Work in Progress: A Man-Eater Named Osama: Tanzania’s Desperate Quest to End the Worst Lion-Human Conflict of the 21st Century

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A divergence from maritime books, here’s a piece on my other interest: Africa conservation and human-animal conflict. This grew from my earlier book on South Africa’s Kruger National Park, The Man-Eaters of Eden. This is the first three chapters of a work in progress.

A Man-Eater Named Osama: Tanzania’s Desperate Quest to End the Worst Lion-Human Conflict of the 21stCentury. 

Chapter One:  Victim Zero

Mwaseni Village
Deep in the South Central Bush
1,398 Miles from the “Tourist” Belt of the Serengeti 
August 2002

The tale was told to me by scientists and by sorcerers, and it can only be fathomed by attention to both.  The beginning of the story?  Perhaps it is more fabulist than factual, but the sorcerers’ version went like this.

A fisherman made his living from the Rufiji River in the deep bush, mud hut region of Central Tanzania and each night after throwing his nets into the waters, after hauling them back into his dugout boat the next morning, after lugging the fish – mostly lutefish — to market and to Mwaseni village to sell them, he would sling his nets on a frame to dry, and then begin again the next day. He worked hard and prospered.

Only this day in August of 2002, when he awoke to begin his labor, the nets were gone.  He thought at first the boys in the village were playing with him.  Perhaps he had given them too hard a time. They seemed lazy to him. Yes, he had money. Because he worked hard and had invested in nets.  They knew nothing of this and disrespected him.  He yelled at them.

So he went through his village on the river and inquired.  Had anyone seen his nets?  If the boys were playing a trick on him, this was all very good but it was past dawn now and the prime fishing hours were slipping away. Already he was losing money.  Could you tell them, he said and say fun-is-fun, no harm done, but enough is enough also, and they’ve had their joke.

All day he waited.  There were no nets.  A slow burn took hold in the fisherman’s mind and the next day he looked at his racks and the nets were still missing.  No one had returned them.

No longer was this a joke.  This was an affront to his dignity – and also his livelihood.  The villagers envied him, this he knew, but this was unfair.

Give me my nets, he told the villagers, making sure that men of influence knew of his displeasure.  Give me back my nets, he told the mothers of the boys he knew were into mischief.

But the villagers shook their heads and told him, no, they did not know where the nets went. What use did they have for them?  Why would we take them?

The fisherman fumed.   The villagers never particularly liked him.  Many agreed the nets should be returned but they were not unhappy to see the cranky fisherman suffering some. They made no effort to find the thieves.

Give me my nets, the fisherman said finally, or there will be dire consequences for you all.

Tanzania Post Card

The villagers laughed at him and scoffed   He was one man who already had been humiliated.  If he came for any of them, all of them would come for him.  They did not fear him

Better they had.  Or so this version of the fable goes.  They ought to have been very afraid that he would bring terror down upon them not by his hand but through consulting with a Babu – a shaman.  A “witch doctor” in old fashioned parlance.

Curses abounded in this area of Africa. More than 90 percent of Tanzanians believed that black magic or mizungu was real. One could visit a shaman or traditional healer and ask for a love spell for a young man or woman.  Or a curative for any disease or ailment. Rocks, trees, animal, plants, the water, the earth.  All were seen as containing spirits – spirits to which the Babu could speak and sometimes control.

The fisherman was prosperous and could afford the most expensive spells and curses.  Already, he had replaced his nets.  The nets were no longer the point.  The villagers had disrespected him and mocked him.  They had wronged him and now he would have his revenge.

So it was that the fisherman convinced a Babu, at significant cost, to create a spirit lion. 

A spirit lion spell is cast not on a real lion but on a human. The human then is transformed into a fearsome carnivore that would kill other humans and eat them without mercy or remorse. That human, through lycanthropy, would become a were lion – a feline version of a werewolf – under the control of the shaman.

