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Tsavo Man-Eaters: The True Story of the Ghost and the Darkness

Image of Lenny Flank, author

In 1898 two African lions, known locally as "The Ghost" and "The Darkness", killed a number of workers on the East Africa Railroad at the Tsavo River and halted the project until they were hunted down and shot by a British foreman. The incident was described in a book titled The Man-Eaters of Tsavo that became, in 1996, the basis for a movie starring Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer. Today, the mounted taxidermy skins of the two lions are on display in the Field Museum in Chicago. Join me below for the real history of the Ghost and the Darkness.

The Tsavo Man-Eaters, on display at the Field Museum in Chicago.

In 1896, the British decided to construct a railroad in their East African colony, running from the coastal port city of Mombasa, in modern-day Kenya, all the way to Lake Victoria and then on to Uganda. Officially named the Uganda Railroad, it was mocked by critics as "The Lunatic Line" and was said to run "from nowhere to nowhere". The British colonialists hoped that the railroad would encourage people to move into the interior of Africa, and would provide a method of transporting trade products between Africa and Europe. Thousands of laborers (called "coolies") were imported from India to build the railroad, which would cover about 580 miles, cross several rivers and valleys, and take over 30 years to complete, reaching Nairobi in 1899, Kismu on the shore of Lake Victoria in 1901, and Kampala, Uganda in 1928. It was considered a shining symbol of modern British progress in the "civilization" of what was then known as "The Dark Continent".

In February 1898, two years into its construction, the railroad line had reached the Tsavo River in Kenya, 130 miles northwest of Mombasa. A temporary bridge was built to allow the track to cross the river and continue being built on the other side. In March, British Army Colonel John Henry Patterson was brought in from India to oversee the construction of a permanent railroad bridge across the river. The river valley was about 100 yards wide. Patterson began by locating a source of suitable stone about three miles away and building a small tram line to the bridge site. These stones would be used to form foundation piers in the river bed, upon which the bridge pillars would be constructed. Meanwhile, construction of the actual railway continued. Because of this, several thousand workers were scattered in a string of camps along the railroad over a distance of some 20 miles. Patterson was responsible for all of them.

Within just a few days of Patterson's arrival, people began to disappear.

At first, Patterson didn't believe the natives who told him that there was a lion attacking the workers. Quickly, however, reports of lion sightings began coming in, and the remains of dead workers began to be found. It became clear that there were at least two lions involved. Every few days, one of the lions would strike at one of the scattered campsites, then another, attacking horses, donkeys, goats, cattle, and people. The Indian workers constructed protective fences around their camps, known as a boma , made from the thorny branches of Acacia trees, and kept campfires burning all night, but still the lions found their way through. In one incident, one of the lions clawed its way into a tent and attacked a sleeping worker, but in the confusion dragged away the worker's mattress instead--when it realized its mistake, the lion dropped the mattress and ran off.

By April, the railroad rails extended some 40 miles away from Tsavo, and only a few hundred workers remained behind to construct the bridge. They were concentrated into a number of camps at the bridge site, and this is where the lions now began to concentrate their hunts. Patterson spent several nights perched in a tree with his rifle hoping to spot the lions, but couldn't find them. One night, one of the lions broke into the hospital tent and dragged away one of the patients. Patterson decided to move the hospital tent to a different spot, but the next night, the lion returned to the new location and dragged the water-carrier out of the hospital--his head and one of his hands were found the next morning.

Patterson then moved the hospital tent again, and placed a railroad car with some cattle inside at the old location. Accompanied by the camp doctor, he stayed up all night with his rifle, hoping the lion would return. And it did. The lion managed to get into the boxcar and kill one of the cattle, but couldn't figure out how to drag the body out through the boma fence. Instead, it began to stalk Patterson and the doctor. When it attacked, Patterson managed to wound it in the mouth with a rifle shot, breaking off one of the canine teeth.

After that, the lions apparently left the area for a few weeks (Patterson later learned that they had been raiding one of the construction camps at the railroad, which was now many miles away). Assuming they would be back, Patterson constructed a mechanical trap inside the railway car that would drop a set of iron bars if anything entered. For several nights in a row, Patterson himself was the bait, spending the night inside the boxcar to try to lure one of the lions in.

A few weeks later, the lions were back. One of the cats entered a boma and dragged one of the workers out, where he was joined by the second lion. They ate the worker just 30 yards away from the camp. For the next several months, the lions would periodically return to make another kill. On December 1, most of the workers boarded one of the trains and left. Only a small number remained behind to finish the bridge.

Two days later, the Superintendent of Police arrived with 20 men to help hunt down the lions. That night, one of the lions finally entered the boxcar trap, but despite a number of shots being fired at it from close range, was able to get out. The Police Superintendent and his men spent several days looking for the lions, with no success. They left, after providing Patterson with a high-powered hunting rifle.

On December 9, one of the lions killed a donkey and, as it ate, Patterson instructed a group of workers to approach it making as much noise as possible, to drive it into the open. When the lion emerged, Patterson managed to wound it with the rifle. Expecting that the lion would return that night to his kill, Patterson built a wooden platform and waited. The lion indeed returned, but ignored the dead donkey and approached Patterson instead.  Patterson killed it with two rifle shots.

One lion remained, and a few nights later it attacked two goats. Patterson set out three more goats as bait, tying them to a short section of railroad tie, and waited. The lion returned, killed one of the goats, then dragged the entire railroad tie, still attached to the goat, away. Patterson's shots missed. The next morning, Patterson and a group of workers followed the trail and found the lion, which ran off. Patterson built another wooden platform, and when the lion returned that night, wounded it with two shots.

For the next ten days, nothing happened, and Patterson concluded that the lion had died of its wounds. Then, the lion returned and made an unsuccessful attack on a worker sleeping in a tree. That night, Patterson lay in ambush in the same tree, and when the lion returned, wounded it twice more. In the morning, they followed the blood trail and found the lion, which charged at them. Patterson killed it with two more shots. It was December 29, 1898.

Examination of the two dead lions showed that they were both males and were, like most of the lions in the Tsavo region, maneless. Most likely, they were brothers--young male lions without a pride of their own often form small packs or partnerships.

In 1996, Patterson's 1907 book, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo , was adapted into a Hollywood screenplay titled "The Ghost and the Darkness", which starred Val Kilmer as Patterson and Michael Douglas as the fictional big-game hunter character Charles Remington.

For years, there was much debate over just how many people the two lions actually killed over the nine-month period, with estimates running from the railroad company's figure of 28 to Patterson's figure of 135. In 2009, a team of biologists was able to do a chemical analysis on hair and skin samples from the Field Museum specimens, and used isotope ratios to determine the chemical makeup of the proteins in the lion's diet during their last months of life. They concluded that one of the Tsavo lions had eaten around 11 humans, and that the other had eaten around 24. That meant that one of the lions ate mostly herbivores with only about one-third of its diet coming from humans, while the other made up almost two-thirds of its diet with humans.

Patterson kept the skulls from both lions, and used their skins as rugs. In 1924, he sold the remains of the man-eaters to the Field Museum in Chicago, where they were mounted and put on display in 1928. They are still there today.

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What Drove Tsavo Lions to Eat People? Century-Old Mystery Solved

the ghost in the darkness real story

Their names were "The Ghost" and "The Darkness," and 119 years ago, these two massive, maneless, man-eating lions hunted railway workers in the Tsavo region of Kenya. During a nine-month period in 1898, the lions killed at least 35 people and as many as 135, according to different accounts. And the question of why the lions developed a taste for human flesh remained a subject of much speculation. 

Also known as the Tsavo lions, the pair of beasts ruled the night until they were shot and killed in December 1898 by railway engineer Col. John Henry Patterson. In the decades that followed, audiences were captivated by the story of the ferocious lions, first told in newspaper articles and books (one account was written by Patterson himself in 1907: "The Man-Eaters of Tsavo"), and later in movies.

In the past, it had been suggested that the lions' desperate hunger drove them to eat people. However, a recent analysis of the remains of the two man-eaters, a part of the collection at The Field Museum in Chicago, offers new insight into what led the Tsavo lions to kill and eat people. The findings, described in a new study, suggest a different explanation: that tooth and jaw damage — which would have made it excruciating to hunt their usual large herbivore prey — was to blame. [ Photos: The Biggest Lions on Earth ]

For most lions, humans are typically far from their first choice of prey. The big cats usually feed on large herbivores, such as zebras, wildebeest and antelope. And rather than viewing people as potential meals, lions tend to go out of their way to avoid humans entirely, study co-author Bruce Patterson, curator of mammals at The Field Museum, told Live Science.

But something else convinced the Tsavo lions that humans were fair game , Patterson said.

To unravel the century-old mystery, the study authors examined evidence of the lions' behavior preserved in their teeth. Microscopic wear patterns can tell scientists about an animal's eating habits — particularly during the last weeks of life — and the Tsavo lions' teeth didn't show signs of the wear and tear associated with crunching big, heavy bones, the scientists wrote in the study.

Hypotheses proposed in the past suggested that the lions developed a taste for people through scavenging , perhaps because their usual prey had died off from drought or disease. But if the lions were hunting humans out of desperation, the starving cats would have certainly cracked human bones to get the last bit of nutrition from their grisly meals, Patterson said. And wear patterns on the teeth showed that they left the bones alone, so the Tsavo lions probably weren't motivated by a lack of more suitable prey, he added.

A more likely explanation is that the ominously named The Ghost and The Darkness began hunting humans because infirmities in their mouths hindered their ability to catch bigger and stronger animals, the study authors wrote.

Down in the mouth

Previous findings, first presented to the American Society of Mammalogists in 2000, according to New Scientist , documented that one of the Tsavo lions was missing three lower incisors, and had a broken canine and a sizable abscess in the tissues surrounding another tooth's root. The second lion also had damage in its mouth, with a fractured upper tooth showing exposed pulp. [ The 10 Deadliest Animals on Earth ]

For the first lion in particular, pressure on the abscess would have caused unbearable pain, providing more than enough motivation for the animal to skip large, powerful prey and go after punier people, Patterson said. In fact, chemical analysis conducted in another, earlier study, published in 2009 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , showed that the lion with the abscess consumed more human prey than its partner. Moreover, after the first lion was shot and killed in 1898 — more than two weeks before the second lion was gunned down — the attacks on people ceased, Patterson noted.

Nearly 120 years after the man-eaters ' lives abruptly ended, fascination with their gruesome habits persists. But had it not been for their preserved remains — which John Patterson sold to FMNH as trophy rugs in 1924 — today's explanations for their habits would be no more than speculation, Bruce Patterson told Live Science.

"There would be no way to resolve these questions if it weren't for specimens," he said. "After almost 120 years, we can tell not only what these lions were eating, but we can resolve differences between these lions by interrogating their skins and skulls.

"There's a lot of science you can build on that, all derived from specimens," Patterson added. "I have 230,000 other specimens in the museum collection, and they all have stories to tell."

The findings were published online today (April 19) in the journal Scientific Reports .

Original article on Live Science .

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Mindy Weisberger

Mindy Weisberger is an editor at Scholastic and a former Live Science channel editor and senior writer. She has reported on general science, covering climate change, paleontology, biology, and space. Mindy studied film at Columbia University; prior to Live Science she produced, wrote and directed media for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Her videos about dinosaurs, astrophysics, biodiversity and evolution appear in museums and science centers worldwide, earning awards such as the CINE Golden Eagle and the Communicator Award of Excellence. Her writing has also appeared in Scientific American, The Washington Post and How It Works Magazine.

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The Cinemaholic

The Ghost and the Darkness: The True Story Behind The 1996 Thriller Film

Ridham Vashishth of The Ghost and the Darkness: The True Story Behind The 1996 Thriller Film

Directed by the seasoned Stephen Hopkins, ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ is an adventure thriller film  that paints a vivid picture of Africa’s vast terrains. In the heart of Tsavo, Kenya, during the late 19th century, a railway construction crew is thrown into a whirlwind of fear and uncertainty. Two relentless lions, seemingly with a taste for human flesh, cast a shadow of terror over the workers, turning their daily lives into a suspense-filled survival game.

With the formidable Val Kilmer and the iconic Michael Douglas leading the cast, the intense narrative of the 1996 film and the palpable tension it evokes might make one question its origins. Given the historical backdrop and the raw human emotions on display, it’s easy to wonder if such a tale has roots in actual events. As we venture further, we’ll explore the true essence of ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ and its connection to reality.

The Ghost and the Darkness is Based on Real-Life Incidents

The film’s narrative draws inspiration from the real-life terror caused by two lions (the Tsavo man-eaters ) in the late 19th century. The screenplay, penned by the talented William Goldman, draws heavily from the book ‘The Man-Eaters of Tsavo’ written by Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson, the very man tasked with eliminating these lions’ threat. Notorious for their man-eating tendencies, these lions were responsible for the deaths of many railway workers in Tsavo, Kenya. In various interviews, director Stephen Hopkins has expressed his fascination with this harrowing tale.

the ghost in the darkness real story

Hopkins mentioned how the story’s blend of historical facts and raw primal fear resonated with him. He wanted to capture not just the external threat posed by the lions but also the internal conflicts and fears of the people involved. However, like many films based on true stories, ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ isn’t without its cinematic liberties. While the essence of the man-eaters’ terror is accurately depicted, certain dramatic elements were added to enhance the film’s suspense and appeal.

For instance, the character Charles Remington (Michael Douglas), is a fictional addition. There’s no historical record of such a character being involved in the hunt for the Tsavo lions. His inclusion served as a narrative tool to heighten the drama and introduce a contrasting perspective to Patterson’s. Another deviation from reality is the exaggerated number of victims. While the film suggests that the lions killed over a hundred workers, historical accounts, including Patterson’s own writings, estimate the number to be closer to 35. Though not entirely accurate, this amplification was likely introduced to underscore the severity of the threat.

Despite these alterations, the film’s core remains true to the events it portrays. The Tsavo man-eaters’ reign of terror, the subsequent hunt, and the psychological impact on the workers and hunters are all depicted with a sense of authenticity. The film does a commendable job of transporting the audience to Tsavo in 1898, making them feel the palpable tension and fear. While ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ takes certain creative liberties for cinematic enhancement, its foundation is solidly based on the chilling real-life events in Tsavo.

Read More: Best Adventure Movies of All Time


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The Horrifying True Story That Inspired The Ghost and the Darkness

Although the film indulges in a number of liberties, it may have actually downplayed the gruesome events that unfolded over 100 years ago.

In 1996, Paramount Pictures released The Ghost and the Darkness , a historical horror-adventure film directed by Stephen Hopkins. The story is based on the true account of the Tsavo man-eaters, in which two lions - for reasons that are still being debated to this day - mercilessly preyed upon construction workers during the tumultuous build of a significant railway bridge in Kenya, Africa. Over the course of nearly a year, these two lions were reportedly responsible for the death of 135 people.

Screenwriter William Goldman - the famed writer of such classics as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride - first heard about the legend of the Tsavo man-eaters while traveling in Africa in 1984, and immediately found the subject engrossing and perfect fodder for the big-screen treatment.

