The Field Museum of Natural History

Home of the Tsavo Maneaters

Updated 9-6-2000. Some details shared from a recent Field Museum visit.

This page describes the involvement of the Field Museum of Natural History in the Tsavo Maneaters story. Although the the reign of the maneaters ended nearly 100 years ago, there is still much activity centered around them. In fact, there is more activity today than there has been since the lions were donated to the Museum back in 1925. Here is the whole story!


The Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois, USA was founded in 1893. It was originally called the 'Columbian Museum of Chicago' It was later renamed 'The Field Museum' in honor of Marshall Field, it's first major benefactor. In the many years since it's founding, the Museum has built up a substantial collection of artifacts in the areas of life sciences, earth sciences, archaeology and anthropology. The Museum also conducts a great deal of research in these areas, much of it in the field. (All puns intended!)

After killing the infamous lions, Colonel Patterson had their skins made into rugs (Which he probably dispalyed with 'pride'!), and they resided in his home in England ed in his home in England after his return from East Africa. In 1907, He wrote a book recounting his experiences in East Africa during the construction of the Mombasa Railroad. This book, 'The Man-Eaters of Tsavo' was a hit, and is considered today to be a literary classic.

In 1924, Colonel Patterson gave a public lecture at the Field Museum about his adventures in East Africa. At this time, he mentioned to Stanley Field that he still had the skins of the maneaters. Negotiations ensued, and the Museum agreed to buy the lions' skins and skulls for the then princely sum of $5,000 -and- find a job at the Museum for his son, Bryan. Bryan Patterson, incidently, went on to become a distingished Fossil Vertebrate Palentologist.

When recieved, the lion skins were not in the best of shape. They were old, and somewhat motheaten. They had been cut down to suitable dimensions for rugs. They were also riddled with bullet holes that had never been (Or poorly) patched. So, it was a big job for the Museum's Taxidermist, Julius Friesser to turn these skins back into mounts. There is even one person who suggests that the paws and parts of the faces were 'borrowed' from other lions! (In all fairness, the heads were undoubtedly mounted on the skulls -or models of skulls- of other lions. The claws could very well have been missing, and substitutes made from other lions. In any case, if pieces of other lion skins were spliced in, it was so skillfun, it was so skillfully done that it completely evades detection.) Much reconstruction had to be done to repair the numerous bullet holes and missing material. (One report I read somewhere states that scavengers ate part of one of the lions before it could be skinned.) The net result is that the lions look underweight in their permanent repose. In real life, they would have been much stockier. (Look at the pictures in the book, or on the Field Museum's website.) Nevertheless, the net effect of the mounting job is nothing less than wonderful, considering what Mr. Friesser had to start with.

A Long, Quiet Period

The Maneating lions of Tsavo finally went on public display in 1928. They have been on display ever since, and are one of the Museum's more notable artifacts. However, at the time, this seemed to be the end of the story. Colonel Patterson went on to be an active Zionist, and leaves this story. World War II came and went. The world witnessed the first stirrings of the enviromental movement. The result of this was that wildlife in many areas of Africa was beginning to be protected and not systematically wiped out. New technology appeared on the scene to improve the entertainment industry. One of these technologies was 3-D movies.

In 1952, the first feature-length 3-D movie was intrh 3-D movie was introduced. It's creator, Arch Oboler picked a most interesting subject for this film-- the Tsavo Maneater story! This film, called 'Bwana Devil' was popular at the time. It undoubtedly created a renewed interest in the actual lions. I don't know if there were anything substantial happenings at the Field Museum related to this renewed interest, but apparently there wasn't. Indeed, few people outside the Chhicgo, Illinois area probably even knew the lions still existed. (Check out the 'Bwana Devil' page and the 'Tsavo Maneater Resources' pages on this site for more information about this movie.)

Time continued it's relentless march on. The Cold War came and went. Man first walked on the moon. Most tourists going to Africa now hunted with a camera and not a gun. The development of the Integrated Circuit made small computers practical, ushering in the beginning of the information age. And, people continued to enjoy watching movies.

'The Ghost and the Darkness'

" To put far too fine a point on it, this is the start of my fifth decade of professional writing." writes William Goldman in the introduction of his screenplay, 'The Ghost and the Darkness'. " And in that time, I have come accross but two great true pieces of material. The first, dealing with Butch Cassidy and his adventures and his adventures with the Sundance Kid....The second is the tale of the man eating lions of Tsavo..." After hearing the story of the Tsavo Maneaters during a trip to Africa in 1984, Goldman, a well-known screenwriter, decided that this story was right for a feature film. Thus, the concept for 'The Ghost and the Darkness' was born. It would take another 12 years to bring the idea to the silver screen. (See 'The Ghost and the Darkness' page and the 'Tsavo Maneater Resources' page for more information about the movie.)

