roofs. Some even dug pits in their tents, covered the pits with logs and slept in the whole. But the lions pulled the logs aside, leapt down into the pits and dragged out the men. They didn’t even take the men off into the bush, they just ate them outside their tents, despite a rain of bullets.

Two experienced hunters came down from Nairobi. They had shot plenty of lions and were sure they could get these two man-eaters. As soon as they stepped from the train a lion leaped on one of the, knocking him down and eating him. When the other hunter attempted to interfere the lion jumped on his back and ripped it to shreds. That hunter was taken to hospital. He never got a shot off.

One night a dead donkey was put out where the lions could easily get at it. The Colonel had build a hunting platform (called a machan) put up a few metres from the body. The machan was about 5 metres high and consisted of four poles stuck into the ground supporting a plank that provided a seat. The Colonel sat up there, gun in hand. After midnight he heard a sigh – lions often sigh when they are hungry. The rustling told him that the lion was close to the donkey. The Colonel tried to keep quiet, but when he raised his gun it bumped against a plank and the lion immediately ran over and circled below him. For two hours the Colonel heard the beast creeping around below him. At any moment he expected the lion to rush the machan and bring the whole thing to the ground. Suddenly something slapped against the back of the Colonels head. He freaked out and nearly fell off the plank. He realised however, it had only been an owl that had mistaken him for a branch on a tree. His sudden movement brought the lion into sight below him. There was just enough light for the Colonel to take aim and fired. The lion roared and fell to the ground, before dying.

Men from the camp came running when they saw that the devil had been killed. They thought that the Colonel was some sort of god for killing the lion. But there was another to be dealt with. It tried to get into the station where some men were sleeping but the doors were too strong. So it climbed onto the roof and ripped away a hole in the corrugated iron roof and jumped in. Men run everywhere, rushing outside with the lion hot on their heels. One man hid in a water tank, but the lion upset the tank, pulled the unlucky man out and ate him.

Eventually the superintendent of the Royal Railway Police arrived in his own private railway carriage. He was a good shot and thought he could do in a day what Colonel Patterson had failed to do in nine months. He had his car put on a side track and with two friends, Hubner and Parenti, he prepared to wait all night for the lion. Ryall took the first watch, but fell asleep. Hubner awoke to find to his horror that the lion was inside the car. It had pushed open the sliding door and jumped in, before sliding back and closing. The lion leapt onto Ryalls’ bed, struck the sleeping man in the head with his paw and sank its teeth into his chest. That was the end of Ryall. The other men tried to escape, but found men from the camp holding the door shut to trap the lion inside. There was a crash and they saw that the lion had broken a window and dragged Ryalls’ body off into the bush. They conducted a search, but all they found were his boots.

It was Colonel Patterson who finally killed the second man-eater. The lion tried to get at some men sleeping in a tree. The next night Patterson waited in that tree; and when the animal came and tried to climb up the Colonel shot him. The lion roared and ran off, and the next day they went to look for him. They saw what they thought was a dead lion, but suddenly it came to life and charged him. Despite being weak from loss of blood, he almost completed the charge, but died two metres from the Colonel.

The two lions had killed more than a hundred men between them. Their skins were mounted and now reside in the Field museum in Chicago.

An email of note in regard to the Man Eaters of Tsavo…
“I should like you to have my opinion and my mother Wenda’s (a dental hygienist’s) opinion regarding the man-eaters of Tsavo. The January-Februrary issue of General Dentistry: The Peer-Reviewed Journal of
the Academy of General Dentistry (Vol. 50 No.1), The Forensics, issue has another and, indeed more likely explanation of the motives of the two Tsavo
lions from < ahref="http://www.agd.org/consumer/topics/history/lion.html">this website

In 1898, a pair of male lions killed 135 workers constructing a bridge in Africa, halting production for months. Eventually the lions were killed, but the big cats attained a mythical status. Even the 1994 film based upon the events, The Ghost and the Darkness, suggested the pair had supernatural qualities that made them virtually invulnerable. You can’t blame Hollywood-it’s much more dramatic than the more likely explanation for the massacre: the lions’ teeth hurt, according to a new report in General Dentistry, the clinical, peer-reviewed journal of the Academy of General Dentistry. From examining the lions’ skulls, forensic dentists believe the cats suffered from oral lesions, which caused the animals incredible pain whenever pressure was applied. The lions’ normal prey-zebras, gazelles and water buffalo-have tough hides, large bones and a dense network of muscles. This amount of pressure on the teeth probably was too much for the lions, and they switched to humans, who were considerably weaker and softer. In essence, the condition of their teeth affected their behaviour. While a toothache wouldn’t drive us to these extremes, oral pain can alter our behaviour. “A toothache can make a person edgy, uncomfortable and highly irritable,” says Howard S. Glazer, DDS, FAGD, spokesperson for the Academy, an organization of general dentists dedicated to continuing dental education. “[Tooth discomfort can] definitely cause a modification of behaviour. “While it is impossible to tell if a fatal animal attack was due to a tooth injury, dentists can observe changes in their patients’ behaviour to help diagnose a possible tooth problem, Dr. Glazer said. For example, if you have complaints of pain while drinking something hot, like coffee, or have been awakened by pain, Dr. Glazer says the most likely culprit is nerve pain.

Note: The male Tsavo lions also lacked manes. According to National Geographic, many Tsavo lions lack manes because of the unbearable heat there. By the way, you made a lovely explanation of the origin of the toothbrush.”

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