but we are not,
the of lions of Tsavo and the Mfuwe lion put paid to that idea, so what happened? taking the lions of Tsavo, a pair of maneless males were implicated in dozens of deaths before they were shot by Colonel J.H. Patterson in 1898, they developed a predilection for human flesh, a new study by paleoecologist Larisa DeSantis and zoologist Bruce Patterson (no relation), published in Scientific Reports, helps disentangle myth from reality when it comes to Africa’s most famous man-eaters, the Tsavo lions, said by Colonel Patterson to have been responsible for the deaths of 135 people, the actual total was probably far lower, (well he had a book to write), a 2009 study of chemical traces in the lions’ teeth estimating that the two consumed about 35 people—but they still ate humans often enough that signs of their unusual menu choices should be visible on their teeth,
for the study, DeSantis and Patterson looked at the microwear preserved on the teeth of the Tsavo lions—as well as the Mfuwe lion that ate six people in 1991—to see if their teeth showed a shift in diet compared to other lions, cheetahs and hyenas, and they did, it was thought that a local outbreak of a disease called rinderpest had wiped out the zebra and wildebeest that the lions normally preyed on, making the cats desperate enough to prey on humans, who the lions then consumed entirely, but the study reveals that the lions were not scavenging buried humans or crunching bones out of desperation, “We thought we were going to provide concrete evidence that these lions were scavenging and thoroughly consuming carcasses before they died,” DeSantis says, instead, she notes, “the man-eating lions have microscopic wear patterns similar to captive lions that are typically provided with softer food.” in the case of the lions kept at the Smithosonian’s National Zoo, curator of great cats Craig Saffoe says the lions “get a base diet of ground beef, supplemented with specific vitamins and nutrients six days a week,” with a whole frozen rabbit once a week and defleshed beef bones twice a week, alarmingly for the Tsavo and Mfuwe lions, a good proportion of that “softer food” was human flesh, exactly why the Tsavo and Mfuwe lions turned to hunting humans remains a mystery,
although made by a leopard this Paranthropus skull cap shows where an early human was punctured and dragged by a big cat, still, DeSantis and Patterson point out some potential contributing factors, the Mfuwe lion, as well as one of the Tsavo lions, had extreme injuries to their jaws, they wouldn’t have been as adept at taking their typical prey, so soft, tasty humans would have offered an attractive alternative, even then, DeSantis says, humans were a food of last resort and the lions were primarily focused on the soft parts, these were not devilish skeleton crunchers, but injured cats doing what they could to survive, the upshot is more than ancient history. “We need to stop thinking of humans as on the top of the food chain,” DeSantis says, the fossil record is clear that humans have been prey for other animals for our entire history, and as DeSantis points out, 563 people were killed by lions in Tanzania alone between January of 1990 and September of 2004, getting in your car to drive to work is still far more likely to be fatal than meeting a lion, of course, but that statistic is a reminder that other species do not recognise our self importance for some beasts, we are still prey,
and why the interest in human crunching lions? after watching the first few episodes of Zoo I was reminded of the man eating lions of Africa.