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How the man-eating lions of Tsavo devoured 135 people

By Amos Kareithi | Apr 19th 2022 | 3 min read
By Amos Kareithi | April 19th 2022

Passengers aboard the first Kampala-bound train as railway resumed services to Uganda following the revival of the East African Community [File]

Recent reports of a lion straying into Ongata Rongai caused quite a sensation in the city.

But this is nothing compared to the terror caused by their ancestors who without lifting a single sliver during the construction of the Kenya Uganda Railway, 124 years ago immortalised their names in the history of this infrastructure.

Some of the accounts given by people who survived the claws of the Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo are simply dumbfounding. 

Lion leaves the train through a window [File]

In 1898, when the railways builders had only done 150 miles from Mombasa, men who were assigned to keep the lions at bay were snatched right out of from their camp.

On one occasion, a man who had been assigned the role of keeping guard so that the lions did not sneak into the train at night made the fatal mistake of sleeping on the job.

“An Irishman, named O'Hara, who had charge of the coolies engaged in the construction, set himself to watch for the man-eater, in the hope of getting a shot at him, and took his post by the door of his tent, in which his wife was sleeping."

According to a pioneer, John Boyes, the Irishman dozed off and towards morning his wife was shocked to see him being dragged off into the bush by a lion. His body was later recovered by a search party a short distance from the camp.

Some of the accounts given by people who survived the claws of the Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo are simply dumbfounding. [File]

“On another occasion three men with whom I was personally well acquainted had a remarkable experience. They were watching for lions from a railway carriage — a construction wagon on the line — the door of which they left open. Two of them, Perenti and Hubner, made themselves as comfortable as they could on rugs laid on the floor of the carriage to rest till their turn for watching came, while the third, a man named Rial, took up a position near the door, where he evidently fell asleep,” Boyes has recorded in his memoirs.

A lion that was passing by “took a flying leap into the carriage." In the process the lion inadvertently closed the door of the coach, trapping the three men and the beast in the coach.

A lion that was passing by “took a flying leap into the carriage." [File]

One of the men, Perenti, said he was awakened by “the curious smell of the lion,” and was horrified when he stretched his hand only to realise the lion was standing very near him.

"The beast let out a terrific roar, and, seizing Rial by the throat, sprang clean through the window with him and made off. The partly eaten body was found in the bush next morning.

These are some of the horrors of two lions which according to www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/man-eaters-of-tsavo devoured 135 people in 1898 until they were shot and killed by Lt John Henry Patterson.  


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