Gustave: The Notorious Giant Crocodile Rumored To Have Killed Over 300 People

A giant crocodile, but not as big as Gustave. Image credit: Ekaterina Kolomeets/Shutterstock.com

There aren't many animals of legend out there that actually exist. The Loch Ness Monster occasionally turns out to be a fish. A surprising number of sea monster sightings can be explained by whale penises. Samples of "yeti" hairs generally turn out to be from bears, though sometimes – just sometimes – it's a dog.

Then there's Gustave, an animal that has earned itself legendary status in Burundi. Though myths have grown around Gustave – some say he's 12 meters (40 feet) in length, others claim the croc is red or yellow in color, or with grass growing out of its head – there is a basis of truth to the more grounded tales. Footage showing a large crocodile has been captured, as well as photographs.

The reptile is possibly Africa's largest crocodile at an estimated 6 meters (20 feet) and 907 kilograms (2,000 pounds), but the croc has gained notoriety for far worse reasons than being a chonky boi: it is rumored that it may have killed over 300 people.

Locals to Lake Tanganyika fear the croc, who is reported to travel large swathes of the lake shores, eating "fishermen and bathers en route," according to herpetologist Patrice Faye, who studied the animal and reports of the killings for many years.

"He can eat 10, 15 or 20 people along the bank," Faye told the BBC. "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."

In 2004, a wrangler – filmed by a documentary crew the whole time – attempted to capture the crocodile in order to relocate it for the safety of the residents near Lake Tanganyika. The team, led by Faye, tried to lure the crocodile into a 9 meter (30 foot) trap, but to no avail.

One final attempt saw them load a goat into a springloaded trap, in a scene right out of Jurassic Park. After several nights of only brief glimpses of what could have been Gustave, the team began to speculate that "Gustave is smarter than we think."

Finally, on what became the final night for the crew, the night vision camera cut out during the heavy rain. The following morning, the crew returned and found the cage tipped into the water. The goat had disappeared.

 

Recently, there has been speculation that Gustave might still be roaming the lake – though, like everything around Gustave, this is probably due to the legend that has sprung up around him. When the documentary was filmed in 2004, the croc was estimated to be around 60 years old, far older than the average age of 45 and far younger than the legends which put him at 100.

It was spotted again in 2009, but living to 80+ years is unlikely, even for this monster of a crocodile, unless it turns out his diet is some sort of miracle cure for the problems of aging and degrading teeth. As well as humans, the animal liked to hunt larger, slower prey than smaller crocodiles, likely due to its size.

"He is enormous. He is three times as big as the other crocodiles in Burundi. He is not very fast and cannot feed on what other crocodiles in Burundi eat – fish and small mammals," Faye told the BBC. "He attacks slow prey which are easy to capture."

Gustave was reportedly spotted in 2015, dragging an antelope into the water. It's not clear whether the croc was the same animal, or whether the name Gustave is passed on from one giant croc to the next, like Spider-man.

 


 THIS WEEK IN IFLSCIENCE

Receive our biggest science stories to your inbox weekly!

Comments

If you liked this story, you'll love these

This website uses cookies

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By continuing to use our website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.