The last time we went looking for Gustave, Burundi's fabled man-eating crocodile, he was nowhere to be found. It was October 2004, and we'd set out to track down and radio-tag the so-called Monster of Lake Tanganyika, one of the biggest and most bloodthirsty Nile crocs on record.
At roughly 20 feet long and approaching 2,000 pounds, Gustave was reputed to have devoured scores, even hundreds of villagers in the war-weary central African country, picking off victims like some maniacal serial killer. A week before our capture team arrived, Patrice Faye, a self-taught naturalist who has been stalking Gustave since 1998, believed he had spotted him in the estuary of the Rusizi River at the head of the lake. But after leading us on a fruitless search, the expatriate Frenchman gave a Gallic shrug. Maybe rumors of Gustave's demise were true: He'd been shot and eaten by rebels in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, or had died of old age. Or maybe he'd simply burrowed into the Rusizi's muddy banks to wait out Burundi's protracted Hutu-Tutsi civil war. We left on an uncertain note, with Gustave's mythology fully intact.
In fact, "Gustave is quite alive," Faye told us by telephone on the third anniversary of our aborted mission. "After a long absence he has come back to the Rusizi, and a lot of tourists have had the privilege of seeing him. He's in excellent health, and his prize list of victims has grown."