The Tsavo Lions of 1898

The Tsavo Lions of 1898

This article will be taking look at the Tsavo lions of 1898 – two maneless, male specimens, that stalked and killed over 130 people in Kenya…

The Tsavo Man Eating Lions

For nine sinister months in 1898, the two male lions made their way through victim after victim, during the construction of the Kenya-Uganda Railway.

Locals were used to lions – but these lions were different…

They were said to have actually stalked their prey, not because they were hungry, but because they liked it!

It somehow became a kind of sport for them.

The British Empire were well into their plans to construct a railway bridge over the Tsavo River in the area. They were looking to create an easy route from Kenya to Uganda, the project was led by Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson.

Within days of the start of building, workers reported seeing two rather sinister, maneless lions stalking the outskirts of the site.

Within a week, the lions had dragged off an Indian construction worker in the middle of the night. The reports suggest that this worker was asleep in his tent, and ‘ambushed’ by the lions.

The Tsavo Man Eating Lions

The Ghost and the Darkness

The attacks increased over the next few days, and the building company tried it’s best to come up with new methods of keeping the evil lions away.

They even went as far as building a fence of thorns, thinking that this would deter the lions. But the lions had now tasted human flesh – and nothing was going to stop them.

They got through the thorns with little concern about the pain they caused.

The petrified local workers gave the lions the name of The Ghost and the Darkness – they soon started to leave their posts, and leave their jobs, through fear.


Lt. Col Patterson knew that the bridge project was doomed without the correct workers to see it through – it was time to act.

Initial attempts to trap the lions failed miserably – they seemed to figure out the danger on each bait setup.

Eventually Patterson managed to shoot and kill one of the lions on the 9th of December, 1898.

Lt. Col Patterson

He was shocked to finally see the beast close up – it was a huge size of nine feet, eight inches!

He killed the remaining lion on the 29th of December, claiming to have shot it at least nine times. He was up on a tree perch at the time, and the lion died trying to claw his way up the tree to get at him.

The Tsavo Lions of 1898

Work finally resumed on the bridge, and Patterson decided to show off his victory by having the carcasses of the lions skinned and used as floor rugs. He eventually sold them on to the Chicago Field Museum, where they are still on display.

If you have any thoughts or opinions on the subject we have covered here, please leave them in the comment section below.

2 comments on “The Tsavo Lions of 1898

  1. Wow. I’ve actually seen the movie the Ghost in the Darkness with Val Kilmer and I had no idea it was based on a true story!  I also had no idea they actually killed over 130 people. That’s quite crazy!

    Was any research ever done on the lions to determine if they were a rare breed or perhaps different from traditional lions that wouldn’t commonly go after people unless desperate?

    1. I think it was mainly down to the fact that the lions had developed a taste for human flesh Craig…and they knew there were a lot of humans in the area working on the project etc. 

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