You only have to look as far as the three taxidermied serial killer lions in the Field Museum, a natural history museum in Chicago, to see that the above isn’t an overreaction. That’s right. Serial killer lions. I’m going to be using the word terrifying a lot in this article.
It happened while the British East Africa Company was building the Uganda Railway, which linked Mombasa, Kenya, to Kampala, Uganda. During the construction of a bridge over the Tsavo River in Kenya, a pair of lions, each measuring almost ten feet long from tooth to tail, began picking off the railway workers.
After some exploration, Patterson found a cave that he deemed to be the den of the lions due to the fact that the floor was covered with human bones, although some modern wet blankets have proffered that it might instead have been an aboriginal burial ground.
As to the lions themselves, Patterson did what any self-respecting adventurous Brit in a safari helmet would have done at the time. He turned the pair into rugs and held onto the skulls as mementos. In the 1920s, he sold the skins and skulls to the Field Museum, who restored and stuffed the skins for display, where they’ve remained to this day. You can buy plush versions of the cuddly killers in the museum gift shop.
The Lions of Tsavo are located on the main floor of the museum in a glass-fronted diorama in the impressive mammals section. The disembodied skulls of the lions lay on the ground at their feet. When I visited, the lights in the exhibit were broken, making it hard to read the information plaque inside, as well as take decent pics.
The other serial killer lion that the Field Museum boasts has been dubbed the Man-Eater of Mfuwe. This guy’s located on the bottom level of the museum, outside of the Egyptian section. Like the Lions of Tsavo, it’s also a maneless species of male lion. At 10’6” long and 5’ tall, it’s the largest man-eating lion that we [care to] know about, and even though its victim count is lower, in some ways, its story is just as terrifying.
Truth is, the lion just knew the law. Hunting in Zambia is restricted to safaris for economic reasons, so there was nothing the residents could do but sabotage their own Yelp restaurant rating and hide in their homes, hoping the lion filled up on their neighbors before it got to them.
Fortunately, it was later shot by Wayne Hosek, a safari hunter who had grown up in Chicago looking in awe at the Lions of Tsavo in the Field Museum. He camped out with a group for some three weeks, waiting for a glimpse of the man-eater and, after killing it, donated the beast to the museum, where they display it with a prop laundry bag. Once people find out you like serial killer lions, you’ll get them every Christmas.
One day, I’ll have to do an entire post on the Field Museum, which is full of some pretty cool stuff, including Sue, the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever found, and Bushman, a taxidermied gorilla that was one of Chicago’s most famous residents in the mid-1900s. However, I’m not sure any of it tops their three terrifying serial killers.
I’m also not sure why every single Chicago team mascot isn’t a lion.