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history meme ► (2/10) moments  ► the man-eating lions of tsavo

The Tsavo Lions were a pair of notorious man-eating lions responsible for the deaths of a number of construction workers on the Kenya-Uganda Railway from March through December 1898.

In March 1898, the British started building a railway bridge over the Tsavo River in Kenya. The project was headed by Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson. During the next 9 months of construction, two maneless male Tsavo lions stalked the campsite, dragging Indian workers from their tents at night and devouring them.

Numerous attempts were made to scare off the lions, including the use of campfires and thorn fences, but all were to no avail. At this time, hundreds of workers fled Tsavo, halting construction. 

Growing increasingly agitated, Patterson set traps and tried several times to ambush the lions. After repeated unsuccessful endeavors, he managed to shoot the first lion on December 9th, 1898. Twenty days later, Patterson killed the second lion, and in February, the crew returned and completed the bridge.

The exact number of people killed by the lions is unclear. By Patterson’s account, 135 people fell victim to the pair. One study claims that the number is more likely to be around 35, although that claim does not take into account the number of people killed but not eaten. Another study contended that a human toll of 100 or more was possible.

After spending 25 years as floor rugs in Patterson’s home, the skins of the lions were sold to Chicago’s Field Museum. They are now on permanent display along with the original skulls.

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