Text by Tetsuhiko Endo; Photograph courtesy of Bobby Model
Every culture has its monsters. The Scots have the reclusive Nessie; the Nepalese have fierce Yetis; and Americans have their beloved loner, Big Foot. However, only one monster in the world stands accused of killing hundreds people—Gustave, the maneating croc of Burundi. And after 16 months of inactivity, he's back. The prolific Nile croc, known to troll the waters of Lake Tanganyika, has reappeared several miles west of the Rusizi Delta on the lake’s northern shore, as reported by Patrice Faye, the self-taught naturalist who has dedicated his life to tracking the beast.
ADVENTURE first wrote about Gustave and Faye in our March 2005 issue (see Bobby Models's images in a photo gallery). At that point, Faye estimated that the crocodile was 60 years old, measured 20 feet, and weighed in at a whopping one ton. Also, unlike his more apocryphal monster cousins, Gustave is most definitely a real beast and a confirmed killer. Records of his attacks on villagers living on the northeastern shores of Lake Tanganyika date back to 1987. Although it is doubtful that one crocodile could be responsible for all of the deaths pinned on Gustave, eyewitness reports almost invariably describe an abnormally large croc with the same scar on the top of its head, which Faye thinks is the mark left by an old gun shot wound.
As we reported in 2005, Gustave’s killer reputation may stem in part from being a bit player in an altogether more sinister drama that has engulfed the region for the last 50 years. Civil unrest, ethnic tensions, and violence have marked the history of Burundi since it gained independence from Belgium in 1962. In 1993, an all-out civil war broke out between rival Hutu and Tutsi ethnic factions lasting more than ten years killing some 200,000 Burundians. It is also important to note that the Rusizi River separates Burundi from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, two countries whose own histories of civil unrest are amongst the most horrific in modern history.
Even if Gustave hasn’t devoured as many people as some reports suggest, there is little doubt that the big croc is still alive and well. And like all great monsters it is often difficult to decipher the truth from the conjecture. The one certainty is that his legend will terrify and thrill people long after he has disappeared into the murky waters for good.