Although it will not go down as one of the greatest films of all time, 'The Ghost and the Darkness' did quite well in the box office. It had an unusually long run for a film of it's type. And, it greatly heightened public awareness of the Tsavo Maneaters story. At the very end of the film, mention is made that the lions are on display at the Field Museum. (Incidentially, the fact the lions still exist is what sparked my deep interest in this story!) Although it happened slowly at first, interest in the Tsavo Maneaters and their story started to increase.

In response to the renewed interest in the infamous stuffed lions, a renovation of the exhibit took place in early or middle 1997, which included displaying the maneaters' skulls. A page about the lions was also created on the Museum's website, which has been continuously improved ever since.

A cave discovered

When Tom Gnoske was a young child, he fell in love with a stuffed toy lion. For years, it was his constant companion, and he would talk to it, almost to the exclusion of anyone else. From this auspicious beginning, a lifelong love of animals began, especially lions and tigers. That love was able to attain fruition when he signed on with the Field Museum. He became Chief Preparator and Assistant Collection Manager of the Museum's bird division. Of course, Tom was fascinated by the story of the Tsavo Maneaters, and could go enjoy them any time he wanted to. He also spent a lot of time studying hsitorical accounts of man-eating cats.

During these studies, Tom became friends with Julian Kerbis, who at the time was doing his doctoral research at the museum. Kerbis was also fascinated by man-eating animals. However, his interest (And indeed, his doctoral work) had to do with more with predation on prehistoric man. Was early man more the hunter or the hunted?

On a research trip to Africa, the two men collected stories about contemporary man-eating incidents. This only deepened their mutual interest in this somewhat unusual subject. Eventually, they remembered the Tsavo Maneaters' cave mentioned in Colonel Patterson's book. They decided that finding thided that finding this cave would be beneficial to Julian's research and Tom's interests. They sought permission, and were eventually able to work out an agreement with the Kenya Wildlife Service to search for the cave.

After a Kenyan researcher working in the area failed to find the cave, Kerbis spent 5 days searching for it in January 1997. Although two dry riverbeds matching the Colonel's description were found, no cave could be located. One of the riverbeds was extensivelly and carefully searched. Time did not permit the second one to be fully searched.

Disappointed, but not dismayed, Tom and Julian decided it was worth another try. But, this time it would have to be on their own time. After finishing a research trip in Uganda, Kerbis, Gnoske and a third man by the name of Ben Marks decided to pool their meager resources and take one last stab at finding the cave. It was late April 1997.

The first day was spent exploring the second dry riverbed. Nothing even closely resembling a cave was found. That night in camp, the three men studied what had been done so far and planned what to do next. They figured that Colonel Patterson, an engineer and a military officer, had given good directions. But, maybe he was wrong. The account in the book (The subject of chapter 14) mentions crossing the Tsavo river to get to the cave, but the Tsavo river was in a different direction from where the account said he had gone. Lookinge had gone. Looking around, they saw another set of hills in another direction, this time requiring you to cross the Tsavo river to get to them! They decided the search would start in this direction the next day.

That night, Tom studied Colonel Patterson's account very carefully, knowing this would be their last chance to find the cave. What he found shocked him! Every directional coordinate in the entire account was off by 90 degrees! Whether the Colonel had made a mistake made when writing the book years later, or the book's editor had mistranscribed the directions, this was a huge discovery. This new discovery gave them new confidence!

The next morning, April 30, 1997, they set out in the new direction, this time Northwest (Of the location of Patterson's camp) instead of Southwest. After crossing the Tsavo river (This time on a modern automobile bridge!), it didn't take more than a few minutes to find the dry riverbed. Then Gnoske, Kerbis, Marks and the Kenya Wildlife Service rangers accompanying them split up into 4 groups. They began exploring the riverbed. It took only 45 minutes to find the cave, which exactly matched the picture in Colonel Patterson's book.

Much to Julian's disappointment, no bones were to be seen in the cave, which measures roughly 4 feet high, 15 feet wide, and 20 feet deep. However, the floor of the cave was loose enough to be excavated. However, this would have to wait uwould have to wait until a later date.

