Toothache Turned Big Cats Into Man-eaters

Tsavo man-eating lion
Tsavo man-eating lion and Lieutenant-Colonel Patterson.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

When a big cat like a lion has a bad toothache caused by an abscess, biting on the bone and hide of its typical prey such as zebra and wildebeest becomes unbearable painful and so the hungry lion is forced to turn to something softer and easier: humans. This is the conclusion of Dr. Bruce Patterson, the curator of mammals at the Field Museum in Chicago, which holds the remains of the man-eaters of Tsavo.

It has been decided that the famous lion man-eaters of Tsavo, Kenya, Africa, during nine months of 1898, developed a taste for at least two dozen laborers who were building the “Lunatic Express”, the British Empire’s railway from Uganda to the Indian Ocean.

They were a pair of maneless lions who avoided traps and being killed. Apparently they brushed off rifle bullets as if they were thorn pricks. They might have killed and eaten as many as 135 before they were shot by an Irish lieutenant-colonel, John Henry Patterson (no relation to Bruce mentioned above). They must be the most famous and prolific big cat man-eaters in history and all because they needed a dentist. I actually feel sympathetic towards them. It must have been hellish painful living with teeth abscesses.

The big cat hunter who also lead the construction of the railway over the Tsavo river killed the lions using four rifles and several months of hunting. In 1996, a film was made of the saga: The Ghost and the Darkness starring Val Kilmer.

Man-eating lions of Tsavo
Man-eating lions of Tsavo exhibited at a museum. Terrible job I am afraid to say.

The lions were skinned and analyzed. The skins spent 25 years on the big cat hunter’s floor before being sold in 1924 to the Field Museum in Chicago where the lions were recreated. They look weedy compared to the real animals (see above). The skulls revealed the abscesses. Dr Bruce Patterson came to the conclusion that the first lion (which was 3 meters in length) had eaten 24 people and the second had eaten 10-11.

The railway took 3 years to build at the cost of a staggering 2,500 lives. The ghosts of the lions returned for more….

When other big cats such as tigers in India attack people perhaps they will be more sympathetic. Call a vet and tranquilize the cat. Then call a veterinary dentist!

Source: The Times.

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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