Tsavo lion

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Maneless lion in East Tsavo National Park

Tsavo lions are a distinct variety of Masai lions (Panthera leo nubica) living around the Tsavo River in the Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. Tsavo males are notable for their lack of mane and smooth pelt, their size, and that they actively participate in hunting. Tsavo males have been known as man-eaters, particularly involving an incident during the building of the Uganda Railway in the late 19th century.

Tsavo males and prides[edit]

Two Tsavo lion males with scanty manes

Males of the Tsavo prides are usually larger than other male lions, and actively participate in hunting. It has been hypothesized[by whom?] that this is due to a lack of mane and the scarce food supply at the Tsavo East National Park, a region dominated by flat, dry plains.[citation needed]

Tsavo prides are unique in that they frequently have only a single male lion, whereas most lion prides have two to eight (usually related) males. Tsavo prides also tend to be larger overall, with an average of 7 to 8 adult females in each group.[1]

Maneless males[edit]

Tsavo male lions generally do not have a mane, though colouration and thickness may vary. There are several hypotheses as to why this is. One is that mane development is closely tied to climate because its presence significantly reduces heat loss.[2] Another theory is that manelessness is an adaptation to the thorny vegetation of the Tsavo area in which a mane might hinder hunting. Tsavo males may have heightened levels of testosterone, which could explain both the Tsavo lion's manelessness and its reputation for aggression. [3]

Attack incidents[edit]

The Tsavo Man-Eaters on display in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois.

Two of these lions are known as the Tsavo man-eaters; they attacked workers on the Kenya-Uganda Railway in 1898. They are reported to have killed at least 35[4] people in less than a year before being found and killed by Colonel John Patterson.


There are about 675 lions in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem. A few hundred more, which show partly similar phenotypes live in the north of Kenya, for example, at Samburu and Meru. Lions and their prey are officially protected in Tsavo, but they are regularly killed by members of the local population. Between 2001 and 2006 more than 100 lions have been killed in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem. The poachers usually do not face serious consequences, although the game wardens who arrest offenders have been punished by the community.[5]

National Geographic[edit]

An article about lions of the Tsavo area appeared in the April 2002 issue of the National Geographic magazine. The article discusses some of the unique challenges to survival that Tsavo lions face. The controversial issue as to why some Tsavo lions lack manes is explored by Peyton West of the Lion Research Institute.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Borzo, Greg (2002). "Unique social system found in famous Tsavo lions". EurekAlert. 
  2. ^ Call the Hair Club for Lions. The Field Museum.
  3. ^ Borzo, Greg (2002). "Unique social system found in famous Tsavo lions". EurekAlert. 
  4. ^ Estimates of the people killed vary; Patterson stated 135; see discussion: Modern research.
  5. ^ Frank, L., Maclennan, S., Hazzah, L., Hill, T., & Bonham, R. (2006). Lion Killing in the Amboseli-Tsavo Ecosystem, 2001-2006, and its Implications for Kenya’s Lion Population. PDF Living with Lions, Nairobi, Kenya, 9.