A flurry of events

Discovery of the cave set up a chain of events. The next day, Kerbis and Gnoske talked to Kenya Wildlife Service regional director John Muhanga. They told him about the cave, and that they wanted permission for the Field Museum to excavate the cave. John was so exicted by the discovery, he not only granted permission, but talked about setting up some sort of permanent interpetive center near the cave. There was also talk of a an educational center to be built in Voi, 40 miles away. One thing led to another, and on April 8th, 1998, an agreement was made between the Field Museum and the Kenya Wildlife Service. Here is a synopsis of the plans:

First, the cave and the surrounding area will be excavated by Chap Kusimba of the Field Museum, and Dr. Karega-Munene of the Kenya Wildlife Service. This project should start in the fall of 1998.

As part of the anthropoligical interests of the Museum, Kusimba will also begin studying the various people that have inhabited the very hostile Tsavo region over the years. Of special interest will be the Arab Ivory and Slave caravans that passed through the area for 2,000 years, ending just after the construction of the Mombasa Railway. (One of the purposes of building the railway was to help end the slave trade, which it apparently succeeded in doing.) This caravan route rThis caravan route ran from the interior of the continent to the coast. (Probably near Mombasa, which used to harbor a major slave market.) Conditions on this route were very hostile, and many of the slaves died before making it to market. The dead and dying would simply be left along the way. It is beleived that the lions (and Hyenas) of the area may have initally acquired their taste for man by devouring these sad victims. Indeed, maneating among these lions may have even been passed down from leoine generation to generation.

Bruce Patterson, of the Field Museum (No relation to Colonel Patterson or any of his descendants) will study the extent of the maneless male lion population of the Tsavo area, an area noted for maneless males. He will attempt to determine if these lions lack manes due to a genetic trait, or from living among the heavy thorn bushes that cover so much of the Tsavo region. Part of this project may involve exporting several of these animals to the United States, to see if they will grow manes when outside of the park. As part of this phase of the project, DNA samples will be obtained from the local lions and compared to DNA samples extracted from the Maneaters' skins or skulls. This will help establish whether or not maneless males are a major part of the genetic makeup of the Tsavo-area lions.

If any bones are discovered in the cave excavation, Julian Kerbis will examine them for tooth marks. Lions and h marks. Lions and Hyenas leave distinctive tooth marks on the bones of their victims, and it will be possible to tell which animal (or neither) made a meal of the person to whom the bone belonged. (One of the possible theories is that the lions never used the cave, since they usually eat their prey close to where they caught it. Hyenas may have been the actual inhabitants. They like to take thick bones, like femurs, back to their dens. There, they will crack them open to get at the marrow. The hyenas may have simply scavanged these human bones from the lion kills and took them back to their den. Lions rarely crack thick bones open.) Dental patterns will be studied if any human teeth turn up, to determine if any of them belonged to the Indian 'Coolies' who supplied much of the labor needed to build the railroad. If Indian remains are found, then it can be safely assumed that these bones are the remains of Patterson's railway workers. Kerbis will also do some ancillary research on bones found in lava tubes in the area. These bone-filled tubes should shed light on how the local enviroment has changed over time.

Last, but not least, Tom Gnoske will work on all of these projects, as well as helping the Kenya Wildlife Service set up the interpetive centers near the cave and in Voi. These are expected to open sometime around 2001.

Another Maneater?

In yet another exciting et another exciting development, it apperas the Tsavo Maneaters are going to get some company! In 1991, a maneless male lion decided that humans were synoymous with lunch near Mfuwe, Zambia. Known as the 'Maneater of Mfuwe', this lion was eventually shot late August or early September 1991 by Wayne Hosek. The lion weighed about 500 pounds and measuerd 10 1/2 feet nose-to-tail. It is the largest man-eating lion ever recorded. Wayne had this lion mounted, and it was donated to the Field Museum in early September 1998. Late Breaking News September 2000! I had a chance in late August to visit the Field Museum. There is now an interesting video about the manelesness of Tsavo lions playing next to their display. I had a chance to see the 'Maneater of Mfuwe', which is on display on the lower level. It is a magnificent animal, and one of the best mounting jobs I have ever seen. Despite being somewhat hidden away below a staircase, it's low profile case allows detailed viewing from almost all angles. If locking eyes with the Tsavo maneaters didn't terrify you, locking eyes with this one just might! Some pictures to follow shortly! You can see the Field Museum's pictures Here.

Back to the Tsavo Maneaters home page.
Back to the 'King of Beasts' home page.
Back to the Tim Stoffel home the Tim Stoffel home page.
Send mail, comments, material contributions, flames, etc. to:
Tim Stoffel