Many people remember the movie The Ghost and The Darkness about the man-eating lions of Tsavo which was based on the real events that took place in Kenya, Africa. This occurred in 1898 when Lieutenant-Colonel John Henry Patterson, a British engineer, was assigned to build a bridge over the Tsavo River and encountered the two lions. Since there was a two-year drought and a rinderpest epidemic which killed a large number of the local wildlife, the theory was that the lions killed humans out of desperation.
However, the latest research conducted by Larisa DeSantic, assistant professor of earth and environmental studies at Vanderbilt University and Bruce Patterson MacArthur, Curator of Mammals at The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Ill, tells a different story.
The photo of the Tsavo lions was taken from the book The Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo printed in 1925 and reprinted in 1996 by the Field Museum.
DeSantic has studied the teeth of the Tsavo lions, other man-eating lions and tigers and believes that dental issues caused them to turn to humans as prey. DeSantic’s study showed that one of the Tsavo lions, the one who killed and ate the largest number of humans, suffered from a severe dental disease that made normal hunting impossible. The other lion in the pair ate a larger quantity of normal prey such as zebra’s, than the one with the dental disease.
These findings substantiate the conclusions of a famous hunter, Major Jim Corbett who hunted man-eating tigers in Kumaon, India in the 1930’s – 1940’s. In his book, Man-Eaters of Kumaon, Major Corbett says, “A man-eating tiger is a tiger that has been compelled, through stress of circumstances beyond its control, to adopt a diet alien to it.”
Major Corbett used his famous dog Robin to help track the man-eaters he hunted. Below is a picture of Robin and one of the man-eating tigers known as the Bachelor. The photo below was taken from his book, Man-Eaters of Kumaon, printed in 1946.
Again, modern science has helped unravel mysteries from the past and help scientists understand the unusual behavior of wild animals. This information hopefully will benefit animals and humans today.
Both Lieutenant-Colonel John Henry Patterson and Major Jim Corbett have written books about their experiences with man-eating cats. Both are interesting to read.