This is what the fisherman commissioned:  a custom made man-eater who would take the form both of a human and a lion as the mood and opportunity struck him. Or her. No one would know which human. Everyone would fear the lion.  

This the shaman did and set the lion to roam in the vicinity of the village.

Or so the story was told later and told again and again.


In this story, on the science side, there was no one villager or scientist to reconstruct all that happened.  The closest to an all-seeing eye was a young, very smart guide who was also a wildlife and zoology expert. His name was Harunnah Lyimo and he was assigned by academics to research it all. Only Harunnah had an overview of it all. Only Harrunah’s mind could imagine with any accuracy all that happened.

And Harrunah would tell the story as one that mixed science and sorcery, not because he was superstitious but because he knew the importance of understanding mizungu – and that beliefs mattered.

Regardless of the science or the sorcery behind it, it is a fact that the lion soon struck.

On August 31, 2002, near the village of Mwaseni, just east of the Selous in the South of Tanzania, an unfortunate woman was tending fields and sleeping in a dungu – a specially built, temporary shelter in the fields designed to let people spot bush pigs and other pests raiding the crops.  The top story of the structure is a lookout post and a safe haven for sleeping.  The bottom story is the kitchen – and where the elderly sleep if they cannot climb upstairs.

Here, the woman was sleeping with two others, her son and her husband’s second wife safely upstairs, but she felt the need to relieve herself.  Several yards away from the dungu was a latrine. 

Crouching in the dense vegetation was the spirit lion – or so the story went.  This much is for sure:  The lion, accompanied by two others, attacked the woman, killed her easily and then dragged her fifty yards away where the lions ate her completely, leaving only a few bones and rags, then vanished from the scene.

Only later did the woman’s friends realize she was missing and find the grizzly remains.  The attack was reported to the nearest game officer at the next village over, and he in turn reported this to the District Game Officer in Utete – more than 100 miles away.

The District Game Officer – or DGO – arrived in the village and recruited helpers to hunt the lions.  From movies, readers may have a stereotype of Africans carrying AK47 and M16s.  Not here. Not anywhere in Tanzania.  In the deep bush, a DGO is issued a gun and a few cartridges only after someone has made the hundred-mile journey to report the incident.

The hunters considered this death a routine matter.  It was not uncommon, this.  More than 300 or so Tanzanians died from lion attack each year.  Hundreds more died from elephants, snake bites, hyenas, and leopards.  It was the way of the deep bush.  Death by lion was the equivalent of death by car wreck in a western state. The DGO and his helpers worked for several days. They first looked for tracks in this environment —   as different from a Disney portrayal of wilderness as one could imagine.  

 Facing them in this quest was a tangle of both natural and sociological barriers.  not so much a jungle but dense hardwood forests not unlike growths in the north parts of America – save for the flat-topped acacias and the immense baobabs.  Thorns and thickets provided cover – and presented barriers to trackers. Small savannahs broke the terrain as did land cleared for roughly cultivated fields dotted with dogas.

Elephants roamed these lands as well, and the hunters feared these herds as much as they did lions.  Lions?  They stood a chance. Elephants here often were aggressive raiders of grain and crops and both the animals and the villages often squared off against one another. Only well-placed shots could stop them.

The social barriers came as the villagers became spooked by talk of spirit lions.  Often, they were not cooperative.  One went hunting for spirit lions with great reluctance because the act could draw the wrath of the spirit lion.  Say you even talked about the spirit line to someone else.  That “someone else” might be the spirit lion – who then would come at night for revenge. And here’s the catch.  The spirit lion could be anyone.  Including your spouse, your parent, your best friend. Your son.  Your daughter. 

At this point, the spirt lion presence was just a suspicion. No connection to the fisherman was made.  He did not claim responsibility.  Science could explain this attack without a sorcerer’s involvement.   This was the man-eating belt of Africa after all – an area where humans seem to be considered natural prey by lions – and had been for centuries.

