Top 10 Worst Man Eaters In History
Most large predatory animals can, and will, see humans as suitable prey, under the right circumstances; however, true “man eaters”, that is, individual animals that prefer human flesh over any other food, are very rare. This list is a selection of some of the worst cases of man eaters recorded in history.
We start this list with the worst case of man-eating lions in History. It was not a single man eater, but an entire pride that preferred human flesh over any other kind of food. It happened in 1932, in Tanzania near the town of Njombe. A large pride of lions went into a particularly brutal killing spree. Legend has it that the lions were being controlled by the witch doctor of a local tribe, named Matamula Mangera, who sent them into rampage as revenge against his own people after being deposed of his post. The tribesmen were so terrified of the man-eating lions that they wouldn’t even dare speaking of them, believing that a simple mention would cause them to appear. They begged to the tribe chief to restore the witch doctor to his post, but he refused. The lions kept attacking and, eventually, took over 1,500 human lives (some say over 2000); the worst lion attack in History, and one of the worst cases of animal attacks ever recorded. Eventually, George Rushby, a famed hunter, decided to put an end to the attacks. He killed 15 lions, and the rest of the pride eventually abandoned the area, finally ending the nightmare. But, of course, the locals were convinced that the lions left only because the tribe’s chief finally agreed to restore Matamula Mangera to his old job.
Two Toed Tom is a rather obscure man-eater, and today it is hard to know which parts of his story are real, and which ones are myth. This huge male American alligator was said to roam the swamps in the border of Alabama and Florida during the 20s. He had lost all but two of the toes in his left “hand”, and left very recognizable tracks on the mud, so he was nicknamed “Two Toed Tom” by the local people. He was said to have lost his toes in an iron trap.
He measured four and a half meters long, and people claimed he was no normal gator, but a demon sent from Hell to terrorize them. Tom made himself infamous by devouring scores of cows, mules and, of course, humans, particularly women (snatched as they washed clothes in the water). Due to his frequent attacks, many farmers tried to kill Tom, but bullets were said to have little effect on him and all attempts on his life failed. One farmer even tried to kill him using dynamite; the farmer had been chasing Tom for twenty years, unsuccessfully, so he decided to throw fifteen dynamite-filled buckets into the pond were Tom was supposed to live, and finally get rid of the problem once and for all.
The explosion killed everything in the pond, but not Tom. Moments after the explosion, the farmer and his son heard a horrible scream and splashing sounds coming from a nearby pond. They rushed to the place and saw Tom’s bright eyes for a moment before he disappeared under the surface. The screams were later explained when the half eaten remains of the farmer’s young daughter appeared in the shore. It is impossible to know whether this particular story was true or simply a folk tale, but everything seems to indicate that Two Toed Tom was real, and that he continued to roam the swamps of Florida for many years. People would constantly report seeing a huge male gator basking in lake shores, and hearing his roars every morning. They identified him as Tom by the two toed tracks he left in the sand and the mud. The most amazing part of the story is that, although he was most famous during the 20s, Tom was seemingly still alive during the 80s, when a huge gator lacking two of his toes was reported in the same swamps where he had roamed his entire life. Many hunts for the living legend were organized, but Two Toed Tom was never captured.
As I have mentioned in a previous list, the most dangerous wild animal in Japan is usually considered to be the Japanese Giant Hornet, which kills 40 people a year, on average. However, the largest, most powerful land predator in Japan is the Brown Bear, and, perhaps the most brutal bear attack in history took place in the village of Sankebetsu, Hokkaido, in 1915. At the time, Sankebetsu was a pioneer village, with very few people living in a largely wild area. The area was inhabited by brown bears, including a gigantic male known as Kesagake. Kesagake used to visit Sankebetsu to feed on harvested corn; having became a nuisance, he was shot by two villagers and fled to the mountains, injured. The villagers believed that, after being shot, the bear would learn to fear humans and stay away from the crops. They were wrong.
On December 9 of 1915, Kesagake showed up again. He entered the house of the Ota family, where the farmer’s wife was alone with a baby she was caring for. The bear attacked the baby, killing him, then went for the woman. She tried to defend herself by throwing firewood at the beast, but was eventually dragged to the forest by the bear. When people arrived to the, now empty, house, they found the floor and walls covered on blood. Thirty men went to the forest, determined to kill the bear and recover the unfortunate woman’s remains. They found Kesagake and shot him again, but failed to kill him. The animal fled and they found the woman’s partially eaten body buried under the snow, where the bear had stored it for later consumption.
The bear later returned to the Ota family’s farm, and armed guards were sent after him. But this left another village house unprotected, and Kesagake took advantage of this, attacking the Miyoke family’s home and mauling everyone inside. Although some of the people managed to escape, two children were killed and so was a pregnant woman, who, according to surviving witnesses, begged for her unborn baby’s life as the huge bear advanced. Of course, it was all in vain; Kesagake killed her, too. When the guards realized their mistake and returned to the Miyoke house, they found the bodies of the two children, the woman and her unborn fetus all laying in the blood covered floor. In only two days, Kesagake had killed six people. The villagers were terrified and most of the guards abandoned their posts out of fear.