Although the film indulges in a number of liberties in its recounting of this famous tale (as is the case with most Hollywood movies based on true stories ), the movie may have actually downplayed the gruesome events that unfolded over 100 years ago. Let’s take a look at the horrifying true story behind The Ghost and the Darkness .

The Attacks Begin

At the heart of the story is Lt. Colonel John Henry Patterson (played in the film by Val Kilmer), who in 1898 was sent to Africa on behalf of the British government to oversee the construction of an essential railway bridge in the Tsavo region of Kenya, Africa. The building project was a massive operation, employing thousands of workers (most of them brought in from India) and spanning miles of railway track.

Almost immediately after Lt. Patterson's arrival, the pair of lions begin their vicious attacks. Right away these attacks were considered highly unusual; not only is it incredibly uncommon for lions to hunt in pairs, the fact that they were both male was even stranger still. Furthermore, unlike typical lions, the Tsavo man-eaters didn’t have any manes (a common attribute for lions in the region). While animal scientists aren’t exactly sure why this is the case, the most prevalent theories suggest that the harsh environment - which is incredibly dry and covered in rough, thorny brush - make manes inefficient at best and debilitating at worst, so lions evolved over time to be born without them.

But more puzzling still is why . It isn’t normal for lions to attack humans without provocation, yet almost every night, workers were literally being dragged out of their tents and feasted upon. They even targeted specific areas of the camp - like the hospital tent - and took advantage of the sprawling size of the area, never attacking the same place twice. And while the lions occasionally engorged themselves on the remains of those they killed, for the most part the man-eaters didn’t eat their victims.

In other words, they were killing for the thrill of it. These were like monsters out of a horror movie.

Since Patterson was in charge of overseeing the bridge project, it was also his responsibility to rid the area of these two lions. It was a massive undertaking, and not an easy one. Most nights, Patterson would spend camping out in a tree, waiting for the lions to strike. But this method quickly proved to be ineffective, as the construction site was so large that it would be impossible for him to know what section the lions would target.

Patterson also tried to take the defensive, but his efforts were in vain. He and the workers set up bomas - or barricades made up of thorny brush - around the perimeter of the campsite, but the lions would easily circumvent these obstacles. Small fires were ignited around camp in a bid to scare the lions off, but they were unbothered. Strict curfews were instituted, but this didn’t make much of a difference when workers were being killed in their tents. Patterson even moved the hospital tent - a hot-bed of attacks - but the lions quickly sniffed the new location out.

As the bodies continued to pile up, the workers began to revolt, threatening to stop production until the monstrous lions were killed. Since many of these workers were brought in from India (the country was under British rule at the time) and weren’t native to the region, they had no idea how to properly defend themselves from these beasts. And even if they did, these lions proved far more cunning than the typical big cats that even the locals were familiar with.

Legend quickly began to spread around camp, claiming these were no ordinary lions, but vengeful ghosts defending their territory from the railway system and, in effect, the encroaching British Empire. The workers named them “Ghost” and “Darkness” (hence the title of the film).

RELATED: The Best Westerns Based on True Stories, Ranked

Fighting Back

With the workers threatening to cease work, and the British government breathing down his neck, Lt. Patterson had to get crafty.

One of his most well-known attempts at capturing these beasts is wonderfully recreated in the film, in which Patterson transforms an abandoned railway cart into a box trap. Three Indians workers (who apparently volunteered for this thankless role), armed with rifles, locked themselves behind steel bars within the box trap and baited the lion with animal remains. Surprisingly, the trap worked; one of the lions was drawn into the car, triggering the trap doors and locking it inside with the workers.

Immediately the lion panicked and began lunging at the steel bars, which started to give under the massive size of the beast. The frightened and overwhelmed workers desperately unloaded on the lion with their rifles, but somehow missed every shot. One of their bullets connected with the cage door, opening the trap and allowing the lion to escape.

Around this point in the movie, the audience is introduced to Charles Remington, a famous big-game hunter who is played by Michael Douglas . But this character is a creation of William Goldman’s and didn’t actually exist. In reality, Patterson requested British troops to help take down the lions - that’s how much of a problem they became. While Britain was hesitant to send troops (out of fear that it might make them appear weak), they did send in a small squadron of Indian soldiers - known at the time as Sepoys.

It’s around this point that things finally started to turn around. Patterson built a scaffold in the middle of an area where the big cats were known to stalk and used it as a hunting stand. Using the remains of a dead donkey to lure the lions out of hiding, Patterson sat atop his hastily-assembled hunting stand and waited. But he didn’t have to wait long, as that night the first lion emerged from the brush. Patterson managed to shoot the beast a few times, but it escaped. A few nights later, the lion returned and Patterson - with the help of a much more powerful rifle - was able to take it down.

With one lion dead, morale started to shift. But hunting the second lion wouldn’t be as easy.

Things started off well-enough for Patterson, who utilized the same technique to lure the lion out of hiding. Much like the first time around, it worked, but again Patterson was unable to kill the beast.

What followed was a multi-week hunt for the injured lion. For close to two weeks, the lion was untraceable. But eventually Patterson and troops tracked it down and managed to shoot it a few more times. Somehow, the lion still managed to get away - but not for long. The next day, Patterson took down the second and last lion, finally putting an end to the months-long ordeal.

RELATED: The Best Cat Movies of All Time, Ranked

The End of a Nightmare

With the lions neutralized, work on the railway was soon completed. Soon after, Patterson returned to his home in London with the bodies of the two lions in his possession, and recounted the events in his semi-autobiographical book The Man-Eaters of Tsavo , which William Goldman drew heavily from when writing The Ghost and the Darkness .

Despite the dark shadow of brutal colonialism looming heavy over this entire story, it’s nevertheless a nail-biting tale. To this day, scientists are unsure what the cause of these attacks were. The bodies of the lions - which Patterson later donated to the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History - were studied by scientists, who concluded that bad teeth may actually be to blame for the lions’ unusual behavior. Allegedly their teeth were “soft” - much like a zoo lion - and thus unable to catch prey and tear through bone. One of the lions also had what appeared to be an infected root, which most likely made hunting incredibly painful. In short, these lions targeted humans because they were easier prey.

The actual death toll is debated as well. While Patterson claimed 135 people were killed by these lions, official records put the real number somewhere in the vicinity of 30-40. However, we’ll never be sure: Great Britain had reason to undermine these numbers to maintain their image, and Patterson could have exaggerated the number of dead to further bolster his own status and ego.

Although we’ll probably never get the “full truth” about what happened, one thing is for certain: it made for one hell of a terrifying movie.

Man-Eaters of Tsavo

They are perhaps the world’s most notorious wild lions. Their ancestors were vilified more than 100 years ago as the man-eaters of Tsavo

Paul Raffaele

Colonel Patterson first Tsavo Lion

They are perhaps the world’s most notorious wild lions. Their ancestors were vilified more than 100 years ago as the man-eaters of Tsavo, a vast swath of Kenya savanna around the Tsavo River.

Bruce Patterson has spent the past decade studying lions in the Tsavo region, and for several nights I went into the bush with him and a team of volunteers, hoping to glimpse one of the beasts.

We headed out in a truck along narrow red dirt trails through thick scrub. A spotlight threw a slender beam through the darkness. Kudus, huge antelopes with curved horns, skittered away. A herd of elephants passed, their massive bodies silhouetted in the dark.

One evening just after midnight, we came upon three lions resting by a water hole. Patterson identified them as a 4-year-old male he has named Dickens and two unnamed females. The three lions rose and Dickens led the two females into the scrub.

On such forays Patterson has come to better understand the Tsavo lions. Their prides, with up to 10 females and just 1 male, are smaller than Serengeti lion prides, which have up to 20 females and 2 or more males. In Tsavo, male lions do not share power with other males.

Tsavo males look different as well. The most vigorous Serengeti males sport large dark manes, while in Tsavo they have short, thin manes or none at all. “It’s all about water,” Patterson says. Tsavo is hotter and drier than the Serengeti, and a male with a heavy mane “would squander his daily water allowance simply panting under a bush, with none to spare for patrolling his territory, hunting or finding mates.”

But it’s the lions’ reputation for preying on people that attracts attention. “For centuries Arab slave caravans passed through Tsavo on the way to Mombasa,” said Samuel Kasiki, deputy director of Biodiversity Research and Monitoring with the Kenya Wildlife Service. “The death rate was high; it was a bad area for sleeping sickness from the tsetse fly; and the bodies of slaves who died or were dying were left where they dropped. So the lions may have gotten their taste for human flesh by eating the corpses.”

In 1898, two lions terrorized crews constructing a railroad bridge over the Tsavo River, killing—according to some estimates—135 people. “Hundreds of men fell victims to these savage creatures, whose very jaws were steeped in blood,” wrote a worker on the railway, a project of the British colonial government. “Bones, flesh, skin and blood, they devoured all, and left not a trace behind them.”

Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson shot the lions (a 1996 movie, The Ghost and the Darkness , dramatized the story) and sold their bodies for $5,000 to the Field Museum in Chicago, where, stuffed, they greet visitors to this day.

Bruce Patterson (no relation to John), a zoologist with the museum, continues to study those animals. Chemical tests of hair samples recently confirmed that the lions had eaten human flesh in the months before they were killed. Patterson and his colleagues estimate that one lion ate 10 people, and the other about 24—far fewer than the legendary 135 victims, but still horrifying.

When I arrived in Nairobi, word reached the capital that a lion had just killed a woman at Tsavo. A cattle herder had been devoured weeks earlier. “That’s not unusual at Tsavo,” Kasiki said.

Still, today’s Tsavo lions are not innately more bloodthirsty than other lions, Patterson says; they attack people for the same reason their forebears did a century ago: “our encroachment into what was once the territory of lions.” Injured lions are especially dangerous. One of the original man-eaters had severe dental disease that would have made him a poor hunter, Patterson found. Such lions may learn to attack people rather than game, he says, “because we are slower, weaker and more defenseless.”

Paul Raffaele ’s book Among the Great Apes will be published in February.

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  • Not Exactly Rocket Science

How many people did the man-eating lions of Tsavo actually eat?

In 1898, railway workers in Tsavo, Kenya were terrorised by a pair of man-eating lions , who killed at least 28 people during a 10-month reign of terror. It ended in December when a British officer called Lt. Col. John H. Patterson killed both beasts.  The man-eaters’ notorious exploits have been immortalised in no less than three Hollywood films, including most recently The Ghost and the Darkness. But despite their fame, no one is quite sure how many people they killed. The Ugandan Railway Company said 28; Patterson claimed it was 135.

Both parties had reasons to lie, either playing down or exaggerating the figures for the sake of reputation. But Justin Yeake from the University of California decided to find the truth by going straight to the source – the remains of the man-eaters, currently on display in Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History . By studying the chemical composition of the lions’ hair and bones, Yeake estimated that they killed around 35 people, with a possible range of 4 to 72. Either way, Patterson’s claim was wildly exaggerated.

The Tsavo man-eaters at the Chicago Field Museum, taken by Jeffrey Jung

Yeake took samples of the lions’ bone collagen and hair keratin, and measured the ratio of carbon and nitrogen isotopes. Both can tell you about the items on a lion’s menu – bone collagen grows slowly and reflects the lion’s lifetime eating habits, while keratin from fast-growing hairs reveals the nature of its meals over the past three months. 

Yeake compared these ratios to those of modern Tsavo lions, and matched them against those form various prey animals including giraffe, kudu, impala, zebra, buffalo and humans. The human samples came from remains collected by anthropologist Louis Leakey during his East African Archaeological Expedition of 1929.

The results showed that the diet of Tsavo’s modern lions consists almost entirely of grazing animals such as zebra, waterbuck and buffalo. The man-eaters were different. Yeake calculated that one of them probably ate around 11 people in its nine-month hunting spree, but focused mainly on expanding its tastes in herbivores.

His partner switched menus even more dramatically, moving to a diet of browsers (giraffe, kudu and the like) and humans. By winter, a third of his food came from freshly killed humans. This was the animal that caused the lion’s share of deaths among the railway workers, and Yeake estimates that he ate around 24, giving a total kill count of 35. Of course, these are only estimates, but there’s a 95% chance that the true figure falls within the range of 4-72.

These disparate diets make the cooperation between the two males even more astounding. Both specialised on different rare prey and, if anything, their tastes diverged even further from one another over time. And yet, they frequently exposed themselves to danger to kill animals that only one ate. That sort of behaviour had never been seen before or since. Perhaps by working together, they could scatter both humans and game, so that both could be fed? For the moment, we just don’t know.

Nor is it clear why the lions starting eating people in the first place, although Yeake has two theories. For a start, the lion that killed the most people had severe injuries, including diseases of the skull and teeth, skull evinced craniodental, poorly aligned jaws and a fractured tooth. It wasn’t exactly a king among beasts, and it supports the idea that big cats are more likely to prey on humans if they’re ill or impaired. 

The Tsavo killings took place against a backdrop of intense environmental changes. Elephant populations had plummeted and as a result, woodlands were expanding and the savannah’s grazers were being driven away. The remaining herds were thinned by a 13-year drought and a pair of viral epidemics in 1889 and 1898. And just as these walking sirloins dwindled away and the lions started to hunger, a new type of prey arrived in the region – humans, charged with building the Uganda Railway. The rest is history.

The two lions, Lieutenant Patterson (in top-left) and a Taita ancestral shrine.

Reference : PNAS: doi:10.1073/pnas.0905309106

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the ghost in the darkness real story

The True Story Of The Ghost And The Darkness

The True Story Of The Ghost And The Darkness: A Tale of Terror and Intrigue

In 1996, moviegoers were captivated by the thrilling and chilling film, “The Ghost and the Darkness.” Starring Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas, the movie depicted the harrowing true story of two man-eating lions that terrorized a construction site in Tsavo, Kenya, in the late 19th century. The film not only provided gripping entertainment but also shed light on a fascinating chapter in history. In this article, we delve into the true story behind “The Ghost and the Darkness” and present seven unique facts about this extraordinary tale of human-wildlife conflict.

Fact 1: The Tsavo Man-Eaters

Between March and December of 1898, two male lions wreaked havoc on the construction of a railroad bridge over the Tsavo River in British East Africa (now Kenya). These lions, known as the “Tsavo Man-Eaters,” were responsible for the deaths of an estimated 35 workers, who were predominantly Indian and African laborers. The relentless attacks created a climate of fear and desperation among the workers, leading to a significant delay in the construction.

Fact 2: The Lions’ Unusual Behavior

What made the Tsavo Man-Eaters particularly terrifying was their aberrant behavior. Unlike typical lions, these two males targeted humans as their prey, rather than sticking to their natural diet of herbivores. This unnatural behavior baffled experts at the time, who struggled to comprehend why the lions had developed a taste for human flesh.

Fact 3: The Legendary Hunter, Colonel John Henry Patterson

Colonel John Henry Patterson, an Irish-born British soldier and engineer, was appointed as the chief engineer of the Tsavo railroad project. It was Patterson’s firsthand encounters with the Tsavo Man-Eaters that inspired him to write a book, “The Man-Eaters of Tsavo,” which served as the basis for the film “The Ghost and the Darkness.” Patterson’s memoirs detailed the chilling events he witnessed and his relentless pursuit of the man-eating lions.