Conditions for these tragedies were perfect, scientists would say.  The dense undercover.  Humans placing themselves in lion territory at night. The predictability of latrine use.  And the acquaintance of lions with humans as prey.  The El Nino cycles of the ocean also helped, it was said, making the clime a bit rainier.  And when there was rain, prey needed not gather at waterholes.  Prey roamed.  As a result, so did predators.   And this roaming meant lions were more likely to meet farmers and villagers.

Moreover, the rules of man-eating here were decidedly not based on the western Disney myths that said predators only attacked humans when the lion was injured or starving.

For hundreds of years, some scientists said, lions have hunted humans here.  The great slave caravans passed through here, driving captives to the sea for export – and leaving a chum trail of sick and dead as they cut their way to the ships. Lions learned long ago that humans here were easy prey.

So against these formidable facts and forces, the district game officer and his rag-tag band of volunteers set out to find the man-eaters.

Harunnah knew only too well how this worked.  First they would look for tracks.  If they found one, normally, they would “set up” over the remains of the prey – lay in ambush. But there was nothing left of “Victim O” to return to. The lions would not be back.

Options left?  Set up a tree stand on a well-traveled trail and hope to get lucky. Or you could set up a gun-trap – a weapon that would be triggered by a passing lion.    Or you could beat the bush and drive animals toward a shooter.  This could be effective – if you knew where the lions were.  They did not.

The last resort, if the victim’s family consented, was to poison the remains of the human – and hope the lion ate the poison and died. The challenge here was two-fold.  Burial traditions among the moderate Muslim population did not favor such an approach.  Moreover, there was fear of the spirit lion, but also concern for the human carrier of the lion’s spirt. To poison a spirit lion would be to poison a human.  This might be your brother, your wife, your child – who through no fault of theirs had been chosen as a were lion. 

So the hunters set up a shooting stand and manned it for a few days. No lions passed.  The District Game Officer left. It was unfortunate but not uncommon.

No great to-do was made about it.  These things happened.  No one much talked about it, for fear spirit lions might be involved.

And the matter would have stopped there of course, had the killings stopped.  But this victim was the beginning of months of terror, tragedy, suspense and heartbreak.    

And when the lion struck next, the villagers knew for sure they were dealing with a spirit lion.  This could be nothing else.  A very large, short-maned male lion was ravaging them, striking from ambush, digging through mud-huts, devouring bodies in plain sight of the villagers.

To them, the lion was a mad terrorist, striking at innocents and destroying them.

Osama, the villagers called him.   When they talked about him at all. Even that was dangerous when a spirit lion was involved.   

The first rule of spirit lions? 

You don’t talk about spirit lions.

Chapter Two: The Hunter

Central Tanganyika


           As I walk through this part of Africa, retracing the steps of Osama, my research floats back and an internal voice whispers: 

Rushby passed through here. 

Carrying his little sack. Puffing on his pipe. So austere and stripped down, he declined even a strap on his big double rifle. It caught on the bushes. Slowed him down. The African hunters had taught him that. A Brit by birth, he was inducted into the secret societies of Africa’s black hunting fraternities. They showed him techniques no white man knew. Taught him about muti.  About magic. 

George Rushby by all accounts, is the greatest of white hunters and the fiercest nemesis of man-eaters in Africa.  In the 1930’s and 1940’s he prowled the deep bush of Tanzania – then Tanganyika — and near single handed stopped the worst outbreak of man-eating lions ever recorded in history. 

He is also one of the least known big game hunter heroes on the planet. 

