|Posted on September 1, 2011 at 7:00 AM|
THE MAN-EATING LIONS OF TSAVO: VARIOUS REASSESSMENTS
OTHER MAN-EATING LIONS TO THE PRESENT DAY - PART 2
THE MAN-EATER OF MFUWE
Wayne Allen Hosek
Long before now the lion's presence seemed to exert a power unto itself, and had begun to permeate our entire beings. All of our talk, thoughts and actions for those days had focused on him and his challenge to us. We acknowledged the pressure, especially with so many watching who had failed, from the Game Management Scouts and the from local governing tribal councils, but it was inconsequential to us. The local authorities had instituted a 5 P.M. curfew for a large area encompassing approximately 65 square miles; most of the villagers obeyed. On the way back from the villages to our camp, however, we saw many were venturing out past curfew. Apparently they must have been thinking, "It won't be me. It will be the next person who the lion eats". Even so, the entire region took on a somber atmosphere with so many curtailed activities.
We were all near exhaustion. Sleep was out of the question: it was simply futile to try. I had come to hunt, and it was this very fact that we perhaps clung to and acted out, in order to convince ourselves that he was not controlling our lives. So, during the day when we had time not devoted to tracking and preparing for the lion, we would try to give ourselves an emotional break and occupy our minds by tracking other animals as far as we could into the designated areas. After riding our adrenaline all day, at our camp dinner that night, conversations were short. It was then that I posed a question to Willie, a question that I probably should have asked earlier. "What, I asked, would happen should this lion decide to come into the blind and confront us?" Willie’s response seemed so logical that it made perfect sense to me and so it put me completely at ease about such an attack. He said simply: "If he comes into the blind, there will be 3 guns waiting for him and he will be killed." With that I never gave it a second thought. But he apparently did give it many thoughts himself, as he later told me he never would close his eyes because he held that to be a real possibility with this lion being a man-eater. He didn't want to give him one instant of advantage.
Ironically, Charlie and Jerry, experienced just such an attempt 5 nights later about 60 miles from camp. It was only a clever ploy by Simon the PH with them, who, staved off what would most certainly have been a very ugly incident. From their report I realized that lions who come into blinds are not such a simple matter for the occupants.
After another fretful night in bed, shortly after sunrise the next day we scouted the new bait and the area around the new blind. The man-eater had come to the bait, had torn off parts of it, and we could see where he had lain to eat in a footpath used by the villagers leading to a small creek. It appeared he may have taken a nap in the path as well. I stopped to take a photo of one of his pug marks next to my foot. As I snapped the shutter the camera froze. My view through it was black. The camera had broken!
The snap of the shutter seemed to still be snapping like a whip in my head. I took this incredible event as possibly a sign from The Lord. Staring at the pug mark, I thought it meant "Lights out!" But for which one of us? For me or for the lion? I wouldn't accept the thought of it being me. Charl and Willie didn't seem at all comfortable with what had just happened. In truth neither was I. All three of us didn't want to talk about it. It was almost as if we all accepted that it was an omen. The villagers said the lion, after all, was a witch or a demon. Who knew what it meant? Only time would tell.
So far the new plan was working to perfection. During that day our talk was of anything other than that of the coming evening's work. It reminded me of a baseball team’ dugout when their pitcher has a no-hitter in his sight. Don't hear, don't talk, don't think it. But, I was thinking about it and I felt the others were as well. We craved relief from the shroud of oppression that had seemed to somehow smother our spirits since we first intruded into the man-eater's affairs. We knew he could be seeing us at any time, and we felt him, whether in his ‘hunting area’, or returning to camp several miles away. It was as if a spirit was around, watching us continually. By this we felt that we had come to know this lion in a most strange way and peculiar.
Charl, Willie and I returned to enter the new blind about 3:30 P.M. that day. Gilbert, Ken and Boniface made arrangements with villagers to stay in nearby huts. If the man-eater was wounded and escaped death from our initial attack, Gilbert would be the lead man to track him until the lion decided to fight it out or became weak so one of us could put him down. It was too revolting a scenario for us to even think about as a possibility, but we knew we had to be prepared for it. I was hoping the lion would show up soon, and give us an easy shot and allow an early camp celebration.
