the lions with male patterned baldness

James Audley Blyth was an heir to the Gilbey liquor fortune; his wife Effie, was young, beautiful and wealthy in her own right.

Gilbey’s subliminal advertising found here

They set out on safari from Nairobi in 1908 with their friend and guide John Henry Patterson.  Effie was a brilliant shot and star of the safari. Her husband, James, became ill on the trip leaving Effie to spend many hours alone with Patterson.  Just before they reached Liasamis they encountered a rogue elephant. Effie fired two shots into it but the elephant escaped into the bush where Patterson shot it twice more.

image found here

Later the three of them argued about the elephant and its tusks. They appeared to patch it up but the following day James became deliriously ill and that night Effie left the marital tent to sleep with Patterson instead. The following morning she rose and returned to her husband’s side where two things happened but accounts differ as to which happened first.

luxury safari tents found here

Effie screamed and a gun went off. She ran from the tent as Patterson and his porters ran towards it. They found James with a gaping wound in his head and a revolver. Later the porters all testified that the wound was in the back of his head and the gun in his hand. Patterson, however, first testified the wound was in the temple and that he had picked up the gun and handed it to his headman, Mwenyakai. The headman corroborated this.

image of Mr Stanley found here

At which point, somebody must have put it back in James Blyth’s hand, because that’s where the porters saw it, unless they somehow saw it the instant before Patterson handed it to Mwenyakai. It seemed impossible that a dozen porters all saw the same thing and reported it in exactly the same words after only a second or two of looking. At Patterson’s direction they burned all of the dead man’s clothes and buried him in a shallow grave.

shallow grave cake found here

They then continued on their safari for six more weeks, with Effie sharing Patterson’s tent all the way. Despite the ensuing scandal and private accusations of adultery and murder, an official verdict of suicide was issued.

This is the basis from which Hemingway supposedly formed his fictional story, The Macomber Affair. Patterson wrote his own version of the events in The Lure of Nyika. An earlier book, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo, detailed the fascinating and frightening months in 1908 when he oversaw the building of a bridge in Kenya.

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

Almost immediately after his arrival, lion attacks began to take place on the worker population, with the lions dragging men out of their tents at night and feeding on their victims. Despite the building of thorn barriers around the camps, bonfires at night and strict after-dark curfews, the attacks escalated dramatically, to the point where the bridge construction eventually ceased due to a fearful, mass departure of the work force.

The man-eating behaviour was considered highly unusual for lions and was eventually confirmed to be the work of a pair of rogue males, who were believed to be responsible for as many as one hundred and forty deaths, although the actual number is still uncertain due to a lack of accurate records at the time.

image found here

With his livelihood and safety at stake, Patterson, an experienced tiger hunter from his military service in India, undertook an extensive effort and after months of attempts and near misses, he finally killed the first lion on the night of December 9, 1898, and killed the second one on the morning of December 29 (narrowly escaping death in the process). The lions were maneless like many others in the Tsavo area and both were exceptionally large. Each lion was over nine feet long from nose to tip of tail and required eight men to carry it back to the camp.

Now biologist Bruce Patterson (no relation) studies the descendants of these lions.

Many locals still believe that old and sickly lions, possibly with tooth problems, are responsible for most human attacks today. While that might have been the case in the 1898, Field Museum researchers have found that attacking lions these days are typically under five years old and healthy.

image found here

Another hypothesis Patterson’s team is exploring is whether Tsavo lions have elevated levels of testosterone. More hormones might lead males to vigorously defend larger territories, leaving less room for youngsters. It could also lead to a condition similar to male-pattern baldness in people, when testosterone receptors on hair follicles are overloaded and cause hair loss, contributing to the absence of manes on the lions.

image found here

Regardless of hormone levels, environmental factors likely play a greater role. In a part of Tsavo East where maneless lions are common, annual rainfall is just 12 inches. On Taita Ranch, however, there is significantly more rain. There lions feature what Patterson calls a modest mane: a mohawklike growth on the head, hair on the neck and chest, but bare shoulders.

image found here

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43 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. My mind just snags on the incomprehensibility of getting pleasure from shooting elephants – after that everything else hardly seems unbelievable at all. How earnest and dull I’m being – probably read too much Babar at too impressionable an age.