 His name is forever overshadowed in Africa by a British colonel named Paterson – an amateur who shot two lions in Tsavo, Kenya, and is to this day is popularly considered the gold standard of the African hero hunter.   As a writer, he excelled.  He had a sense of suspense and Stephen King-like horror that captivated readers of his book, The Man-eaters of Tsavo, a riveting tale that to this day is a good earner for publishers and was the basis of the film “Ghost and the Darkness.” The two lions bedeviling him shut down the building of a railroad bridge and they dispatched at least 38 Asian Indian workers, and probably another 100 Africans.  He hunted them in utter darkness, lost friends, saw the project shut down for a while, all miles from any sort of modern support system. He portrayed the lions as fiends against the great Christian West and Progress.  His accounts landed circa 1902 when the world was at peace and amateur adventurers were celebrated and the press was hungry, hungry for colonial champions.  Paterson was their champ.  

Consider poor, publicity challenged Rushby.   Miles north in Tanganyika, in the middle of the war-time 1940’s.  No one in Great Britain even knew he was there. And he sought no publicity.  Still, his lions killed ten times more than Patterson’s. First dozens. Then scores. Then hundreds. Then more than one thousand – and upward from there. 

Here, prides of lions systematically hunted people.  They were not just man-eaters – the old and slow type, with few teeth, the often inaccurate stereotype.   They were committed man-hunters, working in teams, a highly tuned social network, attacking, then heading out miles overland carrying dead human bodies in relays.  They were not just hunting humans. They had settled on humans as a preferred prey. 

           Looking back at it, researchers would conclude this behavior had run through generations, beginning sometime in 1932 when the man-hunting deaths first surfaced.   The techniques for hunting humans were passed down through multiple generations of one particular lion pride and this training aspect was important.  Lions tend to specialize in prey.  They’ll eat pretty much anything edible and some things you would think not.  But a preferred species – cape buffalo, zebra, antelope, even baboons in some rare cases – cluster at the top of any chart of “most consumed.”  It’s part accessibility. Part palate. Some lions consider monkeys inedible.  Some prefer them. It’s the same with humans.  

Rushby, a reformed elephant poacher, previously had a general contempt for lions.  Elsewhere, he had killed them with ease.  They killed an animal. Ate it. Went out to sleep in a thicket. Next day, you just tracked him. With luck, you could shoot him in his sleep. 

Elephants?  He waxed eloquently on about elephants!    They were the far superior and more dangerous game, he thought.  In his two books about Africa, he makes that clear.  And he makes just about everything clear.  In as few pages as possible.  If he was twice the hunter of Paterson, he was on tenth the writer. His idea of a snappy narrative was: “They were the worst, cleverest man-eating lions ever in the world.  And then I killed them. 

He did far more than what those humble words state – far more in fact than Patterson might ever have dreamed. 

Trekking alone through wild and tangled bush, he pursued the animals for years, marveled at how they defied the old stereotypes of “man-eater” – the old and injured cat, toothless, too slow to catch any other mammal.  These cats were in the prime of their lives and healthy, with silky coats he thought glossier and more beautiful than other lions.  He would sit out for hours over the too abundant bait of dead human bodies,  escape death too many times to note in detail or even count, so routine was it to him. 

But it also was something else, about Rushby.  And perhaps this didn’t play well in the hometown papers.  Perhaps this is why Patterson’s god-fearing portrayal of his lions as demons of the night read so much better to Westerners. 

The world is filled with stories of how science triumphs over the taboos and superstitions of Third World countries. It is a part of the colonial tale and white hunter lore.  Paterson the engineer built clever traps and discouraged help from the locals to dispatch the two devils. 

Rushby’s story isn’t like that. 

The lions he saw as no great demons.  They were animals doing what animals do.  There was no moral judgement to be wrought here. 

And it was not a great and powerful Christian God to whom he prayed. 

At times, he would have his guns blessed by the shamans.  

At others, he would confer with healers and wear charms.   He was inducted into African hunting guilds and orders, underwent the ceremonies, crawled into small huts where he laid his weapons before three statues of animal gods.  

It’s not that he had gone native and wore a loin cloth.  It was a pure act of reasoning, he said. 

