Suddenly: why lions-cannibals prefer people food?

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2017-04-23 11:30:07

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Suddenly: why lions-cannibals prefer people food? Source:

In 1898 the attempt of the British to build a railway bridge across the gorge in Tsavo, Kenya, ended in a fiasco when a pair of lions began to catch working one… eat them. Obviously, workers who have not eaten, was not happy. As the British military, which oversaw the construction of the project. Colonel John Patterson eventually shot two of these lions, guaranteeing themselves an interesting bike in case of a dinner party. Like, you know, I once shot two lions-cannibals.

Patterson also earned a little on this history, having written an interesting book about this case. In it he told of how lions eating man in his tent, crunched bones and terrifyingly has Marcali. He also sold the remains of these lions to the Chicago Museum where they were stuffed, put on display and since then intensively studied.

And in an article published Wednesday in Scientific Reports, biologists have presented evidence that suggests that Patterson could be a bit exaggerated. Previous studies have shown that lions-eating probably killed 35 people, not 130, referred to Patterson. But now the study also questioned the crunch of bones, referred to by Patterson, examining the microscopic scratches on the teeth of lions.

"it's Hard to understand the motivation of animals that lived over a hundred years ago, but scientific samples allows us to do it," says Bruce Patterson (no relation to John). "Because the Museum keeps the remains of lions, we can study them using the methods that were unthinkable a hundred years ago."

Bruce Patterson, co-author of the new article is makarturov curator for mammals in Valdovska Museum of natural history and is studying the lions for many years. In 2000, he found damage to the teeth of lions, which showed that the lions might not have been able to eat from their usual food sources, such as gazelles, because they required a lot of jaw power to chew. Toothaches of lions, might have prompted them to pay attention to the following delicious recipe in menu: people.

But really, the lions were so hungry that ate people from head to toe? Probably not, judging by the scratches on their teeth.

Paleontologist Larisa DeSantis is studying the fossilized teeth of extinct species of saber-toothed tigers, American lions and wolves, trying to figure out the scratches on their teeth, what kind of food they had consumed before her death.

She Also is studying the teeth of modern animals by scanning their surface to understand how a carnivorous diet and a diet based on flesh and bones were visible in the features of the teeth. DeSantis scans the teeth or their prints in 100-fold magnification and allows scans through a program that shows these cracks in a random way or with a certain bite.

Her scan of the hyenas who chew bones have a more speckled teeth and microscopic scars than cheetahs, which usually leave the bones of their prey. Modern lions, says DeSantis, are somewhere between these two.

But the lions, cannibals, whom she studied — including the eater of Mfuwe, Zambia, which killed six in 1991 — had teeth, which are more like the teeth of captured lions. In captivity feed these soft prepared meat. And since they don't eat the bones, the teeth of the cannibals showed that they preferred soft foods: for example, the flesh of the man.

It is Difficult to understand the motives of a lion, but it seems that those lions were not desperate hungry — if they were, they probably would have eaten the food through. Instead, they just preferred people.

"People are an easy solution to their problem. They were not the usual subject of prey for lions. And unusual, too."

Lions of Tsavo and Mfuwe isn't the only lions man-eating. Between 1990 and 2004 in Tanzania, lions have killed 563 people. And because climate change and a growing human population make people and lions together, there is no reason to believe that the lions can't take advantage of the situation.

"the Number of potential prey in the wild is decreasing and the number of people growing," says DeSantis.

The Analysis of historical samples such as lions Tsavo and Mfuwe can help scientists to analyze how changing dietary preferences of predators over time, and what was the impact on these preferences by human activities. It also follows that the preservation of specimens in Museum collections is becoming increasingly important. Even if modern science can't extract information from any instance, it is unknown what can happen on this front in the future.

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