Fact 4: The Lure of the Night

One of the unique tactics employed by Patterson to hunt down the Tsavo Man-Eaters was the construction of a makeshift wooden platform, known as a “boma,” where he would wait for the lions at night. Patterson would hide under the platform, armed with a rifle, in the hopes of catching the lions off guard. This method proved successful, as Patterson managed to kill one of the man-eaters.

Fact 5: The Infamous Maneaters’ Fate

After Patterson killed one of the Tsavo Man-Eaters, the second lion continued to pose a threat to the workers. Finally, on December 9, 1898, the second lion was shot and killed by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Ryall, who had joined the project with his team of Indian soldiers. The reign of terror was over, but the legend of the Tsavo Man-Eaters would live on.

Fact 6: The Legacy of the Tsavo Man-Eaters

The story of the Tsavo Man-Eaters has become one of the most infamous tales in the annals of human-wildlife conflict. The skulls of the man-eating lions are on display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, serving as a reminder of the horrifying events that unfolded in Tsavo over a century ago.

Fact 7: Historical Discrepancies and Artistic Liberties

While “The Ghost and the Darkness” provides a thrilling depiction of the Tsavo Man-Eaters, it is important to note that certain discrepancies exist between the movie and the historical records. Some events portrayed in the film were fictionalized or exaggerated for dramatic effect. Nonetheless, the film succeeded in immortalizing the legacy of the Tsavo Man-Eaters and shedding light on an extraordinary piece of history.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

1. Were the Tsavo Man-Eaters truly man-eating lions?

Yes, the Tsavo Man-Eaters were two male lions that developed a taste for human flesh, resulting in the deaths of numerous workers.

2. How many workers did the Tsavo Man-Eaters kill?

It is estimated that the Tsavo Man-Eaters killed around 35 workers during their reign of terror.

3. Were the events depicted in “The Ghost and the Darkness” accurate?

While the film took artistic liberties and exaggerated certain events, it broadly captures the essence of the true story.

4. Who was Colonel John Henry Patterson, and how did he contribute to the story?

Colonel Patterson was the chief engineer of the Tsavo railroad project and played a crucial role in hunting down the Tsavo Man-Eaters. His memoirs inspired the film.

5. What happened to the Tsavo Man-Eaters?

One lion was killed by Colonel Patterson, and the other was shot and killed by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Ryall.

6. How did the Tsavo Man-Eaters impact the construction of the railroad bridge?

The reign of terror caused significant delays in the construction, as the workers were too afraid to continue their work.

7. What was the motive behind the Tsavo Man-Eaters’ unusual behavior?

The exact reason for their preference for human flesh remains a mystery. Some theories suggest tooth problems or a scarcity of their natural prey as potential factors.

8. Can the skulls of the Tsavo Man-Eaters still be seen today?

Yes, the skulls of the man-eating lions are on display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

9. Were the Tsavo Man-Eaters the only recorded man-eating lions in history?

While the Tsavo Man-Eaters are among the most infamous, there have been other instances of lions preying on humans throughout history.

10. Was the construction site really abandoned due to the lion attacks?

No, despite the challenges posed by the Tsavo Man-Eaters, the construction of the railroad bridge was eventually completed.

11. Did the legacy of the Tsavo Man-Eaters impact wildlife conservation efforts?

The story sparked interest in human-wildlife conflict and highlighted the need for understanding and coexistence between humans and animals.

12. Are there any other accounts or books about the Tsavo Man-Eaters?

“The Man-Eaters of Tsavo” by Colonel John Henry Patterson remains the most renowned account of the events, providing invaluable insights into the story.

Five Interesting Points from Professionals in the Field:

1. “The Tsavo Man-Eaters incident is a reminder of the unpredictability and complexity of human-wildlife conflict, showcasing the potential for animals to deviate from their natural behavior.” – Wildlife Biologist

2. “Colonel Patterson’s memoirs played a significant role in shaping public perception of the Tsavo Man-Eaters, immortalizing the events and inspiring future generations of conservationists.” – Historian

3. “The success of ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ lies in its ability to blend historical fact with thrilling storytelling, captivating audiences while shedding light on a lesser-known chapter in history.” – Film Critic

4. “The Tsavo Man-Eaters’ aberrant behavior challenges our understanding of animal psychology and raises questions about the impact of environmental factors on animal behavior.” – Animal Behaviorist

5. “The power of storytelling lies in its ability to transport audiences to different times and places, evoking emotions and sparking curiosity. ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ achieved precisely that, making the Tsavo Man-Eaters’ story unforgettable.” – Literature Professor

In conclusion, the true story of the Tsavo Man-Eaters, immortalized in the film “The Ghost and the Darkness,” remains a tale of terror and intrigue to this day. The harrowing events that unfolded in Tsavo over a century ago continue to captivate audiences, shedding light on the complexities of human-wildlife conflict. As we reflect on this extraordinary chapter in history, let us remember the importance of coexistence and understanding between humans and animals, ensuring that such stories remain confined to the annals of the past.

Final Thoughts:

The true story of the Tsavo Man-Eaters serves as a chilling reminder of the delicate balance between humans and wildlife. It highlights the unpredictability of nature and the profound impact it can have on human lives. The legend of the Tsavo Man-Eaters will forever be etched in history, reminding us of the awe-inspiring power, beauty, and occasional terror that exists within the animal kingdom. Let us learn from these events and strive to coexist harmoniously with the magnificent creatures that share our planet.


Laura is a seasoned wordsmith and pop culture connoisseur with a passion for all things literary and cinematic. Her insightful commentary on books, movies, and the glitzy world of film industry celebrities has captivated audiences worldwide. With a knack for blending literary analysis and movie magic, Laura's unique perspective offers a fresh take on the entertainment landscape. Whether delving into the depths of a novel or dissecting the latest blockbuster, her expertise shines through, making her a go-to source for all things book and film-related.

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Two Lions Gnawing Away At 19th-Century Progress

By Janet Maslin

  • Oct. 11, 1996

''The Ghost and the Darkness,'' a lion-hunting story set in 19th-century Africa, is the rare Hollywood action-adventure that becomes more surprising and exotic as it moves along. While it begins on an unpromisingly starchy note, the film soon picks up speed, color and nicely nonchalant humor as it tells a true story about near-mythic beasts.

These two lions, from whom the film takes its name, relentlessly attack workers building a trans-Africa railway line. As directed by Stephen Hopkins (''Blown Away''), whose forte is vigorous action and whose weak spot is casting secondary roles, they create enough nail-biting tension to make the film sometimes resemble ''Jaws'' with paws. What's more, the creatures soon devour enough minor players to solve the film's early cute-character problems.

The story can then narrow its focus to the manful camaraderie of Remington (Michael Douglas), a legendary hunter, and Lieut. Col John Patterson (Val Kilmer), who leads the British team racing other nations to complete the first railroad across the continent. One of the film's better ideas is casting its two stars precisely against type, with Mr. Douglas as the hip, irreverent longhair and Mr. Kilmer as the straitlaced hero. ''I'll sort this out,'' declares Patterson when the railway effort encounters predator trouble. ''I will kill the lion, and I will build the bridge.''

''Of course you will,'' agrees Abdullah, his foreman (Tom Puri), in the film's pleasantly mocking tone. ''You're white, you can do anything.''

As Mr. Kilmer's Patterson begins climbing off his high horse and begins bantering with Remington (who makes a nifty, well-timed entrance here), William Goldman's spirited screenplay for ''The Ghost and the Darkness'' begins offering welcome reminders of his ''Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.'' In the manner of that film, these two comrades show off boyish vitality mixed with autumnal wisdom, especially where questions of courage are concerned. Is bravery ever a problem, Patterson asks the famous hunter? ''Well, you hope each time it won't be,'' Remington answers. ''But you never really know.''

Bravery becomes quite a natural problem during one suspenseful sequence, filmed through an eerie blue mist, that finds Patterson driven up a tree by a lion that unfortunately knows how to climb. Mr. Hopkins does well at finding nimble, unexpected ways out of dilemmas like that.

One series of scenes that stem from an ill-advised campfire celebration (complete with Champagne corks popping, a bad idea while lions stalk nearby), plays a particularly crafty game with the audience's expectations.

''The Ghost and the Darkness'' is greatly helped by Vilmos Zsigmond's warmly beautiful African landscapes and by a strong sense of mystery about its setting.

The lions are allowed to remain refreshingly unexplained, and the link between their ferocity and the railway effort is open to consideration. Solidly entertaining performances from Mr. Kilmer and Mr. Douglas also galvanize the film, as does John Kani as Samuel, their African companion, who knows better than to chase lions.

''The Ghost and the Darkness'' also has its gruesome side. It earns its R rating (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) with scary maulings, graphic bloodshed and the sight of lions gnawing human bones.


Directed by Stephen Hopkins; written by William Goldman; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Robert Brown and Steve Mirkovich; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Stuart Wurtzel; produced by Gale Anne Hurd, Paul Radin and A. Kitman Ho; released by Paramount Pictures. Running time: 105 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Michael Douglas (Remington), Val Kilmer (Lieut. Col. John Patterson), John Kani (Samuel) and Tom Puri (Abdullah).


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42 facts about the movie the ghost and the darkness.

Corabelle Kuhlman

Corabelle Kuhlman

Modified & Updated: 30 Dec 2023

Published: 15 Dec 2023

Modified: 30 Dec 2023


Get ready to embark on an incredible adventure as we dive deep into the thrilling movie, The Ghost and the Darkness. This action-packed film is filled with suspense, mystery, and jaw-dropping moments that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Directed by Stephen Hopkins and released in 1996, The Ghost and the Darkness is based on the true story of the Tsavo Man-Eaters, two notorious lions that terrorized a construction crew in East Africa during the late 19th century.

In this article, we will uncover 42 fascinating facts about this movie, from behind-the-scenes anecdotes to the historical events that inspired the storyline. Whether you’re a fan of adventure films, a history buff, or simply interested in extraordinary true stories, this article will provide you with a comprehensive and insightful guide to The Ghost and the Darkness.

Based on a True Story

The movie “The Ghost and the Darkness” is based on the real-life events surrounding the Tsavo Maneaters, a pair of notorious man-eating lions that terrorized railway workers in East Africa in the late 19th century.

A Star-Studded Cast

The film boasts a remarkable cast, with Val Kilmer portraying the character of Colonel John Henry Patterson and Michael Douglas taking on the role of Remington, a renowned hunter. Both actors deliver exceptional performances that add depth and intensity to the film.

Captivating African Locations

“The Ghost and the Darkness” was filmed on location in South Africa and Kenya, capturing the breathtaking landscapes and immersing viewers in the untamed wilderness of Africa.

The Iconic Lions

The film revolves around the two maneless lions known as the “Ghost” and the “Darkness.” These ferocious beasts were brought to life using a combination of trained lions and animatronic models, creating thrilling scenes that keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

Oscar-Winning Cinematography

The stunning cinematography of “The Ghost and the Darkness” was recognized with an Academy Award for Best Cinematography. Vilmos Zsigmond masterfully captures the beauty and danger of the African landscape, enhancing the overall visual experience.

A Gripping Musical Score

James Newton Howard composed the hauntingly beautiful score for “The Ghost and the Darkness,” which perfectly complements the suspense and tension of the film.

Historical Accuracy

The movie accurately portrays the historical context of the construction of the Nairobi-Mombasa railway in the late 19th century and the impact of the man-eating lions on the workers’ lives.

Directors and Writers

The film was directed by Stephen Hopkins, known for his work on “Predator 2” and “Lost in Space.” The screenplay was written by William Goldman, based on Colonel John Henry Patterson’s book “The Man-eaters of Tsavo.”

A Tale of Fear and Survival

“The Ghost and the Darkness” brilliantly captures the fear and desperation of the characters as they try to outsmart and overcome the relentless man-eating lions roaming the African wilderness.

The Hunting of the Tsavo Maneaters

The film depicts the gripping and dangerous hunt for the Tsavo Maneaters, led by Colonel John Henry Patterson, who faces numerous challenges in his quest to protect the railway workers and eliminate the deadly predators.

Authentic Wildlife Encounters

The production team took great care to incorporate realistic wildlife encounters throughout the film, showcasing the rich biodiversity of Africa and adding an extra layer of authenticity to the story.

Critical and Commercial Success

Upon its release, “The Ghost and the Darkness” received positive reviews from critics and became a commercial success, grossing over $98 million worldwide.

A True Action-Horror Hybrid

“The Ghost and the Darkness” seamlessly blends elements of action and horror, delivering a unique cinematic experience that keeps audiences on the edge of their seats.

Real-Life Inspiration

The characters in the film are based on real individuals who lived through the events at Tsavo, making the story even more compelling and realistic.

Cultural Impact

“The Ghost and the Darkness” not only entertained audiences but also sparked interest in the history and folklore surrounding the Tsavo Maneaters, leading to increased tourism to the areas where the events took place.

Hair-Raising Moments

The film is filled with intense and suspenseful sequences that keep viewers on the edge of their seats, showcasing the relentless pursuit of the man-eating lions and the chilling atmosphere of fear that permeates the story.

Behind-the-Scenes Challenges

Creating realistic and convincing lion attacks presented significant challenges for the filmmakers. The team utilized a combination of animatronic lions, animatics, and trained animals to achieve seamless and terrifying attack scenes.

Production Design

The production design team meticulously recreated the railway construction era, paying attention to even the smallest details to transport viewers back in time.

A Lesson in Determination

“The Ghost and the Darkness” showcases the resilience and determination of the human spirit in the face of extraordinary challenges, highlighting the strength of the human-wildlife conflict.

International Recognition

The film was released worldwide, introducing audiences to the awe-inspiring beauty and inherent dangers of the African wilderness.

Historical Context

The events depicted in the film shed light on the difficulties encountered during the construction of the railway in Africa, providing historical context to the intense drama that unfolds.

Popularity Among Adventure Enthusiasts

“The Ghost and the Darkness” continues to be appreciated by adventure enthusiasts and wildlife lovers for its thrilling storyline and portrayal of the intense man versus beast conflict.

African Wildlife Conservation

The film raises awareness about the delicate balance between humans and wildlife in Africa and highlights the importance of conservation efforts to protect endangered species.

Impressive Set Pieces

The film showcases magnificent set pieces, bringing to life the rugged African landscape, the railway construction site, and the eerie presence of the man-eating lions.

Animal Behavior Research

The filmmakers conducted extensive research on lion behavior to accurately portray the movements, hunting techniques, and territoriality of the Tsavo Maneaters.

The Power of Collaboration

“The Ghost and the Darkness” brought together talented professionals from various fields, including cinematographers, animators, and sound engineers, who collaborated to create a captivating cinematic experience.

A Thought-Provoking Story

The film raises thought-provoking questions about the boundaries between civilization and the wild, the ethics of hunting, and the delicate relationship between humans and wildlife.

Dialogues that Resonate

The screenplay brings to life impactful and memorable dialogues, adding depth to the characters and amplifying the emotional weight of their experiences.

