Humans typically aren’t a favorite menu item for lions, but occasionally, these big cats do prey on people.
Perhaps the most infamous incident was in 1898, when a pair of lions went on a rampage, killing and eating dozens of people in Tsavo, Kenya before they were shot to death.
For centuries, scientists have remained unsure of what exactly caused the animals to develop a taste for humans, but now a new study in the journal Nature may have an answer.
Examining the preserved teeth of the Tsavo lions, as well as one that ate six people in Zambia in 1991, researchers found that the lions had extensive dental injuries and humans may have simply been the easiest thing to eat.
Two of the three lions had injuries ranging from broken teeth, abscesses and damage to their jaws, which would have made it painful to hunt and kill their usual prey like buffalos, zebras, wildebeests, and other large herbivores — animals with tough hides.
Humans, on the other hand, were softer and easier to eat.
“In the final weeks or months of their lives, the man-eating lions consumed softer parts of humans and other prey and did not fully consume carcasses,” the authors of the study write.
One early hypothesis about the cause of the lions’ behavior was that they were driven by starvation and a lack of prey. But an analysis of the lions’ teeth did not show any signs that they ate the bones of their kill, which is something scavenging animals usually do.
In fact, the wear on their teeth looked more consistent with lions that live in zoos and eat soft meat like beef.
What do you think?
Watch the video below from the BBC to see one of their explorers face off with a known maneating lion: