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Friday, 29 November, 2002, 13:27 GMT
Burundi's not so gentle giant
Gustave
The reptile is feared by bathers and fishermen

Gustave is being feted in Burundi as possibly Africa's largest crocodile. Some are even saying he could be one of the world's biggest fresh water crocodiles.


Gustave is very dangerous when he gets out of the Ruzizi River to mate with females

Patrice Faye
The reptile, people are guessing could be as long as six metres and as heavy as a tonne, which, even allowing for exaggeration, would have him rivalling some of the largest saltwater crocodiles recorded.

He lives on a river island near Lake Tanganyika, in Burundi, and was given his name by Patrice Faye, a Frenchman who has lived in Burundi for about 20 years and has a keen interest in animals.

Mr Faye, who has been studying Gustave for several years, speaks about him with some fear.

A killer

"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. He attacks slow prey which are easy to capture."

Gustave goes for a stroll
The crocodile is well known in Burundi

The crocodile is greatly feared by local bathers and fishermen.

"Gustave is very dangerous when he gets out of the Ruzizi River to mate with females.

"He travels all the way to the areas of Rumonge and Minago and eats fishermen and bathers en route," Mr Faye says.

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

"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."

However, Gustave spends most of his days near his island.

According to local people many have tried to kill him and failed.

Animal conservation agencies are saying he should be protected and Mr Faye agrees saying killing him should be "out of the question".

"It would be a great shame as he is a phenomenon we want to study scientifically."

However, catching Gustave has proved difficult so far.

"I have made a trap to try to catch him: 10 metres long, two metres wide and 1.50 metres high. It is gigantic, 40 men were needed to transport it," Mr Faye says.

"We placed it into the Ruzizi, put bait inside and spent the whole night in the river with cameras.

"But it was a total failure. The crocodile was parading outside the cage, teasing us, and we were unable to catch it.

"We wanted to catch it to make a report which will be shown around the world and make Gustave and Burundi famous," he said.

But for now Burundi's killer crocodile remains free.

See also:

25 Oct 01 | Science/Nature
20 Nov 02 | Country profiles
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