Thought to weigh over 140 stone and measuring as much as 18 feet in length, an enormous Nile crocodile known as Gustave is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of up to 300 people in Burundi. Since at least 1987, people living close to the Ruzizi River and Lake Tanganyika told of a giant crocodile that frequently preyed on humans.
Killing frequently, Gustave was said to frequently hunt and kill humans for the sake of it, leaving the corpses of his victims uneaten. Travelling in a looping pattern between the settlements along the northeastern banks of Lake Tanganyika, Gustave would frequently take between 10 and 20 victims during his travels.
Having evaded attempts by scientists and film crews to capture him, much of what is known about Gustave comes from eyewitness accounts of varying credibility. Early estimates put his age at around 100 years old, given his enormous size, however he has since been observed to still have largely intact teeth, making it more likely he is around 60 years old. This large size is thought to be the primary reason that Gustave frequently hunts humans, as he is too slow to hunt more common prey such as antelope and zebra. He has also been reported successfully hunting hippos on multiple occasions.
In 2004, a group of scientists and filmmakers led by herpetologist Patrice Faye visited Burundi, intending to capture Gustave. Despite spending two months hunting him, they were unsuccessful: a one-tonne trap cage failed to attract the giant, while several large snares laid out captured smaller crocodiles but not the crew’s target. During their last week the team baited the cage with a live goat. During heavy rain overnight the infrared camera placed inside the cage failed, leaving the team puzzled the following morning when they found the goat missing.
Attempts by other hunters proved just as unsuccessful, leaving Gustave with a number of scars from bullet wounds but with little else to show for their efforts. Some local hunters even believed that the crocodile could appear and disappear at will, or even that he was a primal spirit of nature rather than an ordinary animal. A distinctive bullet scar on the top of his head is frequently cited by witnesses of his attacks.
The last reliable account of Gustave comes from 2015, where he was seen dragging an adult buffalo to its death after snatching it from a riverbank. Since then he has remained unseen, however with no other predators able to pose a threat to him and wild crocodiles having been recorded to live up to a century, there is every chance the giant remains amongst the lakes and rivers of Burundi.
Feature Image: A large adult Nile Crocodile. Image: Bernard Gagon