How do you gauge the magnitude of a series of lion attacks that occurred over a century ago? In 1898, construction on the Ugandan Railroad in East Africa was halted due to deadly, nightly lion invasions that took the lives of Indian and African laborers who were working on the project. By some estimates, over 100 people had been devoured by these animals, hungry because drought and disease had reduced the number of natural prey. But researchers at UC Santa Cruz published a report this week that gave a more accurate estimate of how many humans the two male lions really ate. They did it by running chemical tests on their carcasses:
Bones and teeth store carbon and nitrogen isotopes over long periods, while the ratios in hair change more rapidly, allowing the scientists to determine the long-term diet and how it changed in the lions' last months.
Humans made up at least half of the diet of one of the lions in the last months of his life, consuming at least 24 people, they concluded. The other lion had eaten 11 people, they found.
In other words, even a century later, you are what you eat.
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