Tuesday, January 26, 2010

the Ghost and the Darkness

Roughly 112 years ago, talking about a major railway project in the Houses of Parliament, British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury made surely one of the most extraordinary statement ever uttered by a politician not referring to his own fidelity:

"The whole of the works were put to a stop because a pair of man-eating lions appeared in the locality and conceived a most unfortunate taste for our workmen. At last the labourers entirely declined to carry on unless they were guarded by iron entrenchments.

Of course it is difficult to work a railway under these conditions and until we found an enthusiastic sportsman to get rid of these lions our enterprise was seriously hindered."

These are the lions in question; the Ghost and the Darkness, the Maneaters of Tsavo.

the ghost and the darkness

The "enthusiastic sportsman" in question was one Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson. Patterson claimed the lions may have taken as many as a 135 (yes; one hundred and thirty five) victims which as individual man-eating animals go would put them in the premier league with only the Leopard of Rudraprayag and Gustave for company. The reality is likely to be that the lions killed considerably fewer people than this but there is no question they killed a huge number of people, halted construction on the bridge in question and proved very difficult to stop. The two lions' depredations lasted 9 months with Patterson eventually killing the lions in December 1898.

the ghost and the darkness

Patterson's memoir of his ordeal and quest became a huge bestseller and was the inspiration for the film "The Ghost and the Darkness" starring Val Kilmer as Patterson and Michael Douglas as a fictional hunter called Charles Remmington (Remmington was based on Charles Ryall who hunted but was killed by the last of the two lions after Patterson dispatched the first, the lion entering Ryall's train carriage and killing him!).

the ghost and the darkness

If you're thinking the two look unimpressive for what they are, you're absolutely right. Patterson reported the lions to be absolute monsters (among the largest ever recorded) but the measurements tell a different story. These are maneless male lions (as a number of maneaters from this region have been) and appear averaged sized (and notably smaller than the maneater of Mfuwe). It should be noted however that the skins spent twenty years as rugs before being remounted and accordingly may be smaller than they should be due to trimming and damage. Nevertheless even in their sad current state these two cats provide a stark reminder that we are not always the top of the food chain.


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