Tsavo lion

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Tsavo lion
Maneless lion from Tsavo East National Park.png
A maneless lion in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Genus: Panthera
Species: P. leo
Subspecies: P. l. melanochaita
Trinomial name
Panthera leo melanochaita

formerly Panthera leo massaica

The Tsavo lion (Panthera leo melanochaita) is a lion population in the Tsavo East National Park, Kenya.[1]

Two Tsavo males have been known as man-eaters after an incident during the building of the Uganda Railway in the late 19th century. Their skulls and skins are part of the zoological collection of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.[2][3]


Traditionally, ten lion subspecies were recognised in Africa.[4] In 2017, the Cat Classification Task Force of the Cat Specialist Group assigned the lion populations in Asia and West, Central and North Africa to Panthera leo leo, and the lion populations in Southern and East Africa to Panthera leo melanochaita.[5]

Tsavo lions are more closely related to Transvaal lions in South Africa than to East African lions in the Aberdare Range and to Uganda lions.[1]

Tsavo lion population[edit]

Two Tsavo lion males with scanty manes

As of 2006, there were an estimated 675 lions in the Tsavo area, out of the 2,000 total in Kenya. Lions and their prey are officially protected in Tsavo, but they are regularly killed by local people, with over 100 known lion killings between 2001 and 2006.[6]

Males of the Tsavo prides are usually larger than other male lions, and actively participate in hunting. Their 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 seven to eight adult females in each group.[7]

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.[8] An alternative explanation 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.[7] The weak or absent mane of Tsavo lions is a feature, which was characteristic also for the extinct lions of ancient Egypt and Nubia. Adult lion males in Egyptian art are usually depicted without a mane, but with a ruff around the neck.[9]

The Prudhoe Lions from around 1370 BC

Lion-human conflict[edit]

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

Two lions are known as the Tsavo Man-Eaters who attacked workers on the Kenya-Uganda Railway in 1898. The total number of people killed is unclear, but allegedly 135 people fell victim to these lions in less than a year before Colonel John Patterson killed them.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Dubach, J.; Patterson, B.D.; Briggs, M.B.; Venzke, K.; Flamand, J.; Stander, P.; Scheepers, L.; Kays, R.W. (2005). "Molecular genetic variation across the southern and eastern geographic ranges of the African lion, Panthera leo". Conservation Genetics. 6 (1): 15–24. doi:10.1007/s10592-004-7729-6. 
  2. ^ Kerbis Peterhans, J.C. and Gnoske, T.P. (2001). "The Science of ‘Man-Eating*’ Among Lions Panthera leo With a Reconstruction of the Natural History of the ‘Man-Eaters of Tsavo’". Journal of East African Natural History 90 (1): 1–40. 
  3. ^ "Field Museum uncovers evidence behind man-eating; revises legend of its infamous man-eating lions" (Press release). The Field Museum. 2003. 
  4. ^ Wozencraft, W.C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 546. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  5. ^ Kitchener, A.C., Breitenmoser-Würsten, C., Eizirik, E., Gentry, A., Werdelin, L., Wilting, A. and Yamaguchi, N. (2017). "A revised taxonomy of the Felidae: The final report of the Cat Classification Task Force of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group" (PDF). Cat News. Special Issue 11: 76. 
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ a b Borzo, G. (2002). "Unique social system found in famous Tsavo lions". EurekAlert. 
  8. ^ Call the Hair Club for Lions. The Field Museum.
  9. ^ Nagel, D., Hilsberg, S., Benesch, A., & Scholtz, J. (2003). Functional morphology and fur patterns in recent and fossil Panthera species. Scripta Geologica 126: 227–239.
  10. ^ Patterson, J.H. (1907). The man-eaters of Tsavo and other East African adventures. London: Macmillan and Co.

Further reading[edit]