We waited, talking in whispers, calmly, even lightheartedly, but we were afraid to talk about the lion. After about 45 minutes Charl suddenly raised his finger to his lips indicating silence. He had spotted some movement in the tall grass near us. Peeking intently through the blind's grass walls he detected parts of a lion's body as it moved. He indicated that the lion was circling the area in the tall grass not more than 40 feet to one side of the blind. We kept quite still and quiet from that moment on. We all were suffering from days of sleep deprivation, and one of my greatest concerns had been the possibility that one or more of us would pass out asleep. Despite the intensity of the situation, I feared that this could happen in a moment of deceptive calm, when physical exhaustion and a mind assaulted by overwhelming emotions, especially in unyielding heat, together seem to fulfill the old saying that ‘the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’.
Charl and I both could snore if we dozed off, and I had asked him if one of us to fall asleep and snore at the wrong moment, could it warn off the man-eater? Charl said he thought it would not as this lion was used to being around people, especially in the middle of the night. He would have heard and become accustomed to human sounds and it might only enhance our chances of him viewing the blind as "just another house". Still, even before I asked the question I knew the answer in my heart was: to stay alert. As we waited and hoped, I prayed a silent prayer. I found myself fighting off attacks of dozing, and I know I succumbed to one as dusk began to envelop us.
It was seemingly in the next moment when I saw Charl standing and motioning for me to get up! I jumped up with my .375 H&H and looked through the blind window. Willie whispered: "See him? He's behind the tree!" I didn't at first because the lion was approaching from far behind in a straight line with the trunk of the tree from which the bait he'd partially eaten the day before hung, thereby masking his movement. Our preconceived image of him didn't suffer any as he used this tactic. From my view of the lion's body movement from behind the cover of the tree trunk, he wasn't walking calmly as I had seen many other lions walk as when undisturbed. He was in a quick stride, almost trotting. Reaching the tree, he then stepped out from behind it to our left and I saw him for the first time—he was huge! He trotted right past the bait and turned his face to the blind and snarled. He knew we were there. And as Charl had accurately predicted would be the case, he was moving and picking up speed. We would never see him standing still. At least not alive.
Extending his legs he gave me a full broadside view of his body. I scoped onto his stomach at first, but bearing down I jumped the cross hairs and caught up to below and back of his left shoulder, about "1/3 up and 1/3 back" as he began to take his first leaping step in a full run. It was a perfect sight picture! As I continued sweeping with him, I allowed subconscious control as I squeezed the trigger and heard the sound of the hit, a "wok". Suddenly an orange flash next to me extended towards the lion and I knew Charl had squeezed off a round. I know I heard the blast of his rifle, but the sound was as silent as the scene in my scope. I immediately re-chambered as the lion continued to sprint like a greyhound for cover into the elephant grass out of my vision. We listened to him crashing through the dry grass for a few seconds, and then, just as suddenly as he had appeared, the noise of his last 'charge' ended. What came next was a low gurgling, burping sound, the sound heard when a lion succumbs to a lethal blow, and then deadly silence.
The Man-eater of Mfuwe's reign of terror ended on September 9, 1991. What I had just done and seen was not a dream, but I was not quite ready to totally believe it, even though to me it was more like a dream come true. Charl looked at me and said: " We're going out to check the lion." I’m not sure why, yet I stood there, savoring the moment. Despite the relief and elation, I still strangely held onto the state of mind I had just prior to killing the lion. It lingered on as the fear continued to assert itself.
The Land Rover could be heard approaching through the dry bush driven by Gilbert, Boniface, and Ken. They heard the rifle blasts and were speeding to our sides, not knowing what to expect. Greeting them as they drove by me, they continued up to where Charl and Willie were approaching the dead man-eater, which was around 40 yards from bullet impact. When they reached them, Gilbert stood over the carcass and began singing "The Kunda Lion song" in a clear, beautiful, strong voice: "Moto-moto anamata, Nkalam sa funna nkondo" translated: "Fire, Fire Young Man, The Lion does not want a War". As I walked forward, the trackers ran to me and hugged and kissed me with their congratulations. Ken repeated gleefully: "I say today you get your lion". We were all overjoyed it was over. Yet, I believe that I was perhaps more relieved that we didn't have to track the man-eater's blood trail with darkness falling.