  2. I love the shallow grave cake. It reinforces my view that anything can be made into cake.

    I wonder whether the current lion research involves taking blood samples and measuring testosterone levels, or whether they’re going to rely on less intrusive methods, like watching to see if the lions ever stop and ask for directions.

    • Loinesses cannot read maps! Lions have to find their own way. It’s genetic.

      • My loins are covered by a map of Tasmania 😉

      • But are your lions girded?

    • hahaha!

  3. My prediliction for bald persons does not, I add to the relief of all including the RSPCA, extend to the feline world.

    Now I am ogling the wonderful woman’s blog with creative cakery. One dday I will make the fishnet stockings cake for a Rocky Horror party, or simply for a sweet transvestite with a sweet tooth…

    • I want her zombie cake!

  4. I miss the days when you could bury dead travelling companions in a shallow grave, continue with your holiday, and deal with the whole matter when you got home.

  5. Oh! The cake! The cake!

    • You and your skeletons… 😉

  6. It’s a jungle out there ….. *whips out machete*

    • Now I’ll be humming that tune all night. And having nightmares about you mishandling your machete

  7. Shallow graves and mystery gunshot wounds to the head! Is this a job interview by any chance?

    • I’ve got a different type of job in mind for you jimmy

  8. Methinks there must have been something seriously amiss with James for Effie to have been so astonishingly indifferent to his fate. Was he emotionally frigid? Was he gay? Was he a misogynist? And did Effie in fact poison him? If he was hurriedly dumped in a shallow grave, nobody would be any the wiser.

  9. Hey, where’s your neck and penis, guy?

  10. I’m delighted. This is the first of your pieces I actually knew about. I feel I have a rounded education. As for bald lions….well it all sounds a bit hairy to me

  11. i may have to embark on my own scientific study, comparing the apparent testosterone levels of men who have gone bald, and those with a full mane. research results available in 6-10 years! 😀

    • you’ll need to run a parallel blind test. May I be of assistance?

  12. Now, I’m fascinated and hooked, so I’ve got books to read and films to search out. I did see “The Ghost And The Darkness,” which was good but begged for more historic detail.

    This post had me glued!

  13. Where the lions doing the dirty work for the cannibals? Gilbey’s vodka used to make me roar. Is there a connection? Re the alleged murder and testimony: I suppose one should read between the lions.

  14. Nine feet long lions are real big. Hv u heard of the ligers ? Lion tiger crossbreeds. They are huge as well.

  15. I am assuming that those are the lions that form the Hollywood movie the Ghost and the Darkness? I had always assumed that they were lionesses due to the lack of a mane. Very interesting story.

    For some strange reason I feel like drinking gin??

  16. I wanted to say something witty about lions, but I can’t sit still a moment longer! I’m off to check on the sad condition of my expansive widows-peak! 🙂

    • Someone claiming to have too much testosterone?

      • Ha! No… just not enough hair. 🙂

  17. More delicious scandal. I saw that lousy film starring Val Kilmer as Patterson 0 the Ghost in the Darkness. I dn;t remember it being very good

  18. Does one kill a rogue elephant by poking it with one’s pointy breasts?

    • The Palin technique? Who knows.

      • I’m pretty sure the Palin technique would have to involve a helicopter, which might make reaching the elephant with your pointy breasts kind of difficult.

  19. I think you’d need both pointy breast to kill a beast that size

    • And a vagina dentata as back up

  20. So too much testosterone is my issue then?

  21. I had no idea that story was based on real events – how interesting to hear about the inspiration.

    And has anybody made the “looks more like a rouge elephant that a rogue elephant” joke yet? Either way, I do always enjoy your illustration choices!

  22. Those lions are such a disappointment at the Field. It’s like, “Really? Those are the man-eaters? That’s fucking it?” They’re so small.

    But then you learn that they were skinned, turned into rugs for years, re-stuffed, gutted again for wall-hangings, and then stuffed again for display at the museum, so instead of being comparable to their actual size they’re completely uninspiring. Plus, the Field’s got them lounging about like a couple of kittens. MAKE THEM FIERCE, FIELD.

  23. I’m reminded of this, which I just stumbled upon recently: http://www.rocket-shoes.com/a-cat-is-just-a-really-small-tiger-that-wants-to-kill-you/

  24. Is that naked dude wearing gladiator sandals? Oh dear!


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