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Tsavo Lions: Key Resources

The three lions on display at The Field Museum were all notorious man-eaters during their lifetimes. Field Museum Scientist Bruce Patterson and his team study lions in current-day Tsavo (Kenya) to learn more about this mysterious animal.

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Man-Eaters at The Museum

In March 1898 the British started building a railway bridge over the Tsavo (SAH-vo) River in East Africa. Over the next nine months, two large male lions reportedly killed and ate 135 railway workers and native Africans. (Please note: More recent research into these claims disputes this number. See the tab "Current Research" for more detail.) 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; after many near misses, he shot the first lion on December 9, 1898, and three weeks later the second. The construction crew returned and completed the bridge in February 1899. (The 1996 movie "The Ghost and the Darkness" was the third Hollywood film to be based on Patterson's adventures in Tsavo.)

One of the largest man-eating lions on record, the Man-eater of Mfuwe (pronounced Muh-Fuh-way) terrorized the residents of Zambia’s Luangwa River Valley in 1991. After devouring its sixth known victim, this lion paraded through the streets, roaring and carrying a clothes bag that it had taken from the victim’s home. In the past, residents would have been able to kill the lion themselves, but hunting is now severely restricted. The Zambian government allows only safari hunting for the income it generates; former Chicagoan Wayne Hosek shot and killed the lion during a safari in the region. 

Field Museum Publications

Library Holdings 

A vertical file of related articles is available to view by appointment:

  • Barley, Shanta. 2009. "Kenya's Lions Could Vanish Within 10 years." New Scientist203, no. 2722. 
  • Bernstein, Richard. 2002. "Books of The Times: In Scientific Pursuit of Africa's Man-Eating Lions." New York Times, July 24. 
  • Caputo, Philip. 2000. The Ghosts of Tsavo: Tracking the Mystery Lions of East Africa. Washington, D.C.: Adventure Press, National Geographic.
  • Malkin, Carolyn. 2003. "Humans Too Tasty to Resist." New Scientist 177, no. 2382: 14.
  • Malkin, Carolyn. 2002. "The Long and the Short of a Pride." BBC Wildlife, July: 19.
  • Marshall, Michael. 2013. "The Lion Does Not Sleep Tonight. He's hunting." New Scientist 217, no. 2910: 13.
  • Moffett, Nancy. 2003. "Man-Eating Lions' Myth is Worse than Their Bite." Chicago Sun Times, January 16. 
  • Newhart, Dave. 2004. "Mystery of the Man-Eating Lions."National Wildlife 42, no. 5: 38B-38H.  
  • Raffaele, Paul. 2010. "Man-Eaters of Tsavo." Smithsonian 40, no. 10: 37.

Tsavo Lions

© The Field Museum, Z94352c, Photographer John Weinstein.

© The Field Museum, GN92063_001d, Photographer Karen Bean. Lion of Mfuwe.