Anyone who lived in the bush and hunted there for long knew this to be true, he said.  The “black magic” stuff worked.  Anyone who thought differently was a fool. 

If he thought that before he went for his lion hunt, he thought it doubly and triply afterwards.  Rushby – with some western arrogance still at first — thought it would take a week to wipe out the man-eating lions of Ngombe.  

Seven years later, a near broken man, he was still struggling with it. 

Chapter Three:
 “One Pissed Off Pussycat”

Kilimani Village 
 The deep bush of Tanzania
 October 2002

Later, Harunnah Lyimo, the bright young scientist who traipsed through lion country, documenting the deaths, would tell me he could only approximate some names because the villagers were reluctant to talk even months after an attack.  Spirit Lion Rules, you know.  The first rule.  One does not mention the spirit lion.  Even naming the dead might summon the spirit lion. 

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(Caption: Post card from Tanzania)

Still, Harrunah logs all. Even if he must use “wife of Said” as a descriptor. Every single death — and as I travel through Tanzania, I often look at Harunnah’s List with its dozens of names and places as if it were a road map. 

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(Caption: Remote doga where villages guard fields — and lions attack)

There is a merciful pause in the killings in September and for nearly two months, the villagers had reason to believe the first death was just an accident of sorts.  But then Harunnah’s list takes us to the small village of Kilimani – about 50 miles east of Mwaseni, along the Rufiji River. 

There, on October 24, 2002, 18-year-old Musa Mutupu just plain went missing.  He had set out from one doga at night and was walking to his brother’s hut but never got there.  People were not sure where he went.   Many things might have happened.  Was he with friends?  Perhaps he had gone to a neighboring village.  Perhaps there was a girl.  People were off the clocks here.    There were no clocks, no punch cards to stamp.  No electricity, no cell phones.  They were more than off the grid.   Here, there was no grid. When night fell, for humans, the darkness was a blanket with only camp fires and lantern spots of light beneath a vast canopy of constellations, planets and the moon. For lions, vision at night worked about the same as ours might on a cloudy afternoon. 

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(Caption: Harunnah Lyimo)

That Mutupu had been killed and eaten by lions did not cross anyone’s mind until another teenager, identified later only as “the son of Mneka” was attacked by lions three days later as he too crossed at night from his brother’s doga back to his.  

Here, there was no mistaking what had happened.  It was a death that was witnessed, if only audibly.    Villagers heard “a commotion” –  the young man’s calls and the lions’ snarls.  But they feared to intervene.  The village game ranger came, but was too late to help.  

Again, the body had been dragged only about 50 meters away – a good sign the lions were not afraid of reprisal — and was consumed by the lions. Only then did everyone connect the dots and understand that Musa Mutupu – the young man gone missing earlier – also had been taken as a meal by the lions.    They searched and found the remains of his body and found a pattern was forming.  Musa had been dragged only about 50 meters off the beaten path.   Harrunah later would call Musa Victim Number Two and the son of Mneka was “Victim Number Three.”  

The list had just begun.          

A little more than a week later, the lions struck again, and this time, no one could mistake what was upon them.  No one could doubt these were serial slayings.  The lions appeared to swim the Rufiji river from south to north and on the fourth of November 2002, attacked a doga in a field near Ngorongoro village.  

Here, a marked difference:  The animals did not wait for the people to leave the structures and did not strike from ambush.    They attacked a doga and attempted to break in.  And they did this after swimming the Rufiji – a significant body of water. 

One other difference here:  there was a momentary hero.  

Hassan Gegedu heard the noise at his relative’s doga and took action.  He rushed to the rescue.  Sometimes when you confronted lions, they ran.  Not here.  The 62-year-old man was killed and dragged into the bush, his body almost entirely eaten.   Later, he would be listed as “Victim No. 4.”

He was not a full meal for the lions, however.  Each lion needs about 100 pounds of meat a week to live a healthy life and humans, on average, provide only about 80 pounds of that, scientists say.  The lions – a small pride of three — still needed protein and at around 11 pm, in the same area, the lions attacked 22-year-old Amir Dibuga.  

