In 1965, the “man-eater of Darajani” became famous after an article in Outdoor Life featured the lion’s attack on a Kenyan hunter. He wasn’t the only one—a deepening drought made the big cats desperate for prey, and there were lion attacks on other people in southern Kenya that year. But there was something curious about the Darajani lion. After he was killed, it was discovered the lion had a porcupine quill sticking out of his nose.
In a recent investigation, led by Julian Kerbis Peterhans, a researcher at Chicago’s Roosevelt University, scientists examined this lion’s carcass and found that the quill penetrated more than six inches into the cat’s snout, nearly piercing its brain. The quill is almost certainly the reason it became a “man-eater,” Kerbis Peterhans says. With the quill in his snout, the lion had trouble hunting, became emaciated, and targeted humans out of desperation, he posits.
This is just one conclusion from a paper by Kerbis Peterhans and colleagues, the first large-scale study of interactions between lions and porcupines. The report, published in the Journal of East African Natural History in May, suggests that lions usually avoid porcupines, unless a shortage of prey drives them to the prickly critters. These interactions can lead to death or severe injury—which in turn can prompt lions to hunt humans, cattle, and horses.
Lions are also more likely to do so in drought years, like 1965—which was an abnormally dry one in Kenya. The team examined another lion shot that year that also had killed at least one person. It had a porcupine quill lodged in one of its fractured teeth.