Sitting around the campfire, people often tell stories of man-eating animals to scare each other, but the tales we have collected here are not make-believe. These are seven stories of real and terrifying man-eaters, which, together, have been responsible for killing hundreds of people in recent history alone. Join us as we take a look at some of the most dangerous animals in the history of the last hundred or so years.
7. Gustave the Man-Eating Crocodile
Nile crocodiles are said to be responsible for more human deaths than any other crocodile species but none are as infamous as Gustave, a man-crunching, bullet-scarred behemoth living in Burundi, Africa. In 2004, some estimates were made regarding his size and age, and the scientists came up with the following figures: this beast is thought to be 60 years old, 20 feet long, and to weigh approximately 1 ton. He lives along the banks of the Ruzizi River and the northern shores of Lake Tanganyika. Some say that during his lifetime he has killed 300 people – with his great size being the factor that makes him attack larger or less agile prey like humans. Others say this number is greatly exaggerated, but the locals in the region are terrified of him – and for good reason!
6. The Leopard of Panar
In the Kumaon District of northern India the Leopard of Panar would stalk with quiet determination, and for its pains purportedly managed to kill and eat over 400 people. Nothing the locals tried enabled them to catch this leopard. It took Jim Corbett, the famed hunter of man-eating big cats, to kill it with a bullet in 1910. A post-mortem on the leopard showed that it had been suffering from crippling gum disease and tooth decay that would have inhibited it from catching wild animals – hence the taste it developed for man’s blood.
5. The Jersey Shore Shark
In 1916, terror hit the US Jersey Shore. Between July 1 and July 12, a series of shark attacks occurred which left four dead and one injured. There has been continued debate over whether it was a great white shark or a bull shark, but at the time the answer finally seemed to have been found when Michael Schleisser caught a young 325-pound great white while fishing in Raritan Bay just days later. In Richard G. Fernicola’s book Twelve Days of Terror what was found after opening the shark was described as “suspicious fleshy material and bones… [that] weighed fifteen pounds.” The remains were identified as human, but there is still controversy over whether this was the shark responsible. Still, be it by coincidence or not, the killings stopped after Schleisser’s catch.
Perhaps the best case for its being the Jersey Shore man-eater was made by ichthyologist George H. Burgess, who commented: “The bull draws a lot of votes because the location, Matawan Creek, suggests brackish or fresh waters, a habitat that bulls frequent and whites avoid. However, our examination of the site reveals that the size of the “creek,” its depth, and salinity regime were closer to a marine embayment and that a smallish white clearly could have wandered into the area. Since an appropriate sized white shark with human remains in its stomach was captured nearby shortly after the attacks (and no further attacks occurred), it seems likely that this was the attacker involved in at least the Matawan attacks. The temporal and geographical sequence of attacks also suggests that earlier attacks may have involved the same shark.” Yet the debate – and the legend – refuses to die.
4. The Tigress of Jowlagiri
The Tigress of Jowlagiri was blamed for 15 deaths in India’s Bengal region which occurred in the mid-20th century. A 30-mile stretch from Jowlagiri to Gundalam was her hunting ground, and she managed to escape death a number of times. The first attempt to kill her was launched after she appeared in a village following the killing of her mate by a poacher; she was shot but got away. The second attempt was made by the famous hunter Kenneth Anderson, who after following her trail was almost killed by the tigress, but managed to shoot off her ear. Finally, a third and successful attempt was made by Anderson, who imitated the tiger’s calls to lure her; she appeared and he shot her in the forehead and neck.
3. The Tsavo Man-Eaters
In 1898, work on the Kenya-Uganda Railway must have seemed cursed to some of the locals. They were working on a bridge over the Tsavo River in Kenya when workers started disappearing in the night – dragged out of their tents by two mane-less male lions, and eaten. The lions even crawled through thorn fences, which had been built to protect the camp, to make their grisly kills. The crew began to run away in their hundreds and work was halted. Lt. Colonel John Henry Patterson, the leader of the project, finally shot the two lions in separate incidents after a game of cat-and-mouse, and the workers returned. He reckoned 135 people were killed by the deadly pair, although other estimates are lower.
Three possible reasons for the man-eating behavior of the two males have been proposed. First, that cattle were killed off by an outbreak of cattle plague, forcing the lions to look elsewhere for fresh meat. Second, that because slave caravans often crossed the river at the location, the lions may have been used to human bodies being disposed of in the river. Third, and last, that shortened cremations of Hindu workers may have started the lions scavenging on the corpses. Yet whatever the reasons, these lions have gone down in history as among the most famous and feared of man-eaters.
2. The Leopard of Rudraprayag
Imagine eight years of fear, during which time you are afraid to leave your house or be alone on a road. This is what happened to people in the village of Benji in Rudraprayag, India. The man-eating leopard, which was credited with approximately 250 deaths, left no man, woman or child in the vicinity unaffected by its attacks. The situation was so severe that the British Parliament stepped in in 1925 and requested Jim Corbett, the famous hunter of man-eaters, to capture and kill the animal. There is still a board commemorating the place where the leopard was shot in Rudraprayag. Corbett made notes after examining the leopard and discovered that it was suffering from dental problems much like those found to have affected the Leopard of Panar (see above). In fact, this is a pattern evinced by other man-eating big cats: they are often in such dire straights in terms of their health that they can’t hunt their normal prey and so turn to people, who are much simpler to catch.
1. The Dingoes of Ayers Rock
On August 17, 1980, an unspeakable horror befell the Chamberlain family. Little Azaria, who was just nine weeks old, disappeared while she and her family were on a camping trip to Ayers rock. Her body was never found. The police believed the parents were responsible for her death and had disposed of her, but the first inquest supported the Chamberlains’ belief that a dingo had snatched her away.
The police called for a second inquest, and this time their view held sway. Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlain were put on trial; later she was convicted of murder while he was convicted of accessory after the fact. The pair were sentenced to life in prison and a suspended sentence, respectively. This is where the case stood until, after all appeals failed, there came the accidental discovery of some of Azaria’s clothing in an area of dingo dens.
Mrs. Chamberlain was released on compassionate grounds and later exonerated of all charges, as was her husband. A big change came in the late 1990s when the public started to accept that the death had been due to dingoes. Part of this shift in public opinion was down to dingo incidents on Fraser Island, where it was revealed that 400 attacks had occurred, mostly on children. In 1998, a thirteen month-old baby was also snatched by a dingo and dragged away from a picnic blanket; she survived because her father managed to intervene. The dingo is Australia’s wild dog, with unique characteristics and instincts that separate it from its domestic cousins. Azaria’s death is still considered officially unsolved, but there is to be another inquest in 2011 which will hopefully see the case finally put to bed.
Take care when out in the wild areas of this world; you never know what might be lurking, just waiting for the right chance to pounce on you. There are many more man-eaters in the annals of history than just the seven listed here, and any predator that has trouble catching its normal prey can potentially be dangerous to us humans.