The Man-Killing Rhinos of Tsavo

Lions weren’t the only threats Col. Patterson faced in Tsavo.

(Photo: Jason Prince/iStock)

 

Note: Man-eating lions weren’t the only threats Lt. Col. J.H. Patterson encountered when he was sent to Africa to oversee construction of the railway at Tsavo. This excerpt from The Man-Eaters of Tsavo shows another fight for survival Patterson underwent with Africa’s Big Five.

 

I made it my custom to take a walk each morning for some distance ahead of the rails along the center line of the railway, in order to spy out the land and to form a rough estimate of the material that would be required in the way of sleepers, girders for temporary bridges, etc. It was necessary to do this in order to avoid undue delay taking place owing to shortage of material of any kind. About ten days after my arrival at Machakos Road I walked in this way for five or six miles ahead of the last-laid rail.

It was rather unusual for me to go so far, and, as it happened, I was alone on this occasion, Mahina having been left behind in camp. About two miles away on my left, I noticed a dark-looking object, and thinking it was an ostrich, I started off towards it. Very soon, however, I found that it was bigger game than an ostrich, and on getting still nearer made out the form of a great rhinoceros lying down.

I continued to advance very cautiously, wriggling through the short grass until at length I got within 50 yards of where the huge beast was resting. Here I lay and watched him; but after some little time he evidently suspected my presence, for, rising to his feet, he looked straight in my direction and then proceeded to walk round me in a half-circle.

The moment he got wind of me he whipped round in his tracks like a cat and came for me in a beeline. Hoping to turn him, I fired instantly; but unfortunately my soft-nosed bullets merely annoyed him further, and had not the slightest effect on his thick hide.

On seeing this, I flung myself down quite flat on the grass and threw my helmet some ten feet away, in the hope that he would perceive it and vent his rage on it instead of me. On he thundered while I scarcely dared to breathe. I could hear him snorting and rooting up the grass quite close to me, but luckily for me he did not catch sight of me and charged by a few yards to my left.

As soon as he had passed me, my courage began to revive again, and I could not resist the temptation of sending a couple of bullets after him. These, however, simply cracked against his hide and splintered to pieces on it, sending the dry mud off in little clouds of dust. Their only real effect, indeed, was to make him still more angry. He stood stock-still for a moment, then gored the ground most viciously and started off once more on the semi-circle round me.

This proceeding terrified me more than ever, as I felt sure that he would come upwind at me again, and I could scarcely hope to escape a second time. Unfortunately, my surmise proved correct, for directly he scented me up went his nose in the air and down he charged like a battering ram. I fairly pressed myself into the ground, as flat as ever I could, and luckily the grass was a few inches high. I felt the thud of his great feet pounding along, yet dared not move or look up lest he should see me.

My heart was thumping like a steam hammer, and every moment I fully expected to find myself tossed into the air. Nearer and nearer came the heavy thudding, and I had quite given myself up for lost when, from my lying position, I caught sight, out of the corner of my eye, of the infuriated beast rushing by. He had missed me again! I never felt so relieved in my life, and assuredly did not attempt to annoy him further.

He went off for good this time, and it was with great satisfaction that I watched him gradually disappear in the distance. I could not have believed it possible that these huge, ungainly looking brutes could move so rapidly, and turn and twist in their tracks just like monkeys, had I not actually seen this one do so before my eyes. If he had found me he would certainly have pounded me to atoms, as he was an old bull and in a most furious and vicious mood.