A Thrilling Journey

“The Ghost and the Darkness” takes audiences on an unforgettable and adrenaline-filled journey through the heart of the African wilderness, immersing them in a world of danger, courage, and survival.

Breathtaking Cinematic Moments

The film features breathtaking cinematic moments that capture the sheer beauty of the African landscape, juxtaposed with the terrifying presence of the man-eating lions.

A Testament to Human Ingenuity

The story showcases the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the railway workers as they adapt to the relentless attacks of the man-eating lions, using innovative methods to protect themselves.

Historical Significance

The events at Tsavo left a significant impact on both the railway construction efforts and the understanding of lion behavior in that region, making “The Ghost and the Darkness” an important part of that historical narrative.

Transformation of Characters

Throughout the film, the characters undergo powerful transformations, as they grapple with their fears, confront their own vulnerabilities, and discover the depths of their courage.

Authentic Period Costumes

The costume designers meticulously recreated the fashion of the late 19th century, ensuring that the characters’ attire reflects the historical accuracy of the time.

Unforgettable Performances

The performances by Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas are gripping and memorable, establishing them as a formidable on-screen duo that captivates viewers from start to finish.

The Legacy of the Tsavo Maneaters

The Tsavo Maneaters remain a legendary symbol of the clash between humans and wildlife, and “The Ghost and the Darkness” plays a vital role in keeping the story alive and informing new audiences of the gripping events.

Special Effects and Practical Stunts

The film blends practical effects and stunts with carefully integrated CGI to create seamless and heart-stopping moments that elevate the tension and danger.

The Power of Fear

“The Ghost and the Darkness” explores the paralyzing effect of fear and the lengths individuals will go to overcome it and protect each other in the face of imminent danger.

Powerful Symbolism

The film utilizes various symbolic elements, such as the darkness that lurks within humans and the ghost-like presence of the relentless lions, to deepen the thematic layers of the story.

Immersive Sound Design

The sound design of the film plays a crucial role in creating tension and suspense, enveloping the audience in a world where every distant roar echoes through the African plains.

Embracing the Unknown

“The Ghost and the Darkness” explores the primal fear humans have of the unknown and takes viewers on a journey into the heart of darkness.

Enduring Legacy

“The Ghost and the Darkness” continues to captivate audiences with its thrilling story, outstanding performances, and vivid portrayal of the enduring human spirit.

So there you have it, 42 intriguing facts about the movie “The Ghost and the Darkness.” From the true story that inspired the film to the captivating performances and stunning cinematography, this movie keeps audiences engaged and on the edge of their seats. Whether you’re a fan of adventure, history, or wildlife, “The Ghost and the Darkness” is a must-watch film that leaves a lasting impression. Are you ready to embark on this unforgettable journey into the heart of the African wilderness?

In conclusion, The Ghost and the Darkness is a captivating and thrilling movie that combines elements of adventure, suspense, and history. With its talented cast, breathtaking cinematography, and compelling storyline, it continues to captivate audiences even years after its release. The movie offers a unique blend of action and drama, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats from start to finish. The real-life events that inspired the film add an extra layer of intrigue and make it even more fascinating. Whether you’re a fan of adventure movies or simply appreciate great storytelling, The Ghost and the Darkness is definitely a must-watch film that will keep you entertained from beginning to end.

Q: Is The Ghost and the Darkness based on a true story? A: Yes, the movie is based on true events that took place in the late 19th century. It tells the story of the man-eating lions that terrorized the construction of the East African Railway in Tsavo, Kenya. Q: Who are the main actors in The Ghost and the Darkness? A: The movie stars Val Kilmer as Colonel John Patterson and Michael Douglas as Charles Remington, the two characters at the forefront of the mission to stop the man-eating lions. Q: Where was The Ghost and the Darkness filmed? A: The film was primarily shot on location in South Africa, capturing the beautiful African landscapes that serve as the backdrop for the story. Q: What is the runtime of The Ghost and the Darkness? A: The movie has a runtime of approximately 109 minutes, keeping the audience engaged and immersed in the thrilling narrative. Q: Is The Ghost and the Darkness available on streaming platforms? A: Yes, the movie is available to stream on various platforms such as Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix. However, availability may vary based on your location. Q: Does The Ghost and the Darkness have any notable awards or nominations? A: Yes, the film was nominated for two Academy Awards in 1997, including Best Sound and Best Film Editing. It also received recognition for its technical achievements and visual effects.

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Beast: The True Story Behind the Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo

What happens when the hunter becomes the hunted?

the ghost in the darkness real story

Idris Elba is taking on man-eating lions these days, starring in the recent survival thriller, Beast . Elba plays Dr. Nate Samuels, a man on a vacation to a South African nature preserve with his two daughters. The trip is an attempt to reconnect with them in the wake of their mother’s death, but the emotional stakes take a back seat to more primal priorities when the group is stalked by a ravenous lion with a taste for revenge... and perhaps human flesh.

For the most part, humans enjoy a privileged position within nature, having largely separated ourselves from most predators. However, under the right conditions, we can find ourselves on the business end of gnashing teeth and claws. Beast takes this idea to its extreme by introducing a predator which hunts humans not just opportunistically but by preference. We’re left to wonder if this is wholly the product of Hollywood storytelling or if there are really animals out there trying to dethrone humanity from the top of the food chain.

The True Story of the Tsavo Lions

Certainly, people sometimes find themselves in precarious situations which place them squarely on the menu of a predatory animal. It’s a problem not often encountered when living in cities and that’s where the majority of humanity spends their time . Moreover, the world’s wilderness is shrinking; only about a quarter of the planet is considered to be wild and most of that wilderness is located in just five countries. Of course, that only takes into account the land masses.

Stepping into one of the world’s oceans necessarily places you in a wild environment, one which we are not well adapted to, and which is filled with predators. That’s probably why we have such an enduring fear of sharks. However, sharks are mostly accidental predators of humans. Shark attacks are believed to be the result of curiosity or confusion and are almost never the result of a targeted attack on humans. The odds of being the victim of a shark attack are vanishingly small. The odds of that shark having a preference for human meat, even more so. That isn’t necessarily the case on land.

Land-based animals are much more likely to develop a taste for humans than their oceanic counterparts. If you find yourself in sub-Saharan Africa, humanity’s ancestral home, there are dozens of animals who are more than happy to take a bite out of you if given half a chance. On paper, lions seem like the obvious threat. They’re large predatory carnivores and they push all of the right fear buttons. That said, they don’t even crack the top ten of the most dangerous animals on the continent. That dubious honor goes to the mosquito . Even taking arthropods out of the mix, you’re more likely to meet your end at the proverbial hands of a snake, crocodile, elephant, or hippo than a lion.

Hippo Attack

That isn’t to say lions won’t take down a human if they have the opportunity. It’s unclear how many lion attacks happen every year because they aren’t all reported. Estimates range from about 20 to 250 . It’s not that lions are necessarily hunting people on purpose, but they see just about anything that moves as a potential prey item, including people. We might even be particularly interesting to them because of our lack of speed or biological weapons like claws or horns.

According to Nature , there were 563 reported deaths and 308 injuries resulting from lion attacks between 1990 and 2004. The number suggests that if you find yourself in the grip of a lion, there’s a roughly two-thirds chance it’s the last thing you’ll ever see. Those attacks largely happen when people are out in fields harvesting crops and when the availability of other prey items is low.

Despite those terrifying statistics, your average lion isn’t stalking through the brush on the hunt for humans. More than half of their diet is comprised of scavenged meat and the rest is mostly made up of non-human animals. A single lion attack is tragic and frightening enough, but the worst-case scenario is a lion, or lions, who develop a preference for people and hunt them preferentially. It’s something that has happened at least once.

The Tsavo Man-Eating Lions

In 1898, a group of railway workers were laying track across the Tsavo river in the Coast Province of Kenya when they fell victim to a pair of lions. Unlike most lion attacks, however, this wasn’t a one-time incident. Over the course of nine months, beginning in March of that year, the two lions systematically hunted the workers taking dozens of victims.

By some accounts, the lions snuck into the camp at night, pulled people from their tents , and killed them within earshot of the rest of the camp. It would have been the stuff of nightmares, the sorts of things we imagine on screen but don’t expect to happen in real life. In the more than a century since the attacks occurred, seven feature films have been inspired by the Tsavo lions, including Beast, to some extent. ( The Ghost and the Darkness , starring Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas, is probably the most famous and relatively faithful telling of the story.)

John Patterson, a British colonel made several attempts to trap and kill the lions and eventually succeeded in December of 1898. He subsequently published a book about the events which counted the death toll at 28. A later edition of the book, which purported to include deaths of locals not working at the railway camp, upped the body count to 135. After their deaths, the Field Museum of Chicago purchased the skulls and skins and mounted them. They remain on display in the Field Museum today.

Lion in Tsavo

In recent years, scientists took bone and hair samples from the Tsavo lions’ remains in an effort to determine once and for all just how deadly they were . They searched the samples for isotopes of carbon-13 and carbon-12 as a means of determining their diets in the final months of their lives.

When we eat, we acquire isotopes from our food and the ratio of those isotopes can grant clues as to what we’ve eaten. By measuring the ratio of carbon-13 and carbon-12 in their tissues, researchers were able to more closely estimate what percentage of the lions’ diet was comprised of humans.

The results come in at the lower end of Patterson’s estimates. Isotopic analysis suggests that humans made up about 30 percent of their overall diet during the last three months of their lives. Extrapolating that out over nine months and estimating the average size of a person and the average amount of food a lion needs to eat, they landed at roughly 35 victims. Moreover, the analysis revealed the majority of the killing was carried out by one of the lions, who is estimated to have been responsible for 25 of the deaths.

One has to wonder what drove these two lions to seek out humans as a mainstay of their diets. There were likely a couple of elements at play. First is a drought that hit the region around that time and second is a disease called rinderpest , otherwise known as cattle plague, which decimated prey populations like buffalo and wildebeest. The lions were likely struggling for food and the presence of a large group of humans made for a ready substitute.

The lines between humans and lions continue to cross to this day and attacks, opportunistic or otherwise, aren’t a strange anomaly. They are to be expected. The lion in  Beast , though ,  is still something special. 

Originally published Aug 31, 2022.

  • Science Behind The Fiction

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the ghost in the darkness real story

Facts Behind The Tsavo Man-Eaters The True Story Of ‘The Ghost and The Darkness’

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One of my favorite films is (you guessed it), ‘The Ghost and the Darkness” and what makes this film so popular, is that it was based on a true story. Being eaten alive is perhaps one of our most primordial fears as human beings.

It is hard to imagine in this day and age, that even though human beings are at our peak of accomplishment, when we walk out into the forest at night, we really aren’t at the top of the food chain and can become a meal of some ferocious animal.

Lions are one of the world’s apex predators and even today, lions still occasionally kill and eat people in Africa.

Lions are massive mammals that are loaded with muscle and the power to kill. A single lion has the ability to attack and kill multiple humans in a single event. Their skill with attacking from stealth and killing with a single bite makes them well-suited to inflicting fatal wounds. Lions have always been dangerous to humans, and there will always be the potential for them to harm humans. Fully armed hunters with modern rifles have been attacked and almost perished with what amounts to a firing squad vs a single lion. Hunters and safari guides both get closer to lions than they should if they want to guarantee their safety. Sometimes, by trying to shoot a lion for sport, or helping their customers get a good look at wild lions, these individuals put themselves and others in danger.

The Tsavo Man-Eaters however ,  were a pair of man-eating male lions in the Tsavo region of Kenya, which were responsible for the deaths of many construction workers on the Kenya-Uganda Railway between March and December 1898.

The lion pair was said to have killed 135 people total, but modern estimates place it at 35 total. While the terrors of man-eating lions weren’t new in the British public perception, the Tsavo Man-Eaters became one of the most notorious instances of dangers posed to Indian and native African workers of the Uganda Railway where hostile wildlife and diseases both were frequent sources of deaths in the 1890s-1900s.

H/T – Wikipedia – a-z-animals.com


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the ghost in the darkness real story

  • July 2, 2018
  • Adventure , Drama , Thriller

108: The Ghost and the Darkness

Did you enjoy this episode help support the next one.

  • The Ghost and the Darkness (1996) – IMDb
  • Tsavo Man-Eaters – Wikipedia
  • John Henry Patterson (author) – Wikipedia
  • Man-Eaters of Tsavo | Science | Smithsonian
  • The Savage Tsavo Man-Eaters and the Man Who Stopped Them
  • The Ghost and the Darkness (1996) – Plot Summary – IMDb
  • William Goldman – IMDb
  • The Man-Eaters Of Tsavo And Other East African Adventures: Color Illustrated, Formatted for E-Readers (Unabridged Version) – Kindle edition by John Henry Patterson, Leonardo. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
  • History of Uganda Railway – Daily Monitor
  • patterson-bryan.pdf
  • The Project Gutenberg E-text of The Man-eaters of Tsavo, by J. H. Patterson

Disclaimer: Dan LeFebvre and/or Based on a True Story may earn commissions from qualifying purchases through our links on this page.

Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

Our story today opens with a scene of golden fields of long grass blowing in the wind. It’s the kind of grass you might expect to see a lion hiding in. Or, I guess, the kind of grass you won’t see a lion hiding in until it’s too late.

Instead of seeing lions, though, we hear a slight growl as we see the title of the film: The Ghost and the Darkness.

After this, the camera cuts to a building and there’s a bit of text on screen to let us know we’re in London in the year 1898. The door opens and walking through the dark halls is a man in uniform. He’s walking with his back to the camera as we follow him down the hall, so we can’t really see his face.

As he walks, we hear a voiceover explaining that this is the most famous true African adventure. It’s famous because what took place at Tsavo had never happened before. As the voiceover continues to explain, a brilliant engineer named Colonel John Patterson was there when it began. Then the voice concludes its monologue as it introduces itself as Samuel—a character played by John Kani in the film.

Finally, we see the man’s face as he finishes his walk down the hall and reaches his destination. It’s Val Kilmer’s character who happens to be Colonel John Patterson.

The scene we see next is one where Robert Beaumont, a character played by Tom Wilkinson, tells Colonel Patterson that he’s building the most expensive and daring railroad in history. All of it for the glorious purpose of beating the French and Germans in the colonialism of Africa. Or, as Robert explains it, in saving Africa from the Africans. And their ability to beat the French and Germans hinges on Colonel Patterson being able to do what Robert Beaumont has hired him to do—build a bridge across the river Tsavo.

After this introduction to Colonel Patterson’s boss, we meet his wife at the train station as she bids him farewell. She’s pregnant, but he must leave. In theory he should be back before she has the child, but challenges come—they always do. She understands. It’s alright, because that just means she can come to Africa with their newborn child when he’s born.

And with that, our opening sequence is set. All of those scenes are made up, but there are bits and pieces of truth in there.

Robert Beaumont wasn’t a real person. He’s more of a composite character to portray the committee in London in charge of the Uganda Railway. The purpose of that committee was, as you can probably guess, to build a railway across the sub-Saharan plains of Africa.

Colonel Patterson, on the other hand, was a real person. He was commissioned, like the movie implies, to build a bridge on the Tsavo river for the Uganda Railway committee. More specifically, they’d already built a temporary bridge that the workers used to haul equipment across the river, but Colonel Patterson’s job was to build the permanent bridge and also the railway for 30 miles on either side of the bridge.

For a bit of geographical context, the Tsavo river is on the eastern side of Africa. In 1898 when our story takes place that was known by the colonizing British as simply British East Africa, but today we know it as Kenya. That’s between Somalia to the north and Tanzania to the south.

Another little difference in this opening sequence is with Colonel Patterson’s wife, who is cast as Helena Patterson. She’s played by Emily Mortimer in the film. In truth, her first name was Frances. Helena was her middle name. The two were married in 1895, so the movie is correct in showing them married in 1898.

However, it’d be a bit of a stretch to assume that they had their son around the timeline of the film. He was born in 1909, so unless she had one of the longest pregnancies ever, I doubt she was pregnant in 1898.

Something the movie doesn’t mention, though, is that Frances Patterson was an amazing woman in her own right. She was the very first woman to receive a law degree in the British Isles.

Going back to the movie, Colonel Patterson arrives in Africa to meet a few new characters. First there’s Angus Starling, the camp supervisor that’s played by Brian McCardie. Together, we see Starling and Patterson take what Starling calls the best seat on the train—a wooden bench positioned outside the train on the very front. From here, the two take the trip from Mombasa to Tsavo.

That’s not really accurate.

Like Beaumont, the character of Angus Starling is a fictional one.

Although it is true that Colonel Patterson made his way to Tsavo through the port city of Mombasa. As Colonel Patterson measured it in his book, that’s about 132 miles, or 212 kilometers, to the north of the coast. The movie speeds it all up quite a bit, though. He was in Mombasa for about a week before getting his official orders to head to Tsavo.

While it is true that the train from Mombasa to Tsavo is the one that Colonel Patterson took, according to his memoirs he made a very specific point to talk about the wildlife he saw on the train ride to Tsavo through the windows—so not on the front of the train.

Although, it’s not like Patterson took the trip from Mombasa to Tsavo alone. Joining him on the ride was a man named Dr. McCulloch.

It’s worth mentioning that, generally speaking, as much as the trip to Tsavo was a job for Patterson, any time off he’d have from building the bridge would be spent hunting wild animals.

And their hunting started right away. Not with a lion, but rather with Dr. McCulloch and Patterson being amazed at a beautiful ostrich running alongside their train. So, Dr. McCulloch shot it. For sport, of course. Just because it was there. They then got the train to stop and back up so they could pick up the slain ostrich.

Back in the movie, after Patterson arrives in Tsavo we get to meet a couple more characters. The first is John Kani’s character, Samuel. He’s the guy who did the voiceover in the beginning.

Finally, the last main character we meet here is David Hawthorne. He’s played by Bernard Hill and as the camp doctor, greets Colonel Patterson by saying he’s brought some bad luck. There’s been a lion attack. Don’t worry, Colonel Patterson reassures Dr. Hawthorne, I’ll sort it out.

All of that is made up, including all those characters—they’re fictional. There was a doctor at the camp, but we already learned about him. He was none other than Dr. McCulloch who arrived in Tsavo with Patterson.

Back in the movie, after arriving in Tsavo, Val Kilmer’s version of Colonel Patterson gets right to work sorting it out. He and Starling climb up a tree that night to hunt the lion.

After plenty of waiting and a few tense moments, Patterson manages to kill the lion with a single shot—quite a feat! Back in camp the next day, everyone celebrates Patterson for freeing them of the terror of lions at night.

Of course, if you’ve seen the movie before you’ll know that’s going to change.

But historically, none of that happened.

While it’s also not true that Colonel Patterson hunted down a lion on his first night at the camp, that’s a bit nit-picky since the hunt for man-eating lions began just a few days after his arrival. It’s worth pointing out that when Patterson arrived at the camp in March of 1898, there were thousands of workers, mostly Indians who had been imported by the British to do the backbreaking work for a measly sum of about 12 rupees a month. That’s roughly about $1 in today’s US dollars. So, I think it’s safe to say their pay was a pittance—just enough to avoid being tagged as slave labor.

With thousands of workers, what I’m referring to as the “camp” was technically several camps spread out across a rather wide area—a few miles or so. There’s the one Colonel Patterson was in, then a half a mile away or so another camp. The hospital would be three-quarters of a mile away from that, and so on.

It’s also worth pointing out that not all the workers were under Colonel Patterson’s command, like the movie seems to imply. While there were a few hundred under his command to build the bridge and the 30 miles of railway on either side, the rest were tasked with the railway outside of Colonel Patterson’s job. So, mile 31 and beyond.

Because of the size of the camp, when the first two men were dragged away in the middle of the night by what witnesses described as a pair of lions, Colonel Patterson didn’t believe them. He chalked it up to a disagreement among the workers and a lion attack was the cover story. So, he didn’t do anything.

That would soon change.

Going back to the movie, after Val Kilmer’s version of Colonel Patterson kills a lion right after arriving in Tsavo, things seem to be rather uneventful for some time. There’s a bit of text on screen that says it’s seven weeks later, and one night we see Patterson go to sleep in his tent. Across the camp, the construction foreman, Mahina, goes to sleep in his tent.

By the way, Mahina is played by Henry Cele in the movie.

Of course, there’s quite a bit of difference in the sleeping arrangements. Patterson gets a bed in a tent of his own while Mahina sleeps on the floor with at least six other men that I could count in the frame. Most of them are lying with their heads in the center of the tent with their feet near the edges.

After settling in for the night, across the camp there’s silence.

All is quiet.

Then all of a sudden, there’s a scuffle as we see Mahina’s leg get pulled. He’s dragged out of the tent, startling him awake. As he looks up, there’s a massive black shadow above him—a lion.

Mahina screams. The lion responds with a growl of his own as he clamps down on Mahina’s leg and starts to drag him into the tall grass nearby. Back in the camp, a commotion starts as people start screaming, “Simba! Simba!” or “Lion! Lion!”

The next day, Patterson, Starling and Samuel find the remains of Mahina’s body in the grass.

None of that is true. Although Mahina was a real person—he was Patterson’s gun-bearer. In fact, the character of Samuel in the movie was a fictional one and, in truth, it was Mahina who was Patterson’s right-hand man in the hunt for the man-eaters moreso than anyone else.

As his gun-bearer, anytime Colonel Patterson went hunting in the African wilderness, which he did often as a break from building the bridge, Mahina would likely be at his side. What’s not true about this, though, is that Mahina died as a result of a lion attack like we see in the film. In fact, Mahina was one of the men who bade farewell to Colonel Patterson when he finally went back to England toward the end of 1899.

But that’s getting a bit ahead of our story.

Even though Mahina didn’t die during the timeline of the film, there was an event that was similar to what we saw.

About three weeks after Colonel Patterson arrived in Tsavo, one of his officers, a man named Ungan Singh, was dragged out of his tent in the middle of the night and eaten.

If you remember, up until this point the real Patterson didn’t really believe the previous reports of night-time killings being lions. He thought they were probably scraps between the workers that were being blamed on wildlife. When Singh was killed, the witnesses said it was a lion attack. This time, though, Colonel Patterson investigated the disappearance. He came to the same conclusion as the witnesses—the prints were clear in the sand along with the marks of where Ungan was dragged off into the brush.

Going back to the movie, after Mahina is killed there’s more deaths. Each night, Val Kilmer’s version of Colonel Patterson climbs a tree to kill the lion. They build bomas, or thornbush enclosures that are meant to keep the lion out. And yet, each night it seems, the lion evades Patterson as someone else is dragged off.

Things get so bad that we see Tom Wilkinson’s character of Robert Beaumont make his way to the construction site. When he arrives on a train, he mentions that Patterson is two months behind—and he wants answers.

After hearing about the 30 or so men that have been killed, Beaumont says he doesn’t care about the men who have died—all he cares about is his knighthood. Get the job done. But then he offers to hire Michael Douglas’s character, Charles Remington, to take out lion.

That’s not true.

As we learned before, Beaumont wasn’t a real person so it’s probably not too much of a surprise that that never happened. Although it’d be logical to assume that if the character of Beaumont was supposed to be a personified version of the Uganda Railway committee that maybe some folks of the committee came out to degrade Patterson at the site.

Of course, who’s to say what happened in the undocumented conversations, but building a railroad in the wilderness came with its fair share of hardness. No one likes them, but delays are a part of the job.

Still, it’s safe to say none of that happened.

That brings us to Charles Remington. He’s also a fictional character. There was a man named Mr. Whitehead that Patterson wrote to for assistance in killing the lions, but he was the District Officer in the region, not a big game hunter like Remington was in the movie.

And that right there probably tells you how historically accurate much of the movie from here on out was since he’s one of the main characters. And we’ll come back to Mr. Whitehead in a moment.

As a little side note, you’ll notice that when recounting what happened in the movie I’m using the term “lion”, singular. In the movie, at this point, Patterson didn’t know there were two lions.

To be honest, I don’t really know if that’s true or not. I couldn’t find anything that verified that Patterson thought there was only one lion at the beginning until seeing the two side-by-side at one time. In his book, Patterson almost always refers to them as “the lions” from the very beginning—plural. But that brings up a great point. Patterson’s book called The Man-Eaters of Tsavo was published in 1907, so about nine years after the events took place.

Can you remember everything you did nine years ago to write down every detail? I know I can’t.

And therein lies the conundrum of stories like this that rely so heavily on the experiences of only one man. Stories like this one or others like The Revenant, Lawrence of Arabia, Sargent York and so on. Stories that are often conflated either out of misremembering, honest mistakes or just the desire to make their stories sound more exciting than they actually were.

Oh, sure, there were other people there, but not people who wrote down their stories. And oral histories are even more unreliable. This is all important to keep in mind, because due to the nature of Patterson being the only one who really provided documentation of many of the events by way of his book, we pretty much have to assume its details are true. But I still think it’s worth pointing that out from time to time.

Back to our story today, even though Beaumont never came to Tsavo because, well, he’s not a real person, the basic idea of Patterson trying to hunt down the lions almost immediately after his arrival was true.

In his first few weeks at camp, even after the very first of the workers was dragged away in the middle of the night, Colonel Patterson was determined to get rid of the lions. He’d perch in the trees at night near a recent kill—even getting to the point of leaving a victim’s body where it was found after being dragged off in hopes that the lions would come back for the remains. Instead, while hanging out on a perch, which usually consisted of a board between four posts, Patterson would hear a commotion in a camp a half a mile away. The lions eluded him yet again.

That was a common occurrence. Remember, there used to be people spread out across multiple camps. When they’d guard one camp, another would get attacked. Initially, they’d sometimes be successful in scaring the lions off by making a lot of noise—gunshots, banging things together. But as the nights wore on, the noises stopped having an effect on the lions. They grew more and more bold as they entered tents, grabbing someone in their sleep and dragging them to the outside of the camp where they’d both feed on the poor soul.

What made things even worse was that the thousands of men started to shrink as the railway made progress. Remember earlier when we learned that not all of the workers were tasked with building the bridge under Colonel Patterson? Well, as the workers who were working on the railway itself beyond the bridge made progress, that meant more and more workers were moving away from the Tsavo encampment.

Left behind were the few hundred workers tasked with the bridge. That meant the camps weren’t nearly as full as when Patterson arrived, making things seem even more eerie as the already depleted numbers dwindled more with each night someone was taken from their tent by the lions.

Going back to the movie, with the deaths piling up, we see one of the Indian workers named Abdullah get into a big argument with Patterson. Angry words are thrust back and forth along with what some might consider threats.

Then, just as things start to get really heated, Michael Douglas’s character, Charles Remington, comes into the picture and places a gun to Abdullah’s head. Finally, things calm down a bit.

Well, we already learned earlier that Charles Remington wasn’t a real person, so that part isn’t true. But it is true that the Indian workers revolted against Colonel Patterson. In fact, it was quite a bit worse than what we saw in the movie—even down to a plot to murder Patterson.

There was a lot of stress in the camp, not the least of which because of the lions. But then there was another key factor that seemed to be the last straw in Patterson’s leadership for many of the workers.

None of this is in the movie at all, but as Patterson was overseeing the stone for the base supports for the bridge, he called on the masons of his workers to help. It didn’t take long for him to realize that many of his masons didn’t know the first thing about stone-work.

It’d seem that masons made 45 rupees a month while regular workers only made about 12. So, plenty of people signed up to be masons. When it came time to prove their work, they failed.

As we learned earlier, 12 rupees is equivalent to about $1 in today’s US dollars. On the other hand, 45 rupees in 1898 was roughly about $34 in today’s US dollars. So, neither is really a high salary by any means…but there’s quite a difference.

After Patterson found this out, he decided to cut the pay of anyone who couldn’t prove they were actual masons. Then, trying to appease those who were masons, he’d offer them a little above the 45 rupees.

Well, this drastic pay cut for many workers didn’t really make them happy.

On September 6th, 1898, Colonel Patterson started along his normal morning routine from the trolley line to a quarry to check on the workers there. He’d heard rumors of a mutinous plot but didn’t think a lot of it—he didn’t believe they’d actually carry it out, he just thought it was an intimidation technique.

Well, it was more than that. He found out about that when roughly 160 or so men armed with crowbars and hammers cornered Patterson in a remote gully. It had to have been like a scene in a movie—except not this one. Suddenly, one of the men charged at Patterson.

Patterson dodged, causing the man to dive past him and straight into a nearby rock. That caused enough of a pause from the rest of the workers to give Patterson the time to jump up on another nearby rock. From there, he addressed the workers who, somewhat surprisingly, listened.

He pointed out that if he were killed, the nearby government wasn’t going to be likely to believe that he’d been dragged off by a lion. The punishment for killing him would be hanging for any man involved. Not only that, but they’d just replace him with a new task-master. How did they know who that new boss would be? Maybe he’d be even worse of a boss—not as fair as Patterson was.

He promised anyone who was unhappy could leave without question. Anyone who stayed, though, would have to stop their plots against his life. In return, he wouldn’t mention it to his own bosses.

Back in the movie…actually, before we move onto the next scene, let’s clarify something because the movie gets the timeline a little backward.

In particular, the timing of the work stoppage. In the movie, we see a little later on a scene where Abdullah and hundreds of Indian workers climb aboard a train to leave Tsavo in the wake of one of the worst attacks yet. I’m speaking of the one on the hospital, of course. But we’ll get to that a bit later.

So, in truth, all of those workers really did leave Tsavo…but it wasn’t later like we see in the movie. Remember, the plot against Patterson’s life was in September of 1898.

By the time December of 1898 rolled around, things had gotten so bad that, like the movie implies, there was indeed a halt in the work. Hundreds of workers threw themselves in front of a passing train, forcing it to stop. When it did, they hopped on and left. Anyone who stayed behind stopped working on the bridge and railway. The only thing they’d build was what they thought were lion-proof buildings. These were structures that stood atop anything they could find—water tanks and roofs. Anything to get them off the ground at night.