As darkness was now masking the surroundings, the skyline in the distance was lit up all around by orange light. The villagers were setting bonfires in celebration! They had heard Gilbert’s song! Voices began ringing out from the darkness from all directions accompanied by drumbeats. Shouting was back and forth and singing came from all sides. We could see no one. It was as if hundreds of people were conducting a private opera. With the orange glowing halos in the darkening skyline of tall grass as a backdrop, we stood in silent isolation with the dead man-eater. It was a moment of exquisite uniqueness. I stopped and stood to savor the scene and cement it in my memory.
It seemed too soon when the echoing voices transformed into a huge circle of people converging on a point in the headlights of the Rover. As I approached, I saw Charl was standing next to the rover. Rapidly a crowd of children swarmed at one point in the vehicles’ lights and I watched as they were spitting, and from their body movements, striking and kicking toward the ground. They were casting out their fear and rage on the dead lion! The noise grew as many more people arrived. Charl stood as if transfixed; he eyes reflecting empathy, wonderment and appreciation. He seemed at a loss for words. Equally in awe, I milled around watching the crowd.
A very old woman approached Charl and asked him who had shot the lion. I couldn't actually hear her above the crowd noise, but I saw him point at me from across the dust filled circle of celebrants. She looked at me for a moment, then back to him for confirmation, and with her cane in her hand, she limped over to me to, took my hand, squeezed it hard, and looked fiercely in my eyes and said, "Zikomo kwambili", which means "Thank you very, very much". This was considered by those present to be great honor granted me from one held in high esteem. Charl later told me when he recounted her greeting and thanks that this was the most dramatic moment for him throughout the entire experience.
After her recognition, countless others extended their hands to me in thanks as I walked around the crowd. Finally I looked warily at the Man-Eater of Mfuwe. He lay almost as if he were asleep. Yet I could not bring myself any closer to him and remained 25 feet away. Suddenly a story my friend Mickey told me years earlier came to me: He told me that he heard that when one first sees the lion he is hunting, it looks gigantic. And then, after shooting it, the lion immediately looks much smaller. But as the hunter approaches the dead animal, the lion grows in size with each step, until it regains its true size at the very least in the eyes of the hunter.
It took me 30 minutes or more before I could bring myself to go up from behind, and touch the Man-eater of Mfuwe. My camera had broken when I had photographed the lion's pug mark next to my foot earlier in the day. Charl had brought his along—and it also refused to function as well. Was this a curse from the beast? It didn't matter to those of us who were gathered there. After all the best picture is the one that remains in a person's heart.. Villagers carried me on their shoulders around the crowd in celebration. Numerous songs were sung, speeches made with countless expressions of individual thanks. To name all would be difficult, yet one of many individuals who stand out in my memory: was the Project Assistant School Principal who thanked me profusely, honoring my mother for "birthing" me. He said that he had to once wait for 17 hours to leave his hut because of the Man-eaters activities. Gilbert sang ‘The Lion Song’ again and again. Willie came alongside me and suggested I listen carefully, since the only time the song is sung is when a lion is killed. It is believed by the Kunda, that if it is sung when a lion has not been killed, whoever sings the song will themselves soon be killed by a lion.
After expressing my gratitude for the kindness and honors bestowed on me by the villagers during their celebration, our party returned to camp with the Man-eater of Mfuwe in our Land Rover. With our companions and our camp staff we continued the celebration under a bright starlit sky. After the celebration, our skinners cut open the stomach of the Man-eater of Mfuwe to look for identifiable human remains. This was a critical part of the celebration and of the official recognition of the victims. It was required because the Kunda, as well as many other African tribes, believe that if any human remains are found, at least part of them must be buried with a proper funeral, otherwise the deceased will not enter heaven or the equivalent of ‘the happy hunting ground’. Finally, about 6 hours after firing the shot that killed him, I was able to bring myself to touch the lion's head.
