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The Mystery of Gustave, the Demon Crocodile of Africa

There is perhaps no more fearsome predator in the wilds of Africa than the Nile crocodile. Found across a vast area of the continent, these creatures can reach sizes of over 20 feet long, weigh in excess of 2,000 pounds, making them the largest freshwater predator in Africa and easily able to take down pretty much any large wildlife that comes near the water, including humans. These primordial beasts will attack anything they can, striking fear into the people of the regions they inhabit, and have been a wellspring of myths and legends since time unremembered. Killing hundreds of people a year, some of these massive predators have managed to crawl up from our nightmares and dark fears to come bursting out into reality, and one of these is a monstrous crocodile that has rampaged across the country of Burundi for decades, creating legends and lore in its wake while leaving a trail of bloody bodies.

Starting from 1987, the people inhabiting the northeastern shores of Lake Tanganyika and the banks of the Ruzizi River began telling terrifying tales of an abnormally large crocodile that had seemingly appeared out of nowhere to terrorize and kill with impunity. Reports put the mysterious crocodile at a length of over 20 feet and weighing around 2,500 pounds, a true monster in every sense and if true the largest Nile crocodile ever seen in the wild. Besides its sheer size, the crocodile was said to have some distinguishing features, such as a scar on the top of its head and other scars on its body, and it was said to have the unsettling tendency to seemingly actively target human beings. Making it all even more ominous were the accounts of the crocodile killing humans but not eating them, suggesting it was doing it purely out of malice or demented joy.

As people started to be increasingly attacked and killed on a regular basis efforts were made to try and hunt down the monster, but it proved to be extremely elusive and able to avoid hunters and traps, which only fueled its legend in the years to come. Reports of attacks from the same hulking, scarred crocodile came in on a regular basis, and terrified hunters claimed that it was impervious to bullets and could appear and disappear at will, believing it to not even be a real crocodile at all, but rather an evil spirit. As the croc’s death toll reached into the hundreds the tales attracted the attention of herpetologist Patrice Faye, who travelled to Burundi to investigate in the 1990s.

Faye was quickly able to establish that the monster crocodile did in fact exist, seeing it for himself and counting four noticeable scars on its body. Locals claimed that these scars were from soldiers opening fire on it with automatic weapons, after which they said it had eaten most of the bullets and so had only been hit with a few, although this is undoubtedly the mystical lore coming through. Locals even made the eyebrow raising claim that it had brushed off an attack with a rocket propelled grenade, and that it routinely laughed off grenades tossed into the water to scare it off, but again this was all likely highly exaggerated. Faye called this male crocodile Gustave, and since crocodiles never stop growing throughout their lives he estimated that his age was probably close to 100 years. This would change when it was found that he had a full mouth of teeth, and the age was downgraded to perhaps 60 years old and still growing, although no one really knows for sure. The length and weight were also unknown as they couldn’t get close enough, but Gustave was found to be an estimated 18 to 25 feet in length and weighing perhaps a ton, meaning that the reports of its colossal size had not been exaggerated.

Gustave

It was clear that this was a real creature, so now they determined to separate fact from fiction. Locals claimed that he had killed 300 people, but as to how many Gustave had actually killed or whether he really killed just for pleasure could not be reliably confirmed. However, it was known to be true that he did kill humans and was a man-eater, and indeed there were many attacks as Faye was there for his investigation. He would say:

He travels all the way to the areas of Rumonge and Minago and eats fishermen and bathers en route. He can eat 10, 15 or 20 people along the bank. One year, I followed the path he took on one of his forays and 17 people had been eaten between Kanyosha and Minago, and Kabezi and Magara.

The scientists believed that Gustave probably targeted humans not for thrills, malice, or some dark, brooding intelligence, but rather because his unwieldy colossally large size made it difficult to catch nimbler prey. And what about its mystical properties and claims that it is a spirit? Locals told Faye and his team at length about Gustave’s magical powers, such as the ability to shrug off most injuries, turn invisible, and even teleport, but these claims were dismissed as mere superstition and spooky folklore in the making. However, although they were trying to debunk some of the wilder claims they were still left with a damn big crocodile on the prowl, and they knew the only way to study the enigmatic Gustave in more depth would be to catch him. And so the hunt for the demon crocodile Gustave would begin.

The team did not have much time to act, as a looming potential civil war at the time gave them only a 2-month window, after which they would be forced to evacuate the country. The first thing they tried was to fashion an immense cage measuring 30 feet long and rigged with infrared cameras, which was then baited and placed in an area that Gustave was known to haunt. When the beast was a no show they switched through several different types of bait, but nothing seemed to work, Gustave remaining as elusive as ever. Faye even claimed that Gustave would start to appear, circling the cage as if taunting them, and he says, “It was a total failure. The crocodile was parading outside the cage, teasing us, and we were unable to catch it.”

They then placed snares in several key locations, which managed to catch some smaller Nile crocodiles, but not the mighty Gustave. Finally, they tried luring the crocodile in with a live goat in a cage, but this didn’t work either, although the battered cage was found submerged and minus a goat the next day. Curiously the cameras had malfunctioned, meaning there is no way to know what had happened or whether it had been raided by Gustave or not. At the end of two months Faye and his team had no choice but to flee Burundi empty-handed, Gustave maintaining his legendary status as a phantom. Faye would make his 2-year investigation into the 2004 PBS documentary entitled Capturing the Killer Croc, and the herpetologist has remained obsessed with the mysterious giant crocodile ever since.

Gustave’s legend was fully cemented when he became the basis for the 2007 horror film Primeval, and he has captured the imagination ever since. He would continue killing and defying all attempts to capture or kill him for years, and for a period of time he seemed to vanish. It was thought that he had died or moved off to new hunting grounds, but he would appear again to be sighted regularly up until his last known sighting in 2015, when he was witnessed dragging a full grown bull buffalo into the water. Since then no one is really sure where the notorious Gustave has gone off to or if he is even alive or not. Yet there is a very good chance that he is still out there lurking in the muck, waiting for his next victim.