Visit the Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo & Mfuwe in Chicago!

Man-Eater of Mfuwe lion

This guy is no laughing matter.  The Man-Eater of Mfuwe ate 6 people before strutting through the village center, seemingly, to gloat.  

“The men called them the Ghost and the Darkness. There were 2 of them and that had never happened before because man-eaters are always alone. They owned the night, but they also attacked in daylight. Alone or together. Without fear or reason. Some thought they were not lions at all, but the spirits of dead medicine men come back to spread madness. For others, they were the devil sent to stop the white man from owning the world. I believe this… that they were evil. What better ground for evil to walk than Tsavo? Because this is what the word Tsavo means:

‘a place of slaughter.’

–  Samuel in The Ghost and the Darkness movie 

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Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo & the Man-Eater of Mfuwe at the Field Museum

The man-eating Lions of Tsavo and the Man-Eater of Mfuwe are the stuff of nightmares.  Their rampages still haunt in movie, books & legend.  To find them on display is incredible.  Not just a rare opportunity, but one of a kind.  To my knowledge, this is the only public exhibit of man-eaters in the world.  Chicago’s museums are top notch, even compared to the national museums in DC.  The collections in Illinois are world famous with good reason.  I love them all, but the Field Museum of Natural History is a favorite.  Along Lake Michigan, it’s tucked between Shedd Aquarium and Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears.  The man-eating lions of Tsavo & Mfuwe are perhaps the Field Museum’s most feared residents.  Groups overseas are trying to procure at least 2 of the lions, so if Chicago is within your travel range, the time to see them is now!  The Tsavo cats have drawn crowds for nearly a century.  Being eaten alive is our most primal fear.  When an animal develops a taste for human flesh & goes on a killing spree, we realize how far down the food chain we are.  Without weapons, we’re as defenseless as babes.  But, if we can stare into their eyes, we assure ourselves that this 1 nightmare is dead.  

Man-eater of Mfuwe lion close-up

A closer look at the Man-Eater of Mfuwe.  He gives me chills, even now.  I can’t imagine how intimidating he was in life.  

The Man-Eater of Mfuwe:

Today, he stalks a Field Museum exhibit, along with the infamous Tsavo lions, nearby.  But, not so long ago…  Zambia in south-central Africa.  He devoured 6 women and children in just 2 months, in 1991.  The Man-eater of Mfuwe is the world’s largest man-eating lion, on record.  Snout to tail, this lion king measured a terrifying 10 1/2 feet long.  People weren’t safe, even behind closed doors.  He burst into huts in the middle of the day.  Dragged women from their very homes to maul them in the open.  Stole children away in the night.  He returned the next day to his 6th victim’s home and took her laundry bag of clothes.  If he were human, they would call that a serial killer’s souvenir.  But he didn’t steal it away.  Piercing the village quiet with deep, thunderous roars, he paraded his dead victim’s bag through her village.  He dropped it in the center and stood roaring over it, daring anyone to challenge.  They tried to scare him off by beating pots and yelling, but he stood his ground.  His fearless defiance to taunt the crowded village, shocked everyone.  It convinced the people that he was evil.  A demon or sorcerer in lion form.  The lion took the bag and left it at the river bed where the villagers washed their clothes.  Spooked, they moved their washing a 1/2 mile down-river & believed the bag bewitched.  Each morning his scattered footprints mocked them where he returned to play with the bag at night.  He brought their dead neighbor’s bag into the village, once more, and played with it ‘like catnip’, in front of them.  There was no escaping the terror.  

 

Like the Tsavo lions before him, the lion proved very smart and easily diverted their traps.  It took weeks of failed attempts and great risk to bring the great cat down.  6 innocent lionesses were killed before realizing the man-eater was another maneless male.  A Chicago-raised man on safari shot & killed the Man-Eater of Mfuwe.  (He was fascinated with the Tsavo lions exhibit as a kid.)  The villagers cheered and beat and spit at the felled, already dead lion.  His reign of terror was over.  But, in Africa, it’s only a matter of time before another.    

Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo

The infamous man-eating Lions of Tsavo.  Tsavo lions are maneless or have very little crown, possibly due to a hotter, drier climate and abundance of thorned bushes.  Possibly higher testosterone, too, as they are known to be more aggressive.  

The Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo

Their murderous rampage took place over a century ago.  Other man-eating lions & species claim even higher body counts.  But the Tsavo lions are the most widely (in)famous of all.  We still talk about (& fear them) over 120 years later.  They’ve been immortalized in movie and books.  Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas brought unforgettable, mainstream fame to them in 1996 with the chilling movie The Ghost and the Darkness.  They ravaged the Tsavo area in (today’s) Kenya, East Africa with terror and death.  

 

In the mid 1800s, the British empire built a railway in Africa.  They sought to secure the area and improve access, conditions, and end Arab slave trade.  In 1898, a railway bridge began over the crocodile-infested Tsavo river.  Within a week, the killings began and gripped the area for nearly a year.  Men were dragged from their tents in the middle of the night.  From the field hospital.  From group tents or sitting next to a campfire.  Sometimes 2 at a time.  For 9 long months, the Tsavo lion duo held 3,000 railway workers in absolute terror.  In the quiet of night, when lions stalk, the men would call out, “Beware, brother!  The devil is coming!” to keep them alert.  They spent the nights in panicked wait.  Then the screams.  The frantic clawing at the ground as they were ripped away and dragged through razor-thorned fences.  Hearing them feed on your friend.  The gory bits of a mauling left behind.  Each of them dreading their own turn with the “devils of the night”.  The torment went on for months.  

 

They tried to lion-proof.  Built thorned walls around camp.  Watchmen banged loudly and kept fires burning through the night.  Many tied their beds up in trees and any roof they could find.  So many in 1 tree that it fell over from the weight.  They set elaborate traps & ambushes, had guns, but the lions proved elusive over and over, again.  The men believed the lions were “devils” and couldn’t be killed by man.  For 9 months, it seemed they may be right.  Hundreds of workers spilled onto the tracks and forced a passing train to stop.  They swarmed on, left their jobs, and fled the ‘slaughter’ of Tsavo.  Better to starve than be eaten by lion.  Construction halted for 3 weeks.  Armies have tried and failed to bring the great British empire to a standstill.  Two lions did it with a simple campaign of terror.  They were finally shot and were claimed to have killed 135 people.  Scientists have shown they ingested about 35 (to 74) that year, which is plenty.  It’s possible they killed more that they didn’t eat.  They left some bodies half-eaten.   

Aftermath of the Tsavo slayings

After all of the terror, loss of life, work, and expense, the Tsavo railway bridge was blown up by the Germans in WWI, less than 20 years later.  Today, the site is called Man-Eater’s Junction and is part of Tsavo East National Park in Kenya.  

 

Lions are known to kill between 20 and 250 people, a year.  At the time, they hadn’t seen 2 male lions hunt together.  Tsavo lions have 1 male in a pride.  Since then, however, entire prides have been found to hunt humans.  The Man-Eating Lions of Njombe (Tanzania) was a pride of 15 that ate over 1,500 people in the 1930s & 40s. 

Man-eating lions of Tsavo close-up

An intense stare, even in death that more than a century cannot cool.  One of the man-eating lions of Tsavo pair.  Gives a chill over 120 years later.

The Truth About Lions:

The Tsavo lions’ killing spree was likely the result of a perfect storm.  The Tsavo area had experienced 13 years of severe drought & famine.  One so horrible that there were murders & cannibalism.  Some parents killed their children or sold them into slavery for food.  Diseases swept through.  Corpses were everywhere, but no one had the strength to bury them.  Arab slave traders came through and left sick and dying slaves along the way.  The bodies piled up, too numerous for the animals to eat.  This trail of corpses and the mass, open or shallow graves gave the lions an easy meal and chance to develop a taste for human meat.  But, then the railway cut off slave trade.  The drought and epidemics took a rest.  Millions of wildlife (& countless people) had died, radically thinning the food supply, just as 3,000 workers came to town.    

