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Monday, September 24, 2007

The Controversy Of The Man Eaters Of Tsavo

Nothing yet has had a bigger impact on East Africa than the impact of what was then called the Uganda Railway which cut into the interior (through what is today Kenya) and ended up in present day Uganda.

But what has for a long time fascinated Kenyans, East Africans and historianms the world over is the chilling account of the lions of Tsavo that developed a taste for human flesh and caused scores of deaths in 1898.

In that year as the story goes, as the railway was being built in that part of what is now the Tsavo national park, two lions notorious for eating humans caused havoc and almost brought work on the railway to a halt.

Amazingly the lions behaved very strangely and not like any other lions then and to date. The would enter a health center (attracted by the scent of human blood and drug out a live human being whom they would promptly kill and feast on. The lions were also known to drag humans from inside tents.

Lions are by nature very intelligent animals but are not known to hunt humans, which is exactly what the two famous Tsavo lions would do.

Locals and the coolies from India swore that the beasts were not lions but evil spirits angry at the railway line being built across that particular area and now hungry for human blood. This seems to have been confirmed by some Maasai warriors hired to take care of “the problem” who left after a few encounters with the lions. They confidently passed the verdict that those were NOT lions but evil spirits that took the form of animals. This scared those working on the railway line even more because the Masai had a long tradition of hunting down and killing lions and so if they were unable to deal with these “lions” then surely they were not lions.

To this day experts have not been able to explain the lion’s uncanny ability to hunt humans and stalk them inside buildings, tents and all sorts of places, only to pounce on them totally unexpectedly.

The lions believed to be 2 were shot in December 1898 by a fearless American ex-soldier called Lt-Col John Patterson who had developed a reputation as a Tiger hunter in India. But the superstition associated with the lions did not end there and locals insisted that the lions killed were not the man-eaters and the evil spirits had in fact been somehow exorcised.

Experts on the other hand said that the lions had developed a taste for human flesh as a result of the slave trade. They were however unable to explain why other lions on the long slave trade route were not as notorious man eaters as the Tsavo lions. In 1990 experts examining the bones of the lions said that they found evidence of gum infections which is what they believed caused the lions to go for softer human flesh.

The National Museums of Kenya is now campaigning for the remains of the two famous lions that ended up in a Museum in Chicago to be returned to Kenya.

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