Around 3 A.M., as we were wrapped it up for the night, I saw Kathryn, an Oxford University wildlife researcher, who was working at the Project’s Kwange Culling Station, with the Game Management Scouts. She had enjoyed the celebration. As I prepared to retire, and take the Man-eater of Mfuwe away for the night, she stood motionless staring at him from the corner. I walked over and asked her if she had a chance to go up and inspect the lion, at least touch the man-eater. "No, not yet,..but I will.." she murmured. Indicating that in a minute the chance was about to be gone forever still did not persuade her to move. She just kept staring at him and repeated that she ‘would’. Finally, I asked this woman, who had lived for four years in the bush, if she would like to walk with me up to the dead man-eater. She said "OK", but only after I took her hand in mine would she step forward with me to ‘meet him’.
Man-eaters die hard.
Charl told me he had never seen anything like what had transpired. None of us had. The next morning, Willie came up to me and confessed, smiling broadly, that he had made up his mind that he would never put his head down or doze off, because he was extremely fearful, "that this lion, being a man-eater, just might decide to creep up and suddenly come into the blind". He too said the events were amazing and would never forget them. "You watch", he said, "when you get back to LA, you’ll be asking yourself, ‘Did I really do that?’"
No human remains where found in the man-eater. Charl’s shot had nicked is left rear ankle, tearing away a noticeable patch of skin and flesh. His back bore the scars of the beating by the crowd of children just hours earlier. He seemed to be a most normal dead lion. The lion measured out at 10' 6" by Charl’s measuring tape. ‘His’ white bag remained undisturbed out of respect for Jesleen; it probably disappeared with the seasonal rains that came a few months later.
After a short 3 hours of rest, I returned to the scene of our triumph. The blind's grass and bamboo poles had been salvaged by the villagers. Searching the ground, I found my spent cartridge casing from the lethal round taken by the lion. It seemed to reflect my energy level. The landscape now seemed uncharacteristically placid and lifeless, the way my mental and emotional state felt. Everyone in camp said I had been "Africanized". More "Africanizing" challenges came and went with their sudden danger, lethal threats, and uncertainty. Still, none were as "Africanizing" as the moment Charl presented me with the Man-eater of Mfuwe’s floating bones. Taking them into my hands, my heart throbbed and I felt a familiar rush, almost as if he still lived.
Somehow, for me, he always will.
Two days later, I had the honor of being presented to the area Chieftainess, Cheiftainess Ensefu. There were numerous congratulatory calls to the nearest phones in Mfuwe from officials including the Norwegian Director of the Project, the Game Warden of the Mfuwe Command, and Zambian newspapers carried the story. Some were relayed by radio to us. We were given the wonderful opportunity to promote the concept of the LIRDP conservation program and similar efforts not only in Zambia, but all of Africa.
I remain honored beyond measure to have taken the Man-eater of Mfuwe. I am exceedingly grateful for the opportunity that was given me and the teamwork of Charl Buekes, Willie Cloete and our trackers Gilbert, Ken and Boniface. In keeping with LIRDP goals and purpose, I had not only taken a fine trophy and benefited it's cause, but also had rid the people, children especially, of the reign terror of the Man-eater of Mfuwe. An experience I never even thought of being a possibility let alone reality.
THE MOST FEROCIOUS MAN-EATING LIONS
Africa's lions may usually prey on zebras or giraffes, but they also attack humans, with some lions responsible for over 50 deaths.
In encounters with the king of beasts, an unarmed person is "one of the most helpless creatures," notes Charles Guggisberg in Simba: the Life of the Lion. "Man cannot run as fast as a zebra or a gazelle, he has not the horns of the sable antelope or the tusks of the warthog, and he cannot deal terrific blows like the giraffe." People are, in other words, easy pickings. Even though Africa’s lion populations have been drastically reduced in the past decades, lions still regularly eat people; it’s not uncommon for them to kill more than 100 people a year in Tanzania alone.
