Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The man-eating lions of Tsavo - a great story

I have to post another great story from Africa here on the blog before we shut it down. I posted this same text and photos on my Facebook profile at the prompting of my friend Liz in Chicago (Liz Hunter at The Lutheran for those of you who know her).

It's a great story I read about in Nairobi on a visit to the Nairobi Railway Museum, although it's a well-known legend in Kenya's colonial history. Here's the setup, courtesy of the website of the Field Museum in Chicago:

"In March 1898 the British started building a railway bridge over the Tsavo River in East Africa [as part of a project to connect by rail the Indian Ocean from the port of Mombasa to Lake Victoria in Uganda]. Over the next nine months, two large male lions killed and ate nearly 140 railway workers [in an area of wilderness that is now a popular game park]. Crews tried to scare off the lions and built campfires and thorn fences for protection, but to no avail. Hundreds of workers fled Tsavo, halting construction on the bridge.

"Before work could resume, chief engineer Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson (1865-1947) had to eliminate the lions and their threat. After many near misses, he finally shot the first lion on December 9, 1898, and three weeks later brought down the second. The first lion killed measured nine feet, eight inches (3 m) from nose to tip of tail. It took eight men to carry the carcass back to camp. The construction crew returned and completed the bridge in February 1899."

But it wasn't long until the lions were a threat to the building of the railroad again. So one man thought he was tough enough to go out and kill them. Now read the story in the photo below (you can click on it to make it bigger). This was on a plaque on the side of a railway car I saw at the railway museum.

A movie was made from this story - "The Ghost and the Darkness" (1996), based on Patterson's adventures in Tsavo.

Where are these lions now? Stuffed and on display at the Field Museum in Chicago.

Here's me demonstrating how this man fell asleep (happy before he became the lion's dinner).

This is the non-lion-proof carriage.

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