February 15, 2003

By Michael Strickland

Man-Eaters of Tsavo

In the summer of 2001, I had the pleasure of spending two weeks in Chicago, one of the most dynamic and beautiful cities I have ever visited. The jewels in this city's crown are its amazing museums, and the Field Museum of Natural History is one of the brightest. The Field Museum's most well-known exhibit is that of the Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo. Here, the two lions—reconstructed by taxidermists with the original skins—crouch, poised, ready to attack, over 100 years after they terrorized a railroad construction camp in east Africa. I purchased a 41-page pamphlet about the incident at the museum, written by the lions' hunter Colonel John H. Patterson, but only just got around to reading it last night.

What a gripping story. Those of you who have seen the equally thrilling 1996 movie "The Ghost and the Darkness" (starring Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas) may be somewhat familiar with what happened back in 1898. During the construction of a railway bridge in Tsavo, Kenya, a pair of lions developed a taste for human flesh. On a nearly nightly basis, one or both of them crept into the camps of the railroad workers and attacked the sleeping men, often killing and devouring one of them. Though the workers built huge barricades, throwing up mounds of thorn bushes and fences, the lions still managed to find a way in. Patterson, the supervisor of the construction project, spent many a sleepless night lying in wait with rifle in hand, but each time the lions struck elsewhere. Instead of hearing gunshots, the workers heard the roar of lions, followed by the screams of a dying man.

It didn't take long for this terror to drive the workers away. Faced with a general strike, Patterson had no choice but to hunt down the lions full-time. He finally brought down one, then three weeks later, the other. But the toll had been high. All told, the lions had killed and eaten nearly 140 of the railroad workers during their nine-month reign of terror.

Reading Patterson's pamphlet (which is an excerpt of his book on the same subject), it struck me that he had more skill with the pen than the rifle. Though he had a number of close encounters with the lions, it took him many attempts to finally bring down the man-eaters. But his narrative was dead-on. Despite the late hour when I climbed into bed last night, Patterson's tale grabbed me by the throat and didn't let go till I had finished it.


Development note: I've noticed that this site doesn't look like it should in Netscape Navigator. Rather than waste time jury-rigging it to look right in a soon-to-be-obsolete browser, I'll just add the cliché "This site best viewed with Internet Explorer."
Michael Strickland ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Daily Chuckle:

True Fact: If you live in Baltimore, it is illegal to take a lion to the movies.

What is "The Daily Strick"?

I have long called myself a writer, but too often I don't do what a writer must do daily: write. So you, dear reader, are the beneficiary of my resolution to make a positive change in at least one area of my life. Every single day of this new year, I will write something, anything, and post it here. It is my intention to use this daily exercise to jump-start my too-long-dormant creative energies, and perhaps generate some worthwhile material this year. Hopefully you will find at least an occasional amusement or insight in my daily musings.

Today's Column
Send a Comment


2/14: Valentine Gems
2/13: Grab Bag
2/12: The End is Near
2/11: And the Winner Is...
2/10: Exploration is Risky Business
2/9: Staphylococcus
2/8: Morning Cup of Kofi
2/7: Game Over
2/6: The Eagle Never Landed
2/5: Pope: Potter No Problem
2/4: Time for Another Rewrite
2/3: A Matter of Opinions
2/2: Suicidal Bravado
2/1: Godspeed, Columbia

Like what you've read?
Find more good reading on

In Association with Amazon.com

(and support future Daily Stricks!)