Ghosts of Tsavo
“Caputo relishes hair-raising tales of man-eaters and explicates various theories about them, while entertainingly chronicling his experiences as part of a photography and research safari in Kenya’s wildlife reserve.”
1898, Tsavo River Kenya, the British Empire has employed 140 workers to build a railroad bridge. The bridge’s construction comes to a violent halt when two maneless lions devour all 140 workers in a savage feeding frenzy that would make headlines—and history—all over the world. Caputo’s Ghosts of Tsavo is a new quest for truth about the origins of these near-mythical animals and how they became predators of human flesh.
“Caputo is a superb yarn-spinner with a love of adventure and a penchant for philosophizing. A best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, memoirist, and journalist, he’s really been around—“at last count, I’ve lived, worked, traveled, and fought and covered wars in 48 countries on 4 continents”—so it’s no surprise to find that Caputo’s latest compelling work of nonfiction chronicles a quest on foreign ground. The inspiration for Caputo’s African sojourn is found in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, the final resting place for the two infamous, maneless, man-eating male lions of Tsavo, an inhospitable and scrubby coastal region in East Africa. These beasts “attained mythic status” by killing and eating 135 railway laborers in 1898, and their cunning descendants continue to take humans as prey and to intrigue scientists who want to know why some lions hunt human beings, why most male lions have manes, and why many male Tsavo lions do not. Caputo relishes hair-raising tales of man-eaters and explicates various theories about them, while entertainingly chronicling his experiences as part of a photography and research safari in Kenya’s wildlife reserve. Not only does he excel at evoking the beauty of his surroundings and describing his own sometimes harrowing encounters with wildlife, he also reflects cogently on the consequences of our precipitous decimation of the wild. It turns out that there’s nothing all that mysterious about the Tsavo lions: they simply hunt to live. It’s our unnecessarily violent species that remains obdurately enigmatic.