The work stoppage would end up lasting three weeks.

But the thing I wanted to point out here was how the movie change the timeline, because in truth the workers left before Patterson’s help came. That help wasn’t Remington, of course, but rather the District Officer in the region, a man named Mr. Whitehead.

And Mr. Whitehead was nearly killed upon his arrival to the camp. His train, which was scheduled to arrive on December 2nd, the day after the mass exodus of workers took place, came in late at night. It was so dark that seeing anything was almost impossible, but Whitehead had an assistant carrying a lamp behind him, so they could see their path from the station to the camp.

Then, out of the darkness a lion jumped down on the pair, tearing into Whitehead’s back with his claws. Startled, Whitehead shot his weapon. It seemed to work—the lion froze just long enough for Whitehead to back away. Then, a split second later, the lion pounced on Whitehead’s assistant, a man named Abdullah, and dragged him off into the darkness.

He was never seen again.

As the sun started to rise, Whitehead managed to run into Patterson who, in turn, was looking for Whitehead, since he was supposed to have arrived the night before. Whitehead and Patterson made their way back to camp where Whitehead’s injuries were tended to.

Then something else happens that’s not quite in line with what we saw in the movie.

Remember when Michael Douglas’s character, Charles Remington, arrives in Tsavo in the movie? He came with a tribe called the Masai to hunt the lions down. We already learned that Remington wasn’t a real person, but the Masai was a real tribe that Patterson met during his time in Africa.

But it wasn’t them who came with Mr. Whitehead.

In the movie, Remington is called by Beaumont. Something I didn’t really mention earlier in the scene with Beaumont, but one of the things he mentioned specifically was his reply to Patterson’s request for soldiers. He denied it.

That’s interesting, because in truth, since there was no Beaumont, it was Patterson himself who requested assistance hunting the lions.

Well, the very next day after Mr. Whitehead arrived in Tsavo, some soldiers arrived under the command of a man named Mr. Farquhar. He was the Superintendent of Police in a nearby region, so he arrived with forces to help in the killing of the two man-eating lions.

It was that night, on December 3rd, when they finally caught one of the lions.

Back in the movie, we see a rather ingenious contraption that Val Kilmer’s version of Patterson cleverly calls…well, his contraption.

It’s basically a box car that’s been modified with wooden boards inside to create two compartments. On one side, three workers are to spend the night as bait. On the other side, a door is left open for the lion to enter. When it does, in theory, it’ll hit a tripwire that’ll slam the door down behind it. That’s when the armed workers are to open fire on the lion, killing it.

And, according to the movie, everything seems to go well at first. The trap works, and the lion makes its way in, knocking down the door behind it. Then, the workers start to panic. They keep shooting, but never seem to hit it. One of those shots hits the door behind the lion, damaging the door—which allows the lion to escape.

Surprisingly, that’s pretty close to what happened. Well, there were only two people set up in the trap as bait. And they weren’t workers, they were soldiers from Mr. Farquhar, who had arrived that same day.

As other soldiers positioned themselves in trees all around the camp for the night, Patterson and Mr. Whitehead took up positions near the trap with the human bait inside.

For a while, all was quiet. At about 9:00 PM, one of the lions fell for the trap and wandered inside. The door came slamming down, making quite a ruckus. Patterson breathed a sigh of relief—that’s one lion down!

Except…not quite so fast.

When the lion entered, the soldiers who served as bait were so terrified they didn’t shoot. They froze. Finally, after a few minutes, they opened fire. Not very accurately, though, and just like the movie shows they managed to hit just about everything but the lion. Oh, there was a little bit of blood they found afterward that implies the lion was slightly injured, but nothing major.

One of the bullets though did manage to hit a bar on the door, completely blowing it away. And just like we saw in the movie, that left a hole in the door big enough for the lion to get away.

Back in the movie, Remington orders Bernard Hill’s character, Dr. Hawthorne, to move the hospital. He says the smell of blood and sweat are only going to attract the lions.

That night, we see Dr. Hawthorne and Patterson swap weapons for a hunt the following day. As the movie explains it, Dr. Hawthorne tells Patterson that his gun is more powerful than Patterson’s and he’s just going to be tending to the hospital transfer, so the more powerful gun will do Patterson more good on his hunt than it will Dr. Hawthorne.

Then, the next day, Patterson, Remington and the Masai tribe head off for a hunt. They manage to corner one of the lions, but just as Patterson has the shot—his gun misfires. The lion gets away.

The misfire happened, but that’s not at all how it happened.

Obviously, we already know Remington and the Masai weren’t there.

In fact, Mr. Whitehead and the soldiers from Farquhar weren’t there either. On December 9th, just a couple days after Mr. Whitehead and Farquhar’s soldiers left, Patterson was going about his morning routine when he heard a warning cry.

“Simba! Simba!”

In a rush, Patterson grabbed the closest rifle he could find. It was a heavy rifle that Farquhar had left behind for him, just in case it would be of any use. But Patterson couldn’t track down the lion, so he decided to head back to camp and get some help. He enlisted some of the workers to help make a bunch of noise.

In the movie we see the Masai fill this role as they hoot and holler to scare the lion in a direction they want it to go.

Well, in truth it was some of the railway workers who made as much noise as they could as Patterson snuck around to find a good position to hit the lion. When he found the lion, he raised his rifle and…click. Misfire.

There was a temporary moment of panic where Patterson just stared at the lion. Then, the workers’ noise came closer and scared off the lion. Good thing, too, because if not then Patterson might’ve been a goner.

A bit earlier, I mentioned that Mr. Whitehead and Farquhar’s soldiers had left. They didn’t stick around for long. Since Patterson’s assistance had left by this point, that probably gives you a good idea of how accurate the next major scene is in the movie.

I’m talking, of course, about one of the biggest scenes in the film. At least, it’s the one that disturbed me the most when I saw the movie for the first time. As Patterson and Remington hole themselves up in the old hospital. They spread blood all over the place, pieces of meat and even a couple cows in an attempt to attract the lions to them.

We see the lions sniff at the blood, but then they disappear.

Then we see the lions again. They start attacking the helpless sick and injured in the new location of the hospital—ripping apart the men. One of those who dies is Dr. Hawthorne.

None of that happened. Nor did the real camp doc, Dr. McCulloch die during any of this. He ended up surviving and returning home safe and sound.

According to the movie, after this is when we see Abdullah and the hundreds of Indian workers pile on the train and make their way out of Tsavo. While I can’t say I blame them in the context of what happened in the movie, we already learned about how the movie changed the timeline for that.

So, let’s hop back to the movie where the next major plot point happens when they’re able to finally take down one of the two lions. This happens after Colonel Patterson builds a rather precarious-looking platform. The plan is to have him sit up there out of reach of the lions, while a baboon is tied beneath the platform as bait.

In the dead of the night, one of the lions arrives. Patterson shifts around, trying to get a good angle for a shot. Then, suddenly, a bird swoops down on him. Unsurprisingly, this makes Patterson lose his balance on the very thin board. He falls to the ground, sending his rifle a distance away in the process. Just then, the lion pounces on Patterson—he manages to roll away in the nick of time.

Pulling his pistol, he unloads it into the lion.

Finally, one of the lions is killed.

That’s pretty close to what happened. Even down to the very precarious platform that Patterson erected to hunt atop.

Here’s an excerpt from Patterson’s book where he described exactly what happened:

But no; matters quickly took an unexpected turn. The hunter became the hunted; and instead of either making off or coming for the bait prepared for him, the lion began stealthily to stalk me! For about two hours he horrified me by slowly creeping round and round my crazy structure, gradually edging his way nearer and nearer. Every moment I expected him to rush it; and the staging had not been constructed with an eye to such a possibility. If one of the rather flimsy poles should break, or if the lion could spring the twelve feet which separated me from the ground … the thought was scarcely a pleasant one. I began to feel distinctly “creepy,” and heartily repented my folly in having placed myself in such a dangerous position. I kept perfectly still, however, hardly daring even to blink my eyes: but the long-continued strain was telling on my nerves, and my feelings may be better imagined than described when about midnight suddenly something came flop and struck me on the back of the head. For a moment I was so terrified that I nearly fell off the plank, as I thought that the lion had sprung on me from behind. Regaining my senses in a second or two, I realised that I had been hit by nothing more formidable than an owl, which had doubtless mistaken me for the branch of a tree—not a very alarming thing to happen in ordinary circumstances, I admit, but coming at the time it did, it almost paralysed me. The involuntary start which I could not help giving was immediately answered by a sinister growl from below. After this I again kept as still as I could, though absolutely trembling with excitement; and in a short while I heard the lion begin to creep stealthily towards me. I could barely make out his form as he crouched among the whitish undergrowth; but I saw enough for my purpose, and before he could come any nearer, I took careful aim and pulled the trigger. The sound of the shot was at once followed by a most terrific roar, and then I could hear him leaping about in all directions. I was no longer able to see him, however, as his first bound had taken him into the thick bush; but to make assurance doubly sure, I kept blazing away in the direction in which I heard him plunging about. At length came a series of mighty groans, gradually subsiding into deep sighs, and finally ceasing altogether; and I felt convinced that one of the “devils” who had so long harried us would trouble us no more. As soon as I ceased firing, a tumult of inquiring voices was borne across the dark jungle from the men in camp about a quarter of a mile away. I shouted back that I was safe and sound, and that one of the lions was dead: whereupon such a mighty cheer went up from all the camps as must have astonished the denizens of the jungle for miles around.

Back in the movie, after the first lion is killed we see Patterson, Remington and Samuel all celebrating with a drink around the fire that same night. Conversation turns to families, and before heading off to bed Remington tells Patterson that the next time he sees his son, he should hold him high.

That night, Patterson has a dream. It’s a good dream where his wife and newborn son visit him. Then, it turns to a nightmare as the remaining lion mauls his wife to death while he watches helplessly from a distance.

Val Kilmer’s version of Colonel Patterson awakes from the nightmare with a start. He goes to splash his face with water, and that’s when he notices it. Remington’s tent. It’s empty. It’s more than empty—it’s in shreds. Remington is gone.

Rushing out into the brush, Patterson and Samuel come across the remains of Remington amid blood-stained grass.

Then the camera cuts and we see Patterson and Samuel standing around a blazing fire. They’re burning Remington’s body out of respect. Patterson grabs one of the logs from the fire and starts lighting the tall, dry grass ablaze. Samuel follows suit, and the fire quickly eats up the long grass.

None of that is true. There was a moment where Patterson set a fire while he was in Tsavo, but that was much later and due to a plague that was in the area—he was trying to get rid of the sickness and did so by setting fire to many of the buildings in the area. A sacrifice, but it worked to get rid of the illness. But it had nothing to do with the lions.

After this, in the movie, we see how the second lion is killed. The evening after Remington is killed, Colonel Patterson is walking along the unfinished bridge when the lion surprises him. Shocked, Patterson stumbles back and drops his shotgun. It clatters between the wooden boards, falling uselessly away.

Patterson starts running, climbing down from the bridge in a way that slows the lion’s charge on him. Fortunately, he just barely manages to make it to a nearby tree before the lion gets there.

It stares up at him. Then…the lion starts climbing the tree after Val Kilmer’s version of the Colonel.

Patterson climbs higher, but there’s only so much tree. Meanwhile, we see Samuel climbing another tree nearby. He’s trying to get a good angle on the lion, but he can’t. so, he calls out to Patterson. Getting his attention, Samuel throws his rifle across the gap separating his tree from Patterson’s.

It’s just out of reach! Hitting a branch, it falls to the ground.

For a moment, Patterson considers what to do. The lion is still making its way up the tree. Closer and closer. Then, Patterson jumps from the tree toward the gun. The fall brings him down—almost lying down as he lunges to pick up the gun just as the lion follows him to the ground.

Patterson aims…fires. The lion roars, blood splattering across his face. But he doesn’t stop. He keeps crawling toward Patterson, who scrambles backward. Finally, he steadies himself for a second shot right into the lion’s face.

And with that, the second lion is killed.

All of that…is not at all how it happened.

And rather than trying to retell the story myself, as we did with the first lion, here’s the account of how the second man-eater of Tsavo was killed by Colonel Patterson from his book:

About this time Sir Guilford Molesworth, K.C.I.E., late Consulting Engineer to the Government of India for State Railways, passed through Tsavo on a tour of inspection on behalf of the Foreign Office. After examining the bridge and other works and expressing his satisfaction, he took a number of photographs, one or two of which he has kindly allowed me to reproduce in this book. He thoroughly sympathised with us in all the trials we had endured from the man-eaters, and was delighted that one at least was dead. When he asked me if I expected to get the second lion soon, I well remember his half-doubting smile as I rather too confidently asserted that I hoped to bag him also in the course of a few days. As it happened, there was no sign of our enemy for about ten days after this, and we began to hope that he had died of his wounds in the bush. All the same we still took every precaution at night, and it was fortunate that we did so, as otherwise at least one more victim would have been added to the list. For on the night of December 27, I was suddenly aroused by terrified shouts from my trolley men, who slept in a tree close outside my boma, to the effect that a lion was trying to get at them. It would have been madness to have gone out, as the moon was hidden by dense clouds and it was absolutely impossible to see anything more than a yard in front of one; so all I could do was to fire off a few rounds just to frighten the brute away. This apparently had the desired effect, for the men were not further molested that night; but the man-eater had evidently prowled about for some time, for we found in the morning that he had gone right into every one of their tents, and round the tree was a regular ring of his footmarks. The following evening I took up my position in this same tree, in the hope that he would make another attempt. The night began badly, as, while climbing up to my perch I very nearly put my hand on a venomous snake which was lying coiled round one of the branches. As may be imagined, I came down again very quickly, but one of my men managed to despatch it with a long pole. Fortunately the night was clear and cloudless, and the moon made every thing almost as bright as day. I kept watch until about 2 a.m., when I roused Mahina to take his turn. For about an hour I slept peacefully with my back to the tree, and then woke suddenly with an uncanny feeling that something was wrong. Mahina, however, was on the alert, and had seen nothing; and although I looked carefully round us on all sides, I too could discover nothing unusual. Only half satisfied, I was about to lie back again, when I fancied I saw something move a little way off among the low bushes. On gazing intently at the spot for a few seconds, I found I was not mistaken. It was the man-eater, cautiously stalking us. The ground was fairly open round our tree, with only a small bush every here and there; and from our position it was a most fascinating sight to watch this great brute stealing stealthily round us, taking advantage of every bit of cover as he came. His skill showed that he was an old hand at the terrible game of man-hunting: so I determined to run no undue risk of losing him this time. I accordingly waited until he got quite close—about twenty yards away—and then fired my .303 at his chest. I heard the bullet strike him, but unfortunately it had no knockdown effect, for with a fierce growl he turned and made off with great long bounds. Before he disappeared from sight, however, I managed to have three more shots at him from the magazine rifle, and another growl told me that the last of these had also taken effect. We awaited daylight with impatience, and at the first glimmer of dawn we set out to hunt him down. I took a native tracker with me, so that I was free to keep a good look-out, while Mahina followed immediately behind with a Martini carbine. Splashes of blood being plentiful, we were able to get along quickly; and we had not proceeded more than a quarter of a mile through the jungle when suddenly a fierce warning growl was heard right in front of us. Looking cautiously through the bushes, I could see the man-eater glaring out in our direction, and showing his tusks in an angry snarl. I at once took careful aim and fired. Instantly he sprang out and made a most determined charge down on us. I fired again and knocked him over; but in a second he was up once more and coming for me as fast as he could in his crippled condition. A third shot had no apparent effect, so I put out my hand for the Martini, hoping to stop him with it. To my dismay, however, it was not there. The terror of the sudden charge had proved too much for Mahina, and both he and the carbine were by this time well on their way up a tree. In the circumstances there was nothing to do but follow suit, which I did without loss of time: and but for the fact that one of my shots had broken a hind leg, the brute would most certainly have had me. Even as it was, I had barely time to swing myself up out of his reach before he arrived at the foot of the tree. When the lion found he was too late, he started to limp back to the thicket; but by this time I had seized the carbine from Mahina, and the first shot I fired from it seemed to give him his quietus, for he fell over and lay motionless. Rather foolishly, I at once scrambled down from the tree and walked up towards him. To my surprise and no little alarm he jumped up and attempted another charge. This time, however, a Martini bullet in the chest and another in the head finished him for good and all; he dropped in his tracks not five yards away from me, and died gamely, biting savagely at a branch which had fallen to the ground. By this time all the workmen in camp, attracted by the sound of the firing, had arrived on the scene, and so great was their resentment against the brute who had killed such numbers of their comrades that it was only with the greatest difficulty that I could restrain them from tearing the dead body to pieces. Eventually, amid the wild rejoicings of the natives and coolies, I had the lion carried to my boma, which was close at hand. On examination we found no less than six bullet holes in the body, and embedded only a little way in the flesh of the back was the slug which I had fired into him from the scaffolding about ten days previously. He measured nine feet six inches from tip of nose to tip of tail, and stood three feet eleven and a half inches high; but, as in the case of his companion, the skin was disfigured by being deeply scored all over by the boma thorns.

