The year was 1898. Lieutenant-Colonel J.H. Patterson came to oversee the construction of a railway bridge in the Tsavo region. He was totally new to that place. Its people, their superstitions, and the tropical humid climate of the area challenged the resistance of that man, already far from his native land. But, he was a soldier. The spirit of fighting was in his heart. He knew how to tackle such extreme situations both mentally and physically. He didn’t know only one thing, the wilderness!
One day, the news of some missing workers appeared at his desk. He was not sure about it. As the day passed away, news of more disappeared workers came. A few days later, some of the workers saw something that threatened Patterson.
He was not weak at heart but the ongoing scene made his face a little bit pale. As he accounts in his book, The Man-eaters of Tsavo (1907), “between them no less than 28 Indian coolies, in addition to scores of unfortunate African natives of whom no official record was kept…” were killed! The incident was shocking for the Lieutenant-Colonel.
What actually happened there? Who are they that shocked Patterson?
To know more about “them” you have to dive deeper into the story.
First of all, there are two main terms in the name, The Man-eaters of Tsavo. Let’s begin with “Tsavo” and leave those deadly “Man-eaters” for some moment. They are too dangerous!
Tsavo, the land of “slaughter”
In Africa, there is a country called Kenya on its eastern side. Tsavo is located there. It is a region at the crossing of the Uganda railway over the babbling Tsavo river. The region is very close to the place where the Tsavo river meets with the Athi-Galana-Sabaki River. The Kamba people living there call the region the place of “slaughter”. There is a reference to the tribal conflicts in the area in its name still it has a certain association with those two creatures, infamously called “the Man-eaters”.
You can read all about 10 Fascinating African Tribes here.
The Man-eaters of Tsavo, where the story began?
The incident which John Henry Patterson wrote in his book The Man-eaters of Tsavo, dates back to March 1898. There was a railway construction going on to connect Uganda with the Indian Ocean at Kindini Harbour. It was a part of the British Empire then. They started to build a railway bridge over the Tsavo river for establishing a sound transportation system in that region. The Tsavo region is located in the coastal area of Kenya. For this reason, they needed a bridge the most.
Patterson arrived to supervise the construction work in that area. Just before his arrival, rumors of the “killers” already started humming the humid air of Tsavo. Nothing was clear. But, the next nine months changed everything!
The rumors turned out to be a reality in Patterson’s life…
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The Man-eaters of Tsavo, the beginning
From March 1898 to December of that year, everything was falling apart around the brave soldier from Britain. Workers were missing. The numbers were rising each day. Some fled in fear, and some stayed due to their financial needs. But, Patterson was not hopeless. He was sent from his country for accomplishing something. And it was the Victorian era! Nothing was impossible. However, the wilderness of Kenya had much in her store.
There were two in that group. Only two! The number is still haunting for the people living in Tsavo. They were not just two formidable creatures. They were fierce, ruthless, and maneless lions. Those two lions scented the warm blood from afar. It was a rare opportunity for them. They had to utilize it to the fullest.
They arrived at the construction spot and snatched lives like plucking leaves from a tree. There were merciless creatures, born to kill. The number of killings grew day by day alongside the hunger of the “Man-eaters”. Construction workers built campfires and thorn fences or bomas to keep them out. But they had already mastered the art of killings and drank the nectar called blood! Who could stop them?
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When the wilderness challenged men in the past, they had either ran away or stood firm against all the difficulties. They were madmen, never born to admit defeat. It is not that they were born warriors. But nature carved the best out of them by sending impediments in their way. Saviors don’t come from heaven. A savior is born inside a man’s heart.
Those two “Man-eaters” challenged a man. A man with an unaltered faith in himself.
On that day, a savior was born!
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John Henry Patterson, The Savior
Patterson saw men close to him fading away from the face of the heart. The “Man-eaters” had made him lonely. Those maneless lions didn’t know they had challenged a man. Patterson already lost his trusted assistant Abdullah.
In this tough situation, he had to choose between running away and fighting back. He chose the latter and decided to bring the “Man-eaters” down one by one. He somehow managed to bring 20 armed Sepoys to assist him in his pursuit. He set traps and waited for long nights.
He faced the blows of several unsuccessful attempts. At last, the day came…
9 December 1898
He shot the first “Man-eater” on that. 20 days later, on 29 December he killed the second one. As it is said, the most coveted moment doesn’t come easily. A man has to wait. He has to wait as long as nature tests his spirit. In the end, she rewards him with success. The savior in Patterson in this way saved Tsavo from the curse.
How was the first “Man-eater” of Tsavo killed?
As Patterson wrote in his book, The Man-eaters of Tsavo, he wounded the first “Man-eater” on 9th December. Later on, that day, when it returned at night, Patterson shot it through the shoulder and the bullet pierced its heart. The next morning, it was found dead nearby.
How Patterson shot the second “Man-eater” down?
Patterson shot the second “Man-eater” a total of nine times! He didn’t shoot it nine times in one go. The lion was wounded several times before it was actually killed. According to Patterson’s account, it was finally killed after 11 days.
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After hunting “The Man-eaters of Tsavo” down, the construction work started again. In February 1899 the construction workers, at last, finished the bridge.
We have come to an end. Before parting here are a few words from Lord Salisbury, the then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, said in praise of Lieutenant-Colonel Patterson,
“Of course it is difficult to work a railway under these conditions and until we found an enthusiastic sportsman to get rid of these lions our enterprise was seriously hindered.”
The Man-eaters of Tsavo, why they killed men
According to Bruce D. Patterson’s latest theory (2004), “The Man-eaters of Tsavo” started hunting men for the following reasons:
- In 1898, an outbreak of cattle plague left the lions of that with no food. They had to find some other food sources. For this reason, it seems that the lions hunted men.
- “The Man-eaters of Tsavo” might have eaten dead men found in the Tsavo river region.
- Some people working in the construction were Hindu. They might have offered those lions a “ritual invitation”.
In 2017 Dr. Patterson found that “The Man-eaters of Tsavo” had an infection in their teeth used for hunting prey. For this reason, they might have chosen men as favorable prey to hunt.
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Frequently asked questions about “The Man-eaters of Tsavo”
Why were the Tsavo man-eaters Maneless?
The Tsavo Man-eaters were maneless for biological factors. It is not that they are special. There are many lions in the lion kingdom that are maneless. As the popular depiction of a lion shows it with a gracious mane, we are accustomed to this image. In reality, some lions don’t have manes like “The Man-eaters of Tsavo”.
How big were the man-eating lions Tsavo?
According to John Henry Patterson’s book The Man-eaters of Tsavo, the first lion was 9 feet 8 inches long from nose to tip of the tail. It took eight men to carry it back to the campsite. There is no such reference made in the book about the length of the second lion. But, the Man-eaters of Tsavo were more or less similar in size to other adult lions living in that region.
Who killed the man-eating lions of Tsavo?
Lieutenant-Colonel John Henry Patterson killed the man-eating lions of Tsavo in December 1898. The first man-eating lion was killed on 9 December 1898 and the second man-eating lion was killed after 20 days.
Why did the Tsavo lions kill?
The Tsavo lions killed men for several reasons. According to the latest theories regarding the man-eating nature of the Tsavo lions, they couldn’t find enough food for the cattle plague in the region in 1898. Another important reason is that those Tsavo lions had a problem with their canine tooth hindering them from hunting. For this reason, they killed men as they were the favorable prey in that condition.
You can read more about “The Man-eaters of Tsavo” here.
And that’s your lot for the man-eaters of Tsavo. What do you think of their incredible story? Please do join in using the comments section below!
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