Villagers heard his cries and responded in force.  It was too late.  Dibuga – ‘Victim No. 5” — was dead.  Game rangers summoned to the sites of the killings tracked the lions to the banks of the Rufiji where the lions appeared to swim to the south bank. 

 Now a social alarm was silently sounded.   Five victims comprised the number that alarmed everyone.  It seemed a critical mass, a boundary passed.   An etiquette of the two species now had been breached.   Courtesies and treaties of old were split open. 

These were not just opportunistic killings where humans blundered into the wrong spot at the wrong time.  Such occurrences could happen without much note.  Call those lions “accidental man-eaters” if you will. Sometimes the Disney myths were true.   

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But the lions here were seeking out humans, waiting for them near latrines, ambushing them between dogas, breaking into dogas, killing those who challenged them.   They had become something else.   They were not just man-eaters.  They were confirmed man-hunters. 

  Everyone had a different theory as to why this was happening.   

Ardent environmentalists would blame the villagers for intruding into habitat owned by the lions.   And this was true. 

Villagers, some of them, would blame Tanzania’s conservation laws, which allowed wild animals to wander anywhere they might, protected by law. And this was true also. 

Some would fall back on the old saw that the animals were in some way handicapped.  They limped or were old or their teeth were damaged and they could only catch slow humans. But here, that seemed unlikely. 

Others with more scientific sense would say the wet season was upon the land – made worse by climate changes — and when that happened normal lion prey scattered and was harder to find.  Humans were easy to find and lions attacked them and here – in South and Central Tanzania at least, the evidence seemed overwhelming – lions often attacked and ate humans for one reason.  They could. 

Some few other Western heads with a sense of history and science noted that Tanzania had a heritage of such outbreaks dating back not just years or decades but centuries, to the earliest slave caravans, say around 600 A.D.  Humans may always have in some form or another been considered natural prey in South Central Tanzania, one scientist believed.   Why not after all?  There was no penalty to the game. 

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Among the people of the villages, many of them if not most of them, did not have the comforts of science and history.  They saw it through a distinct prism one, to them as valid or more so than that of modern science. These were spirit lions.  Created by shamans.  Unkillable. 

   Accept that version of the beginning.  Accept the scientific versions.  Both theories shared a common dilemma. 

No one knew how to stop the killings.       

Osama knew what the hunters and game rangers were planning before the hunters and rangers themselves knew, or so it seemed. One day he struck south of the river, a few days later north.  Osama was a shape shifter and could be the man next to you at the village council.  You dare not speak of him. 

And in that, humans deprived humans of their most valuable weapon:  social cooperation.  Humans best killed lions through teamwork.  And if humans could not talk about the lions, then it boiled down to individual confrontations – which humans near always lost.  

If they did talk, they all were agreed on one thing.  Osama the lion was a large male, perhaps two or three years old, in the prime of health, weighing a bit more than 500 pounds.   He was accompanied by three or four lionesses.  It would perhaps be misleading to say this was a “pride” in the sense of Discovery Channel images.  Perhaps they were a functional pride that would breed cubs.  Perhaps it was just an alliance of necessity.  

For sure, it could be said they were effective hunters of humans. 

 The sixth victim was claimed by the Osama pride on November 12, 2002, near Kipo village, as the rainy season began in earnest. Harunnah logged it diligently.      

Sefu M. Mkumbula walked to an outhouse in the downpour and an unknown number of lions attacked and killed him.  No one heard his calls, if calls there were, and it was not until the next day that they found his body 300 meters away from the attack site, almost entirely eaten. 

The seventh victim was a seven-year-old, claimed eight days later farther east along the Rufiji River in Kipugira village.  Said Mwenelwala was not walking to the latrine.  Nor was he walking between huts. Nor did he rush to the rescue of anyone under attack. 

