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.

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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