Many man-eaters are wounded or old; some have been deprived of natural prey sources; others may simply have developed a fondness for human flesh. Most are nameless, but a few of the most notorious have been rather colorfully christened: Namvelieza, or The Cunning One, killed 43 people near Kasawa, Zambia. Tanzania’s Paper Lion got his name because he seemed to drift from victim to victim randomly, like a scrap of paper floating in the breeze.
This list of the most famous man-eaters includes mostly males, but females are actually responsible for more killings, according to University of Minnesota lion expert Craig Packer. However, lionesses tend to eat people in isolated instances, then return to their normal diet, while males "are more likely to become recidivists," Packer says. The worst-case scenario, he says, is when a whole pride of males and females starts feeding on people: these lions are the most "persistent" threat to their human neighbors.
This man-eater—missing half his tail and so light-colored that he was also known as "the White Lion"—haunted Chiengi, the British post on the border of what was then Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), in 1909. "In the district in which he carried on his nefarious practices Charlie (became) a celebrity, almost an institution," according to one account. "He was alluded to with the almost affectionate familiarity with which some people speak of the devil." He eventually teamed up with two other males to feed on the inhabitants of several villages. Charlie and his partners reportedly ate 90 people, including the servant of a hunter sent to destroy him. He eluded all manner of traps and the best marksmen in the country (though one village woman managed to beat him off with a firebrand as he clawed through the mud wall of her hut.) He was finally shot in a gun trap.
Osama terrorized Rufiji, Tanzania, from 2002 to 2004; he was accused of killing more than 50 people from eight villages. Part of a pride of males and females, Osama likely didn’t kill alone, but he was the lion villagers singled out to star in billboard-size depictions of the bloody deeds (according to Tanzanian lion scientist Dennis Ikanda, the lion was named after Osama bin Laden, whose terrorist attacks made headlines even in rural Tanzania.) Osama was just 3 1/2 years old when game scouts shot him in April of 2004. Some have blamed his eating habits on a large abscess on one of his molars, but, according to Packer, whose research team studied the case, plenty of man-eaters have perfect teeth. Osama "probably got started when his mother started eating people," Packer says.
Though historically rich in wild game, the Luangwa River Valley in eastern Zambia has produced a series of fearsome man-eaters. In 1929, one began stalking victims near the Msoro Mission, which furnished his alliterative nickname. "Msoro Monty" never lost his knack for sniffing out traps. After killing a large number of people, he disappeared without a trace.
Lion of Mfuwe
This cat terrorized Zambia’s Luangwa River Valley—near Msoro Monty’s old stamping grounds—in 1991. After killing at least six people, the lion strutted through the center of a village, reportedly carrying a laundry bag that had belonged to one of his victims. A California man on safari, after waiting in a hunting blind for 20 nights, later shot and killed him. The lion was more than ten feet long and, like the famous Tsavo lions, totally maneless. His body is on display at Chicago’s Field Museum.
Hollywood darlings, and arguably the most famous of the man-eaters, the Tsavo lions have been the subject of several movies—including Bwana Devil (1952) and The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)—and many books. The pair of males was accused of devouring some 140 workers along Kenya’s Tsavo River, where crews were building a railroad bridge in 1898. Hundreds of workers fled, halting construction; the project’s chief engineer finally hunted down both lions, and the bridge was completed in 1899.
The Man-Eaters of Njombe
The most prolific of the man-eaters, this pride of 15 claimed hundreds of lives—perhaps as many as 1,500—of lives between 1932 and 1947 in southern Tanzania. "The renowned man-eaters of Tsavo were very small fry compared to what these proved to be," wrote George Rushby, the British game warden charged with stopping them. Prior to the pride’s bloody spree, the colonial government had reduced the numbers of prey animals in the area in an effort to control a rinderpest outbreak that was destroying cattle herds. The hungry lions quickly settled on human flesh as a substitute. Unlike most lions, the Njombe pride did its killing in the afternoon, using the night hours to travel as far as 15 or 20 miles to an unsuspecting village. Rushby believed that the cats actually used a relay system to drag bodies into the safety of the bush. He finally hunted down and shot the lions.
THE CRYPTOZOOLOGIST FULFILLS HIS DREAM TO BE A GREAT WHITE HUNTER