Yet the questions about this legendary beast proved as compelling to me as to a herpetologist like Barr or a passionate conservationist like Faye: Precisely how big was Gustave and how old? Had humans really become his preferred prey or were his murderous ways more myth than reality? If he was devouring villagers, what should be done with him? How had such a reportedly voracious man-eater survived so long without being shot and killed? How would we track down such an elusive beast?
This last question became a major concern in the run-up to our expedition, as Gustave kept evading the spotters that Faye had hired and trained to track him. He changed locations frequently—in the Rusizi delta one month, along the beaches of Bujumbura the next—vanishing for weeks in between. Faye had told us to relax. He was certain that the cunning old bull would return to his favorite haunts in the delta. We'd be there waiting for him.
In the months before traveling to Burundi, I scoured the news for information on Gustave. Most of what I turned up resembled the billboard slogans of a B-horror flick: that Gustave was the world's biggest known crocodile (saltwater crocs grow larger), that he stalks the dreams of village children, that he had killed as many as 300 people—including the wife of the Russian ambassador to Burundi. Munie's documentary contained jaw-dropping footage of Gustave, who appeared to have the girth of a killer whale and teeth the size of railroad spikes, but the show was thin on science and long on drama. The English-language version that premiered last May on PBS was even misleadingly titled Capturing the Killer Croc. The ill-fated, titanic trap that Faye had designed and built in the documentary—32 feet long (10 meters), seven feet (2 meters) wide, and five feet (2 meters) high—was a "folly," as he readily admitted, and Gustave had avoided it.
It wasn't until I arrived and spoke with Faye that I learned the fuller story of the mythical killer. We sat in the living room of his modest house in Bujumbura, where bookshelves sagged under the weight of an extensive natural history library and every surface was littered with artifacts and memorabilia: croc and hippo skulls, carved masks, Pygmy knives, mounted spiders and beetles, and dog-eared research papers. Faye's pet crane wandered freely, but his most prized animals—Gabon vipers, spitting cobras, and several small crocs—were caged outside.
Through a translator, Faye recounted his investigation of Gustave. In 1998 he first heard reports of a man-eating crocodile from commercial fishermen who freedive the croc-infested waters of Lake Tanganyika for cichlids, a prized aquarium species that can fetch up to $150 per fish in U.S. and European markets. Faye hires these men occasionally to supply specimens for a natural history museum and park in Bujumbura, the Musée Vivant, that he has helped restore.