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Chicago Field Museum

Analysis of the teeth of the man-eating lions of Tsavo suggests it wasn't dire circumstances but dental disease that drove the legendary lions to eat an estimated 35 people in Kenya in the late 1800s, a new study reports.

Why it matters: The findings reveal the many factors that can influence lion behavior and could inform conservation efforts. As human populations increase and prey decreases, man-eating could become a viable option for lions, the researchers wrote.

Lions rarely eat humans. The theory had long been that when they do, it's because of a shortage of prey — caused, in the case of the Tsavo lions, by a drought. The new findings suggest humans can be an easy alternative to supplement a lion's diet whether there are prey shortages or a lion is injured.

Methodology: Researchers from Chicago's Field Museum, where the two lions are part of the collection, and Vanderbilt University analyzed the surface of the lion's teeth with 3D imaging for wear associated with their diet. They compared them to zoo lions, wild lions, cheetahs (which do not eat bones) and hyenas (which scavenge and eat entire carcasses). If the lions were desperate and scavenging for food, they expected to see evidence of bone-crunching on their teeth, similar to hyenas.

What they found: The Tsavo lion that ate the most people had a severe dental disease that would have made it difficult to hunt prey like zebra and buffalo. The microscopic patterns on the teeth of the man-eating lions were smooth and most similar to zoo lions, which are fed soft foods like beef, and cheetahs, indicating the Tsavo lions were not fully consuming carcasses.

Parting perspective:

"We don't like to think of ourselves on the menu but we are," -- Laura DeSantis, Vanderbilt University.

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”