On the banks of the Ruzizi River in Burundi lurks a monster of almost mythical proportions – Gustave, the man-eating crocodile. He has been around for over 60 years, and has allegedly killed over 300 people.
Since Gustave has consistently evaded capture, his exact size is unknown, but estimates from scientists and eyewitnesses place him somewhere between 18 and 25 feet long (5.5 to 7.5 meters). He weighs more than 2000 lbs (900 kg), or over half the weight of a typical car. He is the largest crocodile ever seen in Africa. Due to his size, Gustave was initially estimated to be over 100 years old, but further observation revealed that he had a full set of teeth, which meant he was much younger than that. According to the 2004 PBS documentary Capturing the Killer Croc, he “should be nearly toothless,” and was thus estimated to be “probably no older than 60, and likely, still growing”.
Photo: Primeval film screengrab
Gustave is also known to have several old bullet holes on his body, and his right shoulder blade exhibits the scar of a deep wound. The origins of these injuries are unknown, but according to locals in the region, he got them during several run-ins with soldiers who tried to kill him with a flurry of AK47 fire. Locals told National Geographic that he escaped by “eating the bullets,” but scientists have refuted this claim, saying instead that his sheer size and bulk render him virtually bulletproof.
Scientists who have studied the crocodile claim that due to his uncommon size and weight he cannot hunt the species’ usual, agile prey such as fish, antelope, and zebra, which forces him to attack bigger prey such as hippopotamus, wildebeest and, occasionally, humans. According to local lore, however, when Gustave hunts humans, he doesn’t eat them. Instead, he drags his victims into the water where he mutilates and drowns them, leaving their corpses on the banks uneaten. Over 300 human victims have met their end in this way over the past several decades.
In the documentary film Capturing the Killer Croc, Patrice Faye and other scientists attempted to capture Gustave after spending two years investigating him. Faye and his team had a 2-month window in which to do so, as politics in the region were swiftly destabilizing, and they would be forced to evacuate after that point. Despite the use of a 3-ton cage and many snares, the massive crocodile managed to evade capture.
The combination of Gustave’s size, elusiveness, and penchant for murdering humans has made him a legend in the region. Some locals even believe that he is a demonic entity.
The last reported siting of Gustave was in June 2015 when a local watched him drag an adult bull buffalo, an animal that can weigh up to 2200 lbs (1000 kgs), into the river.
Gustave’s legend inspired the 2007 movie “Primeval”, about a news team sent to Burindi to capture a 25-foot crocodile. Just like many in real life, they were unsuccessful.