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Gustave, the crocodile that killed 300 men

Crocodiles are predators par excellence, with 100 million years on Earth, having survived countless cataclysms and natural disasters. Annually, these beasts eat hundreds of people in Africa and other places of the world, but there´s one whose fame has gone beyond borders to become a legend: it´s Gustave, he´s 65 – 100 years old (no one knows for sure), weighs a tonne, has more than 18 feet of length, and has eaten 300 people in the African country of Burundi, between the Ruzizi River and Lake Tanganyika.

Gustave crocodilePicture of Gustave

For its inhabitants it must be ironic, living in one of the five poorest countries in the world, plagued by constant wars between the Tutsi and Hutu and classified as “the less globalized country in the world,” to have a man-eater crocodile as their most popular figure.

Gustave became popular worldwide after the launch in 2004 of the documentary “Capturing the Killer Croc”, in which a herpetologist named Patrice Faye tries to capture him placing a bait inside a small cell placed in the river.

Patrice FayePatrice Faye

Many were the ways in which he tried to tempt Gustave to fall into the trap, even putting a live goat as bait, but the animal’s sixth sense prevailed in this hunter´s war. Faye has been obsessed with this reptile for 15 years, starting on 1998 when he was informed about the death of some fishermen by a huge crocodile. Three months later reports of 17 victims more arrived, including a 15-year old boy who was eaten in the river while the police fired in vain against the crocodile. Unfortunately, Gustave seems to have an iron, bulletproof body, because throughout his life he has been shot several times, but never enough to bring him down. Instead, he bears the scars of his wounds as a war veteran. And not without a reason…

As Faye investigated more about the beast, the government gave reports of deaths dating back to 1987, always by the hands of what witnesses described as a huge crocodile. Among the few who have survived his attack is Hatunginama Audifax, who at age 13 was swimming with friends in the river when he suddenly felt something grabbed him by the leg. He thought it was one of his friends, until he saw the reptile and felt the incredible pain. Fortunately, fishermen who were near beat the water in order to divert Gustave, giving the teenager time to swim up the shore and escape. However, salvation was not complete: with no hope left for his leg, doctors decided to amputate it. A remedy with a very very bad taste. But soon he would learn that he was, at least, the only survivor: while he was in the hospital, he heard about 4 other people who had been eaten by a crocodile in the same area. Creepy? As incredible as it may seem, Hatunginama still goes there to bathe and have fun. The trauma was not enough to get him away from the water, not for him, nor for the general population.

Gustave sign

The locals need the river for fishing, washing clothes, showering and having fun. Over the years, many people (including children) have been eaten by Gustave and other crocodiles, and yet they assume it as a reality from which they can´t escape. Maybe this is what has made crocodiles, also called “the last dragons”, worship objects of many African tribes, mythologies characters who come to eat the evil. Something similar happens with naturalists: they see crocodiles with curiosity, admiring their predatory machinery and ability to survive. And in the case of Gustave and Patrice Faye, it´s something like the criminal detective that creates a twisted link with the serial murderer he´s chasing. Just look at his response when he´s asked what would he feel if someone captured Gustave before him: “I would feel like something got stolen from me. I´ll remain faithful to him and I hope he´ll do the same “.

It seems to me that the obsession with Gustave is going too far and I hope that he´s not been kept alive due to media interest. There´s nothing pretty in a predator that has made humans an important part of his diet (something which isn´t normal in reptiles), let alone when we see the way he eats, going for the easier parts first: limbs, head and abdomen. Gustave inspires such fear that even his fellow crocodiles show respect to him. In the documentary “Capturing the Killer Croc”, one can see a crocodile showing submission with the head when Gustave passes in front of him. Obviously, his size inspires respect. Eating 300 humans must´ve made him very muscular.