Tsavo Lions Only Ate 35 People and not 135

Posted by on November 2nd, 2009

After thorough forensic analysis of the remains of the lions featured in the film Ghosts in the Darkness (based in part on the book The Man-eaters of Tsavo – which I kid you not, was bedtime reading in my household growing up), researchers from University of California, Santa Cruz have concluded that the murderous pair of lions only ate 35 people and not the 135 some had reported.

By looking at isotopes in the teeth of the lions (currently on display at the Chicago Field Museum) scientists were able to put together a very detailed picture of the lions eating habits:

The results suggest that during the final months of what John Patterson described as the lions’ “reign of terror,” fully half of one lion’s diet consisted of humans, with the balance made up of mid-sized grazing animals such as gazelles and impala. Strikingly, the other lion ate very few humans, subsisting instead on herbivores. That dietary disparity leads Dominy and Yeakel to infer that the Tsavo lions worked together to scatter everyone, both humans and wild game, setting the stage for one to gorge on humans and the other to feed on herbivores.

While some may say that 35 or 135 is really just detail, especially since the research only shows how many humans the lions *ate* and not just murdered, it’s a fascinating example of how modern science can be used to look at historical accounts.

Reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

UCSU: Legendary “man-eating” lions of Tsavo likely ate about 35 people–not 135, say scientists

Tsavo maneaters – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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