 

Another likelihood, in these 3 (not all) instances, a terrible toothache.  Both of the Tsavo lions had dental disease.  The one with more severe disease ate more than twice as many humans as his friend.  He had a broken canine with severe abscess.  A misaligned canine bit right down onto it.  It would have been difficult and painful to take down and eat his larger, normal prey with tougher skin and meat.  The Man-Eater of Mfuwe had a fractured jaw.  Humans are easier to catch & chew.  Beware the lion with an aching tooth!   

The great king of the jungle is much feared and attacks bring them negative attention.  But, to target them is unfair.  More and more people encroach on their land and there is dwindling prey to eat.  Lions can’t farm or go to the market, or a restaurant.  They catch food to live.  Lions are beautiful, majestic creatures and I can’t wait to see them on safari in magnificent Africa, someday.  I want them to be here for all the generations to come.  In recent years, there were about 200,000 lions.  Today there are only a tenth left.  They are considered a vulnerable species and have gone extinct in 15 African countries.  To help protect and conserve the remaining big cats, see the ‘More Lion Madness’ box below.  To see the infamous Tsavo & Mfuwe lions for yourself, make the trip to Chicago.  It’s worth it!   

“If you want to see the lions today, you must go to America. They are at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois. Even now, if you dare lock eyes with them, you will be afraid.”

 

– Samuel in The Ghost and the Darkness

Lion Wizard of Oz

So, not very ferocious, but the only lion I could find in these parts!  Bill as part of our Wizard of Oz family ensemble.

Good to Know:

  • “Tsavo” is the Akamba word for ‘slaughter’, referring to its history of tribal warfare between the Akamba and the Maasai. 
  • The Tsavo lions were much larger in life.  Their hides had been trimmed down into rugs with their many scars & bullet wounds removed (7 to fell one lion and 2 for the other).  In the photos after being shot, a single paw looks as big as the man’s whole head, the lion’s head the size of his torso.   
  • The shooter believed he discovered the “man-eaters’ den” after killing the pair.  The cave contained a large number of human bones.  Scientists re-discovered the cave in 1997, but nothing remained.  They could have been carried away by floods, scavengers, or people.  Lions don’t typically live in caves nor collect bones.  It remains a mystery. 
  • One of the Tsavo lions was 9′ 8″ long, the other 9′ 10″ and stood just a 1/ inch short of 4 feet.  Measure that out and envision him in front of you.  They weighed approximately 500 pounds, each.  It took 8 men to carry one lion’s body.  In life, the Man-Eater of Mfuwe dwarfed them both.  
  • Witnesses described hearing the great cats purr as they crunched on human bones and, sometimes, ate the entire bodies.  Scientists don’t find the wear typically associated with eating bones.  Lions much prefer meat, unless starving.  
  • Today, you can stay and sleep near the Tsavo river bridge site where the killings occurred.  ‘Man-Eaters Lodge’ is a luxury resort camp in the Tsavo National Park with beautiful lodging, pool & open-air fine dining.   

 

 The Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo & Mfuwe are in the Rice Gallery

on the Main level of the Field Museum (of Natural History)  

1400 S Lakeshore Drive

Chicago, Illinois

 

More Lion Madness: 🦁

  

For more info:

The Smithsonian           Chicago Tribune         Earth Touch News

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Once Upon a Wheat

Terri & Bill Wheat

Hey, there! I’m Terri & my husband Bill and I have 4 kids (2 boys & twin girls + a pup!) and we’ve been traveling since our kids were little. At this mid point in my journey, I’m trying to shove as much as I can into this precious gift of life and squeeze all the joy and growth and learning I can out of it. Making memories that matter, building a life of joy & meaning, actively pursuing my greatest potential. I have a zest for life, for learning, for growth & I want to give you the resources & inspiration to have better vacations and get more from your life!

Visit the Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo & Mfuwe in Chicago!

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Visit the Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo & Mfuwe in Chicago!