Oh, and even though I didn’t mention it, the first man-eater measured about nine feet eight inches long and was three feet nine inches tall.

As the movie draws to a close, we see Colonel Patterson’s wife, Helena, arrive in Tsavo. It’s a very similar scene to what we saw in Patterson’s nightmare, except this time there are no lions stalking their prey from the tall grass.

It’s a rather happy ending as Patterson sees his wife and, for the first time, his newborn son—who he raises high just as Charles Remington told him to do before he died.

As happy as that made the ending in the movie, none of that happened. As we learned in the beginning, Colonel John Patterson and his wife, Frances Helena Patterson, didn’t have their only son until many years later—1909.

And, as far as my research indicates, she never visited him in Africa.

But, at the end of the movie, we hear Samuel’s voiceover talk about how Patterson finished the bridge.

And that’s true.

The bridge was finished in February of 1899, not long after the man-eating lions were killed. However, Patterson didn’t return to England right away. In fact, it wasn’t for about a year after the two lions were killed that Patterson stumbled upon their den. We saw Patterson and Remington find their cave in the movie, but that’s not something that happened while the lions were still alive.

While the lions were alive, Patterson spent countless hours searching for their den without success. But it was only after they were killed that he managed to find it—and quite by accident.

The movie did correctly show that there were plenty of human bones in the den. Although, the number of them were played up for effect in the film.

Speaking of which, throughout the movie we hear a running tally of the number of deaths at the hand of the two man-eaters of Tsavo. 10, 20, 30…all the way up to somewhere in the 100s.

How many did the two lions actually kill?

Well, the true answer is that we don’t know. The numbers vary quite a bit, but estimates are as high as 135 people.

As for the two lions, for a little over two decades their skins served as rugs for Colonel Patterson’s home. Then, in 1924, he sold them to the Chicago Field Museum where they were stuffed and reconstructed to mimic the lions they once were.

And that’s where they are today.

Just like the movie indicates at the end, those two lions are currently on display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois. Of course, it’s their skins stuffed into reconstructions, but in the display they also have the two skulls of the man-eaters.

In 2004, Colonel John Patterson’s son, Bruce, published his theories into the reasons behind why the two man-eaters killed so many.

The prevailing thought was that it was a combination of multiple factors. A perfect storm, of sorts.

First, in 1898 there was a plague that limited the number of animals available in the lion’s normal hunting grounds. In addition to that, quite frankly, there was a lot of slave labor and slave trade in the region at the time. As a result, there were a lot of people murdered and dumped around the area—especially around the Tsavo river, since it was a water supply for slave traders in the region.

Finally, Bruce Patterson studied the skulls of the lions and determined that perhaps there was an infection in their teeth. A lion’s normal prey, zebras, antelopes and so on, would be suffocated from the pressure of the lion’s attack. But with the infection, maybe that same sort of pressure couldn’t be applied without immense pain. So, killing humans that didn’t require the same sort of suffocation would’ve been an easier prey.

Of course, those are all theories.

The truth is…we don’t really know.

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Infamous Man-Eaters of Tsavo Ate Like Zoo Animals

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What's left of the notorious lion duo known as the man-eaters of Tsavo now resides at Chicago's Field Museum. (Credit John Weinstein, The Field Museum) The man-eaters of Tsavo, two lions that killed railroad workers in Kenya more than a century ago, have inspired legends, movies and a lot of research papers trying to explain what drove the big cats to prey on humans (a rare menu choice for Panthera leo ). A study out today finds that, in one crucial way, the infamous killers were a lot like — surprise — zoo animals. For years, the true story of the man-eaters of Tsavo has been embellished and exaggerated, most recently in the 1996 movie  The Ghost and The Darkness . Historically, what we know for sure is that over a nine-month period in 1898, two maneless male lions (maneless being the status quo for lions in the area) killed several workers constructing a new railroad in Kenya. Their acquisition of Unhappy Meals came to an end when both were shot and killed by Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson, who years later sold their skulls and skins to Chicago's Field Museum, where they are now on display.

Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson strikes a pose beside the body of one of the man-eaters in 1898. (Credit Wikimedia Commons) The actual number of victims is disputed: According to official records, it was 28, but Patterson claimed it was 135. In 2009, isotopic analysis of the lions' hair, which stores long-term dietary information, suggested that one lion ate about 24 people, the other 11 during their final nine months (for a total of 35 if math is not your thing), though manflesh represented only about 30 and 13 percent of their diets, respectively. If you don't want to read the original paper on that, check out the Field's story on the research. But the biggest question about the Tsavo Two remains: Why ? Lions don't usually hunt humans — they will typically hide or flee in the face of human activity. What made the Tsavo Two so different? Local lore and Hollywood, of course, decided it must be that the dastardly duo were evil, or supernatural, or some combination thereof. Science started with a simpler premise: “Any predator is always hungry and looking for its next meal,” says Bruce Patterson, co-author of the new study and the Field's curator of mammals. A Lion's Gotta Eat Researchers have proposed a number of theories over the years that might explain what drove the animals to attack and eat railway workers. One of the most frequently cited suggests it was because their natural prey supply all but dried up — the result of a two-year drought plus an outbreak of the infectious disease rinderpest, which was particularly devastating for the local buffalo population. Another theory proposed that lions in the area might have developed a particular taste for humans long before the railroad project arrived. The tracks followed an old slave trade route that had been used for centuries, and sick or dead slaves simply left behind would have provided easy pickings for the big cats. Take one look at the skull of the Tsavo lion that was particularly fond of manwiches and you can see another explanation for what might have been at the root of the rampage.

You don't have to be a dentist to see what's wrong with the chompers of one of the Tsavo lions: his lower right canine is broken, and has a root-tip abscess that affected his ability to hunt, as well as his choice of prey. (Credit Bruce Patterson, The Field Museum) The animal's lower right canine was broken, with evidence of a painful root-tip abscess. It would have made delivering the kill bite to typical prey impossible — the main reason, say some researchers, the lion started going after thin-skinned and relatively helpless puny humans. An earlier, broader study of lion chompers found that about 40 percent of the animals examined had dental damage, including broken teeth and exposed pulp. Such wear and tear is normal for the big cats as they age, but rarely gets as bad as what we see in one of the Tsavo lions. First Impressions Despite the severity of the lion's damaged tooth, not everyone was signing on to the theory that it led to hunting humans. After all, in Patterson's accounts of the marauding mammals, he mentioned the animals crunching the bones of their victims within earshot of the camp. Bone-crunching behavior in lions smacks of desperation — the sort you might find in an animal in dire need of food due to a lack of its natural prey. Enter today's study , published in Scientific Reports . For the first time, researchers created molds of the Tsavo lions' teeth using a technique that allowed them to make casts with such high resolution that they could study microscopic wear. What they found is a shocker: when it comes to microwear, the Tsavo Two's teeth were remarkably similar to that of lions living in zoos. These lions are typically fed a softer diet, no bone-crunching required. The researchers compared the Tsavo lions' dental microwear with previous results from other lions (which are typically generalist carnivores, eating fresh meat when they can and scavenging when they have to), as well as cheetahs (meat only, thanks) and hyenas (they'll eat the whole dang animal, bones and all) and found no indications that the infamous man-eaters were desperate enough to scavenge. The microwear pattern suggests then that it wasn't desperation that drove the Tsavo lions to nosh on humans, but perhaps convenience. The railroad workers, most of whom came from lion-free South Asia and were unfamiliar with local ways to avoid being eaten, were simply easier for a dentally-challenged lion to catch and kill than faster, tougher-skinned buffalo, antelope and zebra. Predation, Bro-Style As for why the second lion also ate humans, despite having only minor damage to its teeth, Patterson believes it was a social thing. Male siblings and cousins of the same age form coalitions (or perhaps bro-alitions) that stick together, making Man-Eater #2 "guilty by association." “Lions so rarely go after people," says Patterson. He notes that there are about 20,000 lions in Africa and that, when their paths cross with humans, "99.99 percent of the time they choose to go the other way. When man-eating happens it’s really sort of a pathology.” And that, not supernatural evil, is what makes the man-eaters of Tsavo so intriguing for scientists and the public alike. Says Patterson: “When one of these pathological events happens, it resets our whole appreciation of nature. We’re reminded we’re not on the top of the food chain.”

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'The Darkness' Is Drawn From Horrifying Accounts

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Like many horror movies, The Darkness , out Friday, May 13 (yes, really), features a plot that'll leave audiences with goosebumps. The film follows a family who, after a visit to the Grand Canyon, think they've brought home a supernatural force, and the creepiness of the tale leads many to wonder if The Darkness is based on a true story . Yet while many elements are true to life—the minivans, the over-concerned parents, the mean older brother, I've got some bad news, scaredy cats: The Darkness is actually based upon more than one true story.

Contrary to what some believe, The Darkness is not a cinematic version of the video game series of the same name. This one stars everyone's favorite ham, Kevin Bacon, as the father of a son who steals a rock from a burial ground at the Grand Canyon, bringing a bunch of evil spirits back to the burbs. Though it might sound like horror movie from the '50s, the film’s co-writer and director Greg McLean drew up the story from actual terrifying personal accounts that took place in the Grand Canyon. McLean revealed to Entertainment Weekly that The Darkness is based on several true stories , saying, "I was reading about people that had taken objects from the Grand Canyon, and then bad luck started to unfold." While he hasn't reveal which specific stories inspired the film, it turns out that there are tons of ghost stories coming out of Grand Canyon.

the ghost in the darkness real story

The National Park is ripe with supernatural and scary tales. Digging into stories of the haunted grand canyon will lead you to a few old school websites that talk about disappearing children , ghosts of canyon workers crushed by boulders , and, more commonly, the spirits of people killed in air crashes. According to Michael P. Ghiglieri, author of Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon , air crashes are the most common cause of death. "All told, there have been 65 fatal crashes of various aircraft in and around the canyon, accounting for 379 victims," he told the Los Angeles Times in 2012. "Of these, 259 died within the canyon, and 120 more died on the adjacent rims while trying to access or exit the airspace over the canyon." Because the hikes are frequently risky, Ghiglieri also noted that folks fall to their deaths when horseplaying around, but someone actually suffered heart failure when a rattlesnake scared them.

the ghost in the darkness real story

So if you're making plans to vacation in the Grand Canyon this summer, you might want to play it safe, bring an extra flashlight, and, perhaps, a priest in the exorcism business.

Images: Blumhouse Productions

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The Top 10 Global Risks for 2024

Activists Demand More German Military Support For Ukraine

I n 2023, the big stories centered on two wars in Europe (Russia vs Ukraine) and the Middle East (Israel vs Hamas). Those conflicts will expand in 2024, but it’s a third “war”—the United States versus itself—that poses the greatest global risk. And, as always, there will be new stories that deserve more attention than they’re getting.

Read more about the Ideas of the Year—and TIME's complete coverage of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland

1. The United State vs itself    

While America’s military and economy remain exceptionally strong, the U.S. political system is more dysfunctional than any other advanced industrial democracy. In 2024, the problem will get much worse. The presidential election will deepen the country’s political division, testing American democracy to a degree the nation hasn’t experienced in 150 years and undermining U.S. credibility internationally. With the outcome of the vote close to a coin toss (at least for now), the only certainty is damage to America’s social fabric, political institutions, and international standing. In a world beset by crises, the prospect of a Trump victory will weaken America’s position on the global stage as Republican lawmakers take up his foreign policy positions and U.S. allies and adversaries hedge against his likely policies.

2. Middle East on the brink    

The fighting in Gaza will expand in 2024, with several pathways for escalation into a broader regional war. Some could draw the U.S. and Iran more directly into the fighting. The conflict will pose risks to the global economy, widen geopolitical and political divisions, and stoke global extremism. The straightest path to escalation would be a decision by either Israel or Hezbollah to attack the other. Top Israeli leaders have pledged to “remove” the threat from Hezbollah. If Israel were to attack preemptively, the U.S. military would provide support, and Iran would assist Hezbollah, its most important regional proxy. Houthi militants are also pursuing an escalatory path, and Shia militias operating in Iraq and Syria have increased attacks on U.S. bases with Tehran’s blessing. No country involved in the Gaza conflict wants a regional conflict to erupt. But the powder is dry, and the number of players carrying matches makes the risk of escalation high.

More From TIME

3. partitioned ukraine    .

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine remains an historic failure. NATO is strengthened by new members Finland and Sweden. The EU has opened a membership process for Ukraine, Russia has faced 11 rounds of sanctions, with more on the way, and half of its sovereign assets have been frozen—money increasingly likely to be used for Ukrainian reconstruction. Europe no longer buys Russian energy. But Ukraine will be de facto partitioned this year, and Russia now has the battlefield initiative and a material advantage. 2024 is an inflection point in the war: and if Ukraine doesn't solve its manpower problems, increase weapons production, and set a realistic military strategy soon, its territorial losses could prove permanent and may well expand. Kyiv has taken a body blow from ebbing political and material support from the United States, and the outlook for European assistance is only slightly better. Ukraine is desperate for more troops. For all these reasons, Kyiv will take bigger military risks this year, including strikes on more targets inside Russia that provoke unprecedented Russian responses and could pull NATO into the conflict.

