In 1996 a film came out that revolved around two vicious beats of the savannah: maneless lions that haunted Kenya and ruthlessly devoured over a hundred people. It was called The Ghost and the Darkness-it was based on a true story.
The real tale had taken place almost a century prior to the film, in the region of Tsavo. The year was 1898, and several construction workers were building a way to pass from Lake Victoria to Mombasa; however, this project would be delayed, mostly due to the number of workers. Or really, the lack of workers, thanks to a pair hungry prowlers on the move. It was estimated that 135 people were killed and eaten by two male lions, both rare in that neither of them sported a mane. This array of gruesome events would later be dubbed a worthy title: the “reign of terror.”
Today, the skins of these man eating felines can be found in Chicago, Illinois, thanks to British-officer, Colonel John Henry Patterson, who had shot and killed the two animals, only to sell them to the Field Museum in 1924.
It wouldn’t be until the 1990s that anyone would really look into these incidents and wonder exactly what had caused the lions to choose human over gazelle. Actually, the extraordinary, and perhaps morbid fact about the whole situation, is that it’s not actually rare for lions to feed on people. A study was released in the Journal of East African Natural History that works on analyzing the “reign of terror.” Author of the study, Jullian Kerbis Peterhans, states: “Man eaters have historically been considered aberrant or exceptional. In fact, they are carnivores that have always included primates (such as humans) as part of their diets.”
Despite the fact that animals dining on humans is not an uncommon phenomenon as most people had thought, there are also other possible reasons that could have been the cause for driving the maneless brutes to eat so many humans. One suggestion could have to do with an epidemic that had taken place back in the 1890s. Researchers have confirmed that this was a new rinderpest disease that had almost caused water buffalo to die out, as well as domesticated cattle, all of which the lions would have otherwise eaten.
Another cause could be that, due to so many human corpses scattered about the savanna-results of famine and smallpox-the lions could have scavenged these bodies, and taken a liking for the taste of our blood. In fact, every year, 80,000 or more people died around caravan routes which, needless to say, were extremely dangerous.
The biggest reason for the “reign of terror” and other man eating events, has to do with the consequences of us humans. Almost always, lions and animals will be forced to eat humans because of situations caused by people themselves, according to Kerbis Peterhans.
Peterhans and his colleague at the Field Museum, Thomas P. Gnsoke, had continued to do research on the lions of Tsavo, and found that there were many more legends and rumors than actual facts. One of these is that, yes, though the pair of maneless lions did eat many humans, the true “reign of terror” had included probably no more than twenty-eight deaths, not 135 as most locals had claimed.
National Geographic News (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/02/0211_030211_tsavolions.html)