The Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo

By | June 12, 2019

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The Tsavo man-eaters on display in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois. Source: (Wikimedia)

Being eaten by lions is usually the subject of nightmares without any basis in reality. But in late nineteenth century Kenya, nightmares became reality. Regardless of your opinion about hunting and wildlife, the grisly story that follows touches humanity’s most visceral fears.

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Giraffe on the savannah with a snowy Mount Kilimanjaro in the background, Amboseli national park, Kenya. Source: (

 In 1888, the British had taken control of East Africa (later renamed Kenya). In order to consolidate its imperial grip on the territory, the British government planned to build a railway that would link the interiors of Kenya and Uganda to the port of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean.

To facilitate the project, the British sent numerous army personnel to oversee the job. One of these officers was Lieutenant Colonel James Henry Patterson, who arrived in the territory on March 1, 1898. Patterson headed to the interior of Tsavo to oversee the work of Indian laborers in constructing a bridge over the Tsavo River.

It was wild country, Mount Kilimanjaro was in sight and there were a plethora of the big game animals that Africa is famous for elephant, giraffe, ostrich, and lion.

To prevent lion attacks, the workers established elaborate fences, or stockades called boma, made of the thorny vegetation of the region.