4. Ungoverned AI     

Technology will outstrip AI governance in 2024 as regulatory efforts falter, tech companies remain largely unconstrained, and far more powerful AI models and tools spread beyond the control of governments.   

5. Axis of rogues  (and America’s dangerous friends)   

In 2024, Russia, North Korea, and Iran will boost one another’s capabilities and act in increasingly coordinated and disruptive ways on the global stage. Meanwhile, even Washington’s friends—the leaders of Ukraine, Israel and (potentially) Taiwan—will pull the U.S. into confrontations it wants to avoid.

6. No China Recovery      

Absent an unlikely loosening of President Xi Jinping’s grip on power or a radical pivot toward large-scale consumer stimulus and structural reform, China’s economy will underperform throughout 2024. Beijing’s failure to reform the country’s sputtering economic growth model, the country’s financial fragilities, and a crisis of public confidence will expose gaps in the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership capabilities and increase the risk of social instability. 

7. The fight for critical minerals     

Critical minerals will be a crucial component in virtually every sector that will drive growth, innovation, and national security in the 21st century, from clean energy to advanced computing, biotechnology, transportation, and defense. In 2024, governments around the world will intensify their use of industrial policies and trade restrictions that disrupt the flow of the critical minerals.

8. No room for error    

The global inflation shock that began in 2021 will continue to exert an economic and political drag in 2024. High interest rates caused by stubborn inflation will slow growth around the world, and governments will have little scope to stimulate growth or respond to shocks, heightening risk of financial stress, social unrest, and political instability.   

9. El Nino is back   

After a four-year absence, a powerful El Nino climate pattern will peak in the first half of this year, bringing extreme weather events that trigger food insecurity, increase water stress, disrupt logistics, spread disease, and foment migration and political instability, particularly in countries already weakened by the pandemic and the energy and food prices shocks created by the Ukraine war.   

10. Risky business    

Customers, employees, and investors—mostly on the progressive side—have brought the U.S. culture wars to corporate offices, and now courts, state legislatures, governors, and activist groups—mostly conservative ones—will hit back. Companies caught in the political and legal crossfire will face higher uncertainty and costs.

Red herrings

U.S.-China crisis

This will be another turbulent year for U.S.-China relations, particularly over Taiwan and tech competition, but domestic preoccupations have persuaded Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping that better-managed relations serve both sides.

Populist takeover of European politics   

Europe’s populists will continue to strike fear in the European political establishment, but limited setbacks for mainstream parties at European Parliament, national, and local elections will neither upend the European political order nor derail EU ambitions rejuvenated by the Covid-19 pandemic and Ukraine war.     

BRICS vs. G7   

Even after this year’s expansion, the BRICS will not emerge as a China-led rival to the G7.

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“True Detective: Night Country” Finds the Heart of Darkness

By Inkoo Kang

An illustration of two people standing in a snowy landscape with a red light shining at them.

The first crime scene in the new season of “True Detective” isn’t that of the seven gnarled, naked bodies we see piled on top of one another in the snow at the end of Episode 1, but of a more mundane violence. A woman tries to flee her physically abusive boyfriend, and he tracks her down at work. This time, he gets walloped, with a metal bucket, by his girlfriend’s co-worker, an older woman. The blow leaves his face a gory mess. The officer who arrives to escort the man off the premises, Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis), asks the girlfriend whether she’ll press charges against her ex; the trooper doesn’t offer him the same choice before putting him in cuffs. The local chief of police, Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster), isn’t exactly complimentary when she later says that Navarro’s “got this thing about women who get hurt.” The arrest feels righteous, but the stench of the man’s menace lingers. Tidy endings are hard to come by, especially once blood has been spilled.

There’s a refusal to separate or elevate sensational brutality from the everyday sort in this latest installment of the HBO anthology drama—a feminist revision of a series best known for its macho poetry and its ogling eye. The show’s creator, Nic Pizzolatto, had his mostly male investigators contend with child murderers and pedophile rings; the QAnon-esque luridness of those crimes haunted the grizzled detectives for decades thereafter. The writer-director Issa López, who has taken over from Pizzolatto as showrunner, moves the action from sunbaked states to the fictional town of Ennis, Alaska, where, as of mid-December, daylight won’t return for several weeks. The uninterrupted Arctic dark lends the season its subtitle, “Night Country,” as well as its wintry, edge-of-civilization atmospherics. Watching the six-part season from under a blanket in California, I couldn’t get warm.

The dead men who form the chilly, Boschian tableau at the pilot’s conclusion are (or were) scientists at a research station on the outskirts of Ennis. With unknown funders and an improbable mission, the facility was shrouded in mystery even before its occupants turned up on the ice with their faces literally frozen in horror. But Navarro is hopeful that their bizarre fate will offer some clues in a homicide case that she and Danvers worked on years earlier—the unsolved murder of a Native woman named Annie Kowtok (Nivi Pedersen), who agitated against the mine that the town relies on for most of its jobs—when Annie’s severed tongue materializes, without explanation, in the scientists’ mess hall.

Here, the “True Detective” formula kicks in: Danvers and Navarro reunite as partners despite their mutual suspicion, and their rocky history eventually threatens their credibility on the new case. Conspiracies, hostile forces, and occult flourishes abound. The universe of the show is one in which the police—even the brilliant ones—are always failing. Danvers has long since reconciled herself to that reality: of the earlier cold case, she says, “This one was never gonna be solved. Ennis killed Annie.” She’s an outsider, unmoved by Navarro’s insistence that a white murder victim wouldn’t have been so readily forgotten. Nor is she particularly sensitive toward her stepdaughter, Leah (Isabella Star LaBlanc), whose newfound embrace of political activism—and of her Native heritage—she considers a needlessly risky attempt at teen-age rebellion. In Danvers’s view, there’s no ridding the world, or even her own squad, of shit-heels and malefactors; there’s only limiting the damage.

Whereas Pizzolatto’s iteration of the show had few female characters of substance, the new season delights in the complexities of its women protagonists. The chief’s no-nonsense veneer allows her to insult her subordinates, including her shiftless deputy Hank (John Hawkes), without it feeling all that personal. But she’s got a maternal side—one that she indulges with Hank’s son, Peter (Finn Bennett), a junior officer—as well as a penchant for affairs with married men that’s made her persona non grata among many women in town.

Foster has spent much of the past decade and a half behind the camera, as a director, but she’s lost none of the cerebral confidence that has underpinned her distinctive sex appeal. It’s no shock that she’s compulsively watchable. It is a pleasant surprise that her nearly unknown co-star is just as compelling, with a refreshingly naturalistic screen presence. Reis, a professional boxer turned actor with cheek piercings where her dimples might be, looks so solid from the neck down that her body is like one long, taut muscle, but her character has a habit of picking fights she’s unlikely to win. Navarro’s volatility masks deep-seated vulnerabilities. Her unstable mother died before sharing Navarro’s Inupiaq name with her, leaving her painfully disconnected from her culture. She lives in fear that her sister, Julia (Aka Niviâna), who’s already been institutionalized once, may slip through the cracks if she continues to resist treatment—and that Julia isn’t the only member of the family who inherited their mother’s hallucinations. Not everyone finds the apparitions the siblings struggle to shake off so unnatural. “Ennis is where the fabric of all things is coming apart at the seams,” Navarro’s friend Rose (Fiona Shaw) says; she routinely sees her deceased lover roaming the tundra. “This is Ennis, man,” another character says simply. “You see people who are gone sometimes. It’s a long fucking night. Even the dead get bored.”

In the prestige-TV era, the police procedural has grasped for cachet through social critique (“The Wire”) or cool vibes (“Fargo”). Some achieve both—“Top of the Lake” is an easy example—but, in less adept hands, the former can feel like homework and the latter a shallow exercise in style. (In the most recent season of “Fargo,” self-serious kitsch and punishing sincerity layered irritation on irritation.) Pizzolatto’s “True Detective,” which last aired five years ago, ran largely on vibes, too, and when sleaze and nihilism couldn’t sustain its overcomplicated plotting, the mysteries sagged.

López has accomplished the uncommon feat of resuscitating a franchise that didn’t deserve saving. She first broke out with “Tigers Are Not Afraid,” a 2017 film that blended human horrors and magical realism, and her season of “True Detective” pulls off the same balancing act. Although Danvers, like the show’s original protagonist (played by Matthew McConaughey), obsesses over “asking the right questions,” López isn’t always interested in furnishing answers, and the series mostly benefits from her willingness to dwell in ambiguity. Are Julia’s visions a by-product of schizophrenia, as her doctors suggest, or rooted in spiritual truth? The matter is never fully litigated. López’s dialogue is more pedestrian than her predecessor’s, but she has an instinct for imagery that’s both genuinely frightening and strangely inviting, amplifying the scripts’ thematic heft. “Night Country” plays with the gendered expectations behind certain TV-cop tropes: it’s Danvers, not Hank, who models self-destructive workaholism for Peter, downing vodka alone and poring over case files before pulling him away from his family on Christmas Eve. The season is similarly probing about the moral authority that can be reflexively assigned to women over men in our fantasies of female vengeance for male aggression. Through it all, meditations on the unknowability of the cosmos are offset by close observations of relationships—however contingent or dysfunctional they may be. By grounding her supernatural whodunnit in more intimate, interpersonal dramas, López transforms “True Detective” from a lot of mystical mumbling into a show with something to say. ♦

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By Jennifer Homans

Accused of oversharing about her kids, she tried fiction. Sort of.

Julie myerson’s new book toys with the boundaries between her real life and fiction.

True to its coy title, “ Nonfiction: A Novel ,” by Julie Myerson, wants to have it both ways. Or as the author put it in an interview with the Guardian upon the book’s publication in Britain in 2022: “This book is completely made up. It is also completely true.” But before we get into how that can possibly be the case, let’s take a look at the ongoing saga of this British author.

Of the 14 books Myerson has published since 1994, the one that started a fire was “ The Lost Child ,” which came out in 2009. On the one hand, it is a work of narrative nonfiction in which Myerson documents her obsession with the short, sad life of Mary Yelloly, a 19th-century artist who died at the age of 21. Addressing Mary in the second person, Myerson recounts her tours of various locations, meetings with descendants, and encounters with family relics and primary sources. Interleaved with this investigation is a second narrative that records the nightmare Myerson was experiencing in real life with her son Jake (not named in the book), who she says became addicted to skunk cannabis and was thrown out of the house, but not before he robbed his parents, gave drugs to his younger siblings and hit his mother so hard he punctured her eardrum.

“I’m just so sick of trying to explain this thing to people,” Myerson quotes herself as saying at one point in “The Lost Child.”

One can’t help but raise an eyebrow here. It would be more accurate to say that Myerson has made a career out of explaining “this thing.”

In 2006, Myerson began writing a column in the Guardian called “Living With Teenagers,” anonymously and without her three kids’ knowledge — or naturally, consent. But two years into this cloaked exposé, the identity of one of her kids was revealed and the children were bullied at school. The column was canceled, removed from the internet archive — then collected in a book! Titled “ Living With Teenagers: One Hell of a Bumpy Ride ,” it became a bestseller in Britain in 2009. A storm of vituperation and media infamy ensued, accusing Myerson of betraying the responsibilities of motherhood.

How to make it rich as a bad art friend

In the decade since, Myerson has produced three novels — one dystopian, one gothic historical, one murder mystery. Now she’s back to the topic of family and addiction, signing her name to a novel she calls “Nonfiction.” It is a bit of a head-scratcher. While plenty of people write autofiction, few are interested in energetically reopening serious wounds in both their public and private lives.

Like “The Lost Child,” “Nonfiction” is an epistolary novel addressed to a dead person. Comparing the stories in the two books, readers can suss out the “fiction” parts of “Nonfiction.” Here, the narrator has one child, not three, and the child is a girl, not a boy. The character does heroin, not skunk cannabis, and she overdoses and dies, while Myerson’s son is alive and apparently, according to interviews, no longer an addict.

Sections detailing the painful interactions between “your father and I” and “you” are punctuated by a few other narrative threads. One deals with the narrator’s almost unbelievably cruel mother. This part of the book, Myerson said in that Guardian interview in 2022, is autobiographical and factual. Like the narrator, Myerson received in the mail a packet of her baby pictures torn out of the family albums. “In the short note that comes with the pages,” she writes in “Nonfiction,” “my mother has written that she’s having a clear-out and getting rid of various things she doesn’t want any more.” Then her mother dies, which the narrator learns in a phone call from her brother. “And you’re not to write about any of this either, he adds, as he warns me that I will definitely be turned away should I suddenly take it into my head to try and attend the funeral.” In both book and life, Myerson didn’t attend the funeral. But telling Julie Myerson not to write about something seems to be reason enough for her to do the opposite.

The book muddles not only fact and fiction but also past and present. All events, no matter when they happened, are narrated in the present tense, including an extramarital affair, thoughts of which are revived when the narrator runs into her former lover on the street. The affair is fiction, again according to the Guardian interview; its primary function in the novel is to add to the long list of things for which the narrator berates herself. “Again and again I’ve put myself first. I’ve made some very bad decisions — terrible, reckless decisions … I’ve done dangerous, inexcus­able things … I’ve lied. I’ve been greedy. I’ve said yes to things I shouldn’t have said yes to. I’ve hurt the people I love.”

Single, 40 and childless: Why is that still a problem?

Interwoven with this self-flagellation are vignettes concerning the narrator’s literary career: conversations with other writers, book festival appearances, meetings with a student she’s helping with a work in progress. Since all the other writers who turn up are dealing with the boundaries between life and art, they form a kind of chorus of apologia. There’s a poet who explains that “all of her art comes from her life, because where else would it come from?” A fiction writer is working on something that is “most definitely a novel,” though “inspired by certain events within her family.” The narrator comments: “Though not everything in the novel is real, of course. She wouldn’t want anyone to think that. Most of what she’s written is pure fiction. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it’s a kind of fiction which could not possibly have been written were it not for the real things that have happened to her in her real life. But then isn’t that true of almost all novels at the end of the day?”

Well, maybe so. But Myerson’s attempt to blur the line between fiction and nonfiction makes her book less successful as either one.

Marion Winik, host of the NPR podcast “ The Weekly Reader ,” is the author of numerous books, including “ First Comes Love ” and “ The Big Book of the Dead .”

By Julie Myerson

Tin House. 240 pp. Paperback, $17.95

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Best books of 2022: See our picks for the 23 books to read this summer or dive into your favorite genre. Look to the best mysteries to solve as you lounge by the pool, take a refreshing swim through some historical fiction , or slip off to the cabana with one of our five favorite escapist reads .

There’s more: These four new memoirs invite us to sit with the pleasures and pains of family. Lovers of hard facts should check out our roundup of some of the summer’s best historical books . Audiobooks more your thing? We’ve got you covered there, too . We also predicted which recent books will land on Barack Obama’s own summer 2023 list . And if you’re looking forward to what’s still ahead, we rounded up some of the buzziest releases of the summer .

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