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KWS ranger mauled by 'man-eater' in Tsavo West before president Uhuru’s visit

COAST
By RENSON MNYAMWEZI | May 28th 2015

VOI: A Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) ranger who was guarding a presidential tent the night before the Head of State’s visit to the region to inspect the Standard Gauge Railway sustained serious injuries after being mauled by a lion.

Ntukai Nakodo, who was armed, was on Monday among security officers guarding the site near the lion-infested bushes in Tsavo West National Park along the Nairobi-Mombasa highway. President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto and an entourage of 10 Cabinet secretaries toured the area on Tuesday.

The leaders also inspected progress of the 1.9km Tsavo River bridge that will serve as a wildlife corridor. It was not clear if they were informed about the lion attack.

Police and senior KWS officials confirmed the ranger had suffered multiple head injuries following the attack and had been admitted in St Joseph Shelter of Hope Hospital on the outskirts of Voi town.

County Police Commander Richard Bitonga and Tsavo Conservation Area Senior Warden Dickson Too said the ranger was attacked at night in the company of his colleagues. Mr Bitonga said the lion is suspected to have emerged from the vast Tsavo West National Park.

“The lion mauled the ranger’s face and dragged him for a few metres before his colleagues rescued him,” he said. “The security personnel had to fire several times in the air to scare away the lion, which disappeared into the bush,” he added.

Speaking to The Standard at Tsavo River yesterday, Bitonga said the officer was responding well to treatment. Sources told The Standard that the victim was asleep at the time of the attack.

“We had not anticipated something like this. Had we all fallen asleep we would be telling a different story today,” said one of the security personnel at the scene.

The incident rekindled the chilling tales about the man-eating lions of Tsavo.

In 1898, a pride of lions purportedly killed and ate some 135 people during a nine-month rampage near Kenya’s Tsavo River.

HUMAN FLESH

After researching the incident and others, researchers at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois, in the US, found evidence suggesting it was not unusual for lions to feed on human flesh as previously supposed.

The study, published in the Journal of East African Natural History, is one of the first to use scientific methods to examine the often-sensationalised subject of man-eating lions.

“Man-eaters have historically been considered aberrant or exceptional,” said study co-author Julian Kerbis Peterhans, an adjunct curator of mammals at the Field Museum and an associate professor at the Roosevelt University in Chicago.

 

“In fact, they are carnivores that have always included primates (such as humans) as part of their diet,” he said.

Lions may have repeatedly attacked humans as prey because of certain environmental conditions, researchers suggest. They also note that man-eating lion behaviour continues today.

Despite other cases of lions eating humans, some involving higher death tolls, the much-romanticised Tsavo story endures. The incident, dubbed the “reign of terror” in popular accounts, was featured in the 1996 film, The Ghost and the Darkness.

Various accounts of a pair of marauding lions in Kenya in 1898 probably inflated the number of humans killed. At the time, it was reported that 135 bridge railway construction workers were attacked and eaten.

The two maneless male Tsavo lions are said to have visited terror on Indian railway construction workers, stalking them and dragging them from their tents at night before devouring them.

Crews are said to have tried to keep them away using campfires and thorn fences to no avail.

The incident temporarily halted the construction of the railroad linking Lake Victoria with Mombasa on Africa’s Eastern seaboard.

WESTERN IMPRESSIONS

A British officer, Colonel John Henry Patterson, eventually killed the lions and the skins were sold to the Field Museum after Col Patterson lectured there in 1924.

“The man-eaters of Tsavo have long garnered a disproportionate place in popular imagination,” said Craig Packer, a behavioural ecologist with the Lion Research Center at the University of Minnesota.

The incident may have been romanticised since it coincided with initial Western impressions of East Africa, said Packer. In addition, it “added a lot of spice” to Kenya’s safari industry, he said.

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