Here, the lions broke through the walls of a mud hut and stole Said away as his mother and two other children were sleeping.  They took the little boy only about 80 yards away from the dogo, showing little concern for attack by the humans.  Next morning’s search found only Said’s skull. 

Now there were variations on a theme.  The eighth victim was a 65-year-old man named Ally M. Lititu and the attack was back in Kipo village.  On Nov. 15, 2002, the lions attacked Ally’s ground-level dogo.  He screamed and yelled.  Neighbors rushed to the scene yelling and this time drove the lions away, but not before the lions had killed Mr. Lititu. 

At last, at least, the social organization of the people had thwarted an attack – if only in denying the lions food.  But it was not a real morale builder.  If anything, it was a convincer on what had to be done.   All those people rushing to the aid of one – with no effect.  All those people rushing to scare the lions – and left with the uncomforting corpse instead. 

There was another social movement now.   Call it panic or call it a sensible reaction.

One-by-one, the dogas were abandoned.  The people were leaving the fields south of the Rufiji River and returning to the protection of their populated villages on the north side of the river.  It was a portentous moment.  Leaving the fields meant risking famine.  These were subsistence crops, not for export or ethanol.  This is what they ate in the winter. 

For that reason, a few unfortunates stayed to watch the crops and feed the people. They also fed the lions. 

Hatanawe Kibana, a twelve-year-old girl, was attacked when a lion broke into a doga late at night. Others sleeping there screamed and yelled for help, and again the lion fled.  This time, the victim, Hatanawe, survived.  She had terrible injuries, but she lived.  

This too could have been taken as a good sign, a signal that the villagers could repel the lions.  

But on November 26, in Kilimani village, at 3 a.m., lions attacked a doga where the second wife of Said S. Matambwe lived with others.  He heard the ruckus and calls for help and immediately began shouting and flashing lights. 

This attracted the lions rather than repelling them.  Said saved his wife’s life but lost his. The lions killed him and began eating him when dawn broke and they scattered, leaving their kill largely uneaten behind them. 

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Again, a hero had paid the price.  Again, it seemed, there was not a lot of upside in challenging this pride.

Still, the relatives and the rangers gathered and thought.  The family agreed they could use the corpse as bait. 

Around the body of Said S. Matambwe, the rangers placed wire snares.  And the rangers also built platforms in trees to have safe, clear shots at the lions if they returned. 

They waited into the morning and soon enough, the pride of three lions returned.  The three approached the body and began to feed. 

Then the rangers opened up.  One lion was wounded and ran.  A second was caught in a snare.  The third – the large, maneless lion known as Osama – escaped without harm. 

The lion in the snare was dispatched by the rangers.  The villagers then ate the lion – a ritual consumption, scientists said, to attain the strength of the lion for themselves. 

All-in-all, they ought to have been pleased with themselves at this point.  The hunters and villagers had wiped out two thirds of the pride that had been preying on humans. (The wounded lion most certainly would die.)  It would be logical to think that the third lion would take an interest in a new species and leave the villagers alone. 

That didn’t happen. 

Dennis Ikanda, a Tanzanian scientist and co-author with Professor Craig Packer of a ground-breaking study of man-eaters, explained it this way. 

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(Caption: Dairen Simpson)

“Whatever harm they were doing to humans before, as a pride they had the social structure to hunt other species,” Ikanda said. “Wounding one lion and killing another destroyed the pride and left one lion. 

“The remaining lion had few options,” Ikanda said. “It was forced to find the easiest prey it could, and this turned out to be humans.”

Osama wasn’t about to go away.  In fact, now he was virtually forced to come back again, again and again.  This wasn’t finished at all.  Where three lions had frequently fed on people, one very big lion was about to feed almost exclusively on humans.  

“What they did was create one desperate, pissed off pussy cat,” said Dairen Simpson, an American humane trapper who works with Ikanda. 

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