Man Eaters Of Tsavo
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The Man-Eaters of Tsavo
The drive to colonize the continent of Africa in the 19th centuries brought the European imperial powers against difficulties which had never been encountered before. One such difficulty is that of the local wildlife in Africa, such as lions or other big game animals. In The Man-Eaters of Tsavo, by Colonel John Patterson, a railway bridge project in East Africa is terrorized by a pair of man-eating lions. This completely true story shows the great difficulty in colonizing Africa by demonstrating the somewhat harsh environment of Africa.

The story begins with Col. John Patterson arriving in Mombassa in March of 1898 on the East African coast. All Patterson knows is that he is supposed to help with the railroad being built across Kenya to Lake Victoria, and eventually Uganda. He quickly receives his orders to proceed to Tsavo, a little over a hundred miles from Mombassa, to help build a bridge over the Tsavo River. Upon his arrival, he realizes the harsh nature of Tsavo, with its thick underbrush and rough terrain. Immediately, Patterson is faced with a number of problems, such as a source for quality stones to help build the bridge and the problem of the lions. The stone problem is quickly solved, but the problem of the lions takes much longer.

The gruesome nature of the attacks by the lions frightens many of the workers when they come across the bloody remains of usually only a head and some bones. It is discovered that there are two lions responsible for the deaths. Patterson, an experienced big game hunter, begins to hunt the lions and thinking that the “Reign of Terror” will end soon. What Patterson doesnt know, is that this hunt for the man eaters wont come to an end for 10 months. Initially, stalking the lions proves the be very difficult in that worker camps cover about a 30 mile stretch of railroad, thus giving the lions a wide territory to hunt and avoid being stalked by Patterson. Bewilderment hits Patterson in that the lions seem to always know where hell be waiting, and decide to attack a different camp. The man eaters manage to escape every trap set up to kill them.

Some of the workers on the railroad actually manage to escape death in an encounter with the lions. One worker that was riding a donkey was pounced upon by one of the lions, and thusly knocked off the donkey. However, the donkey had a bell tied around its neck; when it rang, the lion was scared away by the clatter. Another case happened during the confusion brought on by an attack from the lions; amidst the confusion the lion mistakenly took a bag of rice as opposed to a human being. Although there were a few cases of workers escaping the lion attacks, many did not survive. Around 140 workers died from the attacks of the man eaters.

Col. Patterson had a few difficulties with the workers. It was mostly the usual stuff about workers trying to find some way out of having to do hard labor. One worker faked being extremely ill and on the verge of death. Some of the other workers, who were mad because of this particular workers antics, informed Patterson of the falsehood of the illness of this particular worker. After asking for medicine, Patterson wrapped a blanket around the workers head and lit a fire underneath the bed with some wood shavings. Upon feeling the heat, the worker jumped up and ran out of Pattersons tent. The other workers enjoyed this form of punishment, and got in a few licks with sticks as the worker ran around.

Despite the havoc being wreaked by the lions and the problems with the workers, Patterson diligently pushed on with building the bridge. However, it became increasingly difficult as more and more workers left because of their fear of the lions. Patterson continues to hunt the lions into what is now December of 1898. Col. Patterson finds a good spot to wait for the lions near the carcass of a donkey that the lions were scared off after just starting to eat it. Patterson spots the lion, but the lion also spots Patterson. The two of them are stalking each other figuring out who will make the first move. An owl mistakes Patterson for a branch of a tree and bumps into him. The lion then tries to attack, but Patterson is able to get a shot off and wounds the lion. Patterson follows the lion and manages to get another hit, thusly bringing down the lion. The lion dies out in the brush, and then is taken back to the camp where it is skinned. The other lion is killed roughly two weeks later, taking 6 shots from Patterson to finally bring the lion down after a long and difficult struggle. Upon the news of the lions being killed, the workers return to work on the railroad. The railroad reaches Nairobi shortly thereafter.

This story has been put into movie format on two occasions, the most recent being The Ghost and The Darkness in 1996 starring Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas.

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Colonel John Patterson And True Story. (April 2, 2021). Retrieved from