Report from Phil Crosby
I was fortunate enough to spend three weeks in Tsavo last year, helping with
the Field Museum study into the Lions in Tsavo: the principal focus of the
study was actually to look into the causes of manelessness, as well as the
alteration in lion behaviour caused by living in smaller groups (Tsavo is
very dens scrub bush, unlike the typical savannah habitat, and supports
smaller prides, typically with one male only, rather than the alliance of
males in larger prides). One side effect of this is that smaller prides have
led to a reliance on fewer numbers to catch prey such as buffalo, and lions
have grown larger in response to this - the typical Tsavo lion is somewhat
larger than the norm, as well as being pretty aggressive.
We had several campfire discussions around the Paterson myth and concluded that yes there were kills in this period but Paterson exaggerated - partly to build his own legend as he toured the US afterwards lecturing on his own heroics! Kills were also recorded prior to this period and the local tribal people always regarded Tsavo as a place of dead souls. Many other populations of lion have clear tendencies towards man-eating, and there is evidence that this runs in families - Kruger Park has a severe problem at present due to the large number of Mozambican immigrants who attempt to pass through the park at night, offering easy prey. Lions who attack humans (and cattle) are usually not the aged & decrepit creatures of popular myth but younger lions who develop aberrant behaviour - possibly young males who are on their own between adolescence & adulthood find humans easy prey for a single lion (but that is my thought only). Corbett may have been right in his assertion about age & illness being a factor with tigers & leopards in India but a lion is a different animal and perhaps more importantly, Corbett wrote at a time of less scientific study of animals - he was a layman, albeit one with both passion for his subject and a keen sense of a good story, and some of his evidence is highly anecdotal. (Not meant to decry him, as Corbett is one of my heroes!)
Even now, Tsavo has recurrent problems with lions attacking livestock and occasionally humans.
If any of you are interested in working on this project it is possible to do so via Earthwatch, and the cost is comparable to a similar stay in any East African safari camp - effectively the work is largely long safari drives with detailed note taking on lions, prey species and competitors - we spent time with the lions up close, but also spent time watching other species and walking in the bush. The camp is excellent and if any of you are interested to participate I am happy to tell you more.......
Phil Crosby, 18 th January 2003
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