On average, Nile crocodiles live 60 years in the wild (saltwater crocs live even longer!). In that time, each colossal reptile consumes around 3,000 full meals, the vast majority of which are made up of fish – but not all of them. A hungry crocodile will attack just about anything that crosses its path, including birds, zebras, young hippos, and even smaller crocs.
Typically, wild animal attacks are nothing to worry about. Even the most notorious members of the animal kingdom are more likely to run from a human than attack them. Except for saltwater and Nile crocodiles. Thanks to their indiscriminate diet, it’s estimated that around 1,000 people per year fall victim to the enormous jaws of the ancient reptiles.
And in the last 35 years, at least 300 have been by one in particular. According to rumor, of course. Since 1987, Gustave the giant crocodile has been gulping down villagers all along the Rusizi River in central Africa. In an interview with Newsweek, croc specialist Marc Gansuana detailed the legend of Gustave, the man-eating monster of Burundi.
Scientists Explain Giant Crocodile’s Unusually Human-Heavy Diet
So, how do locals know it’s the same croc behind all of these attacks? Africa is home to hundreds of thousands of the freshwater giants, what makes Gustave so recognizable?
Well, an average male Nile crocodile is 14 feet long. Gustave stretches almost 20 feet from snout to tail tip, his massive scaled body weighing around 2,000 pounds. “His size [means] he cannot be mistaken with any other one in his territory,” Gansuana said.
Back in 2002, herpetologist Patrice Faye, the scientist to identify and name Gustave in 2001, explained a possible reason for the croc’s unusual thirst for human blood. “He is three times as big as the other crocodiles in Burundi,” Faye told the BBC. “He is not very fast and cannot feed on what other crocodiles in Burundi eat, namely fish and small mammals. Instead, he attacks slow prey, which are easy to capture.”
Over the years, Gustave has terrorized villagers on the Rusizi River, developing a reputation as a ruthless killer rather than a crocodile exhibiting normal (albeit terrifying) behavior. In addition to his staggering number of human prey, Gustave rarely finishes a meal, adding to the belief that he kills for fun, not for hunger.
Marc Gansuana, however, says this is easily explained by a croc’s typical diet. “They never kill for fun,” he said. “Crocodiles have very few requirements in terms of quantity of food. Once killed, a prey item is not entirely consumed, except in very special circumstances. Thus, most of [Gustave’s] prey—humans or cattle—were found almost whole, with only a few parts missing, which could explain why people thought it was killing for fun and not for food.”