A famed bear hunter was informed of the incidents, and he identified the bear as being Kesagake and informed that the bear had actually killed before the Sankebetsu attacks. At first he refused to participate in the hunt but eventually he joined the group and on December 14, he was the one to finally kill Kesagake. The bear was almost three meters tall and weighed 380 kgs. Human remains were found in his stomach. The horrible incidents didn’t end there; some of the people who had survived the attacks died of their wounds. One of the survivors drowned in a river. The region was soon abandoned by villagers and became a ghost town. Even today, the Sankebetsu incident remains the worst animal attack in the history of Japan, and one of the most brutal of recorded history.
These shark attacks took place in 1916, in a time where little was known about sharks of any kind, and some scientists even claimed that sharks were not dangerous at all. This is one of the very few cases of real “man eating sharks” known, with most shark attacks being isolated incidents. It all happened along the coast of New Jersey; the first victim was a young man named Charles Vansant who was attacked in very shallow water while swimming with a dog; several people, including his family, witnessed the attack, and a lifeguard rushed to rescue the young man. The shark was extremely tenacious and seemingly followed the lifeguard to the shore, disappearing shortly after. The shark’s teeth had severed Vansant’s femoral arteries and one of his legs had been stripped off its flesh; he bled to death before he could be taken to a hospital. Five days later, another man, Charles Bruder, was attacked by the same shark while swimming away from the shore. At first it was reported by a witness that a red canoe had capsized; in reality, the “red canoe” was a giant stain of Bruder’s blood. The shark had bitten off his legs. He was dragged back to the shore, where the sight of his mangled body seemingly “caused women to faint”, but it was too late; he was dead by the time he got to the beach.
Although sharks had been seen in the area during those few days, scientists who were informed of the attacks claimed that sharks were unlikely to be responsible, and said that the culprit had probably been a killer whale or a sea turtle! The next attacks took place not in the sea, but in a creek near the town of Matawan. Again, people reported seeing a shark in the creek, but they were ignored until, on July 12, an eleven year old boy was attacked while swimming and dragged underwater. Several townspeople rushed to the creek, and a man named Stanley Fisher dove into the water to find the boy’s remains, but he too was attacked by the shark and died of his wounds. The final victim was another young boy barely 30 minutes after the attack on Stanley Fisher. Although he was severely injured, he was the only victim to survive.
On July 14, a young female Great White Shark was captured in the Raritan Bay near the Matawan Creek. It is said that human remains were found in her stomach. But, although this shark was usually thought to be the man eater, not everyone is convinced. Today, scientists believe that, although the female Great White shark may have been responsible for the first two attacks, the Matawan creek attacks were probably the work of a Bull Shark. Unlike the Great White Shark, the Bull Shark can survive in fresh water, and is an extremely aggressive species, considered by some as even more dangerous than the Great White. Even so, this was the beginning of the Great White Shark’s terrible reputation as a man eater. Once confirmed that the Jersey attacks had been the work of a shark, there was media frenzy and a shark panic “unrivaled in American history”. The incidents inspired Peter Benchley’s most famous novel, Jaws, which would later be adapted into a movie by Steven Spielberg. Even today, lots of people who saw the movie are terrified of going into the water, and it all started in 1916.
I have already mentioned Sloth Bears in a previous list; however, although these animals maul many humans in India every year (one per week according to some), they rarely eat their victims. In fact, they rarely eat meat at all, and prefer to feed on termites and fruits, and are particularly fond of honey. However, there was a Sloth Bear that became infamous for being a man-killer.
There are some very strange legends about the origins of the Mysore Killer Bear; some say that the bear was a male and that he had originally abducted a girl as his mate. The girl was rescued by villagers and the bear went into a killing spree as revenge.
Another, more believable version says the bear was a female whose cubs had been killed by humans, and that she became a man-killer to avenge them. However, most experts today believe that the bear was probably injured by humans, and became abnormally aggressive as a result. The bear attacked three dozen people in the Indian state of Mysore. In typical Sloth Bear fashion, it would rip the victim’s face off with its claws and teeth, and those who survived were often left completely disfigured. 12 of the victims died, and three of them were devoured, something extremely unusual. The bear was eventually killed by Kenneth Anderson, a famed big game hunter, although the beast was very evasive and three hunts had to be arranged before the animal was finally brought down.
One of the most infamous man-eaters, as well as the most mysterious of all. This beast (some claim there were actually two of them) terrorized the French province of Gevauden from 1764 to 1767. Although often claimed to have been an unusually large wolf, the truth is the Beast was never really identified. It was said to be larger than a wolf, with a reddish coloration and an unbearable smell, as well as teeth bigger than those of a normal wolf. The creature killed its first victim (a young girl) in June of 1764. This was the first of a series of very unusual attacks, where the beast would target humans, specifically, ignoring cattle and domestic animals. 210 humans were attacked; 113 victims died, and 98 were devoured. The attacks were so frequent and brutal that many believed the creature to be a demonic being sent by God as punishment; others thought it was a loup-garou, a werewolf.
Although the mainstream view is that the “Beast” was probably just a large wolf (or a couple of wolves, since some reports mention two beasts instead of one), the fact remains that the description of the creature doesn’t seem to fit a normal European wolf, which was abundant and well known to people at the time. Some experts believe that the Beast may have been a hyena, possibly escaped from a menagerie. Although often seen as cowardly scavengers, hyenas are actually very powerful predators and they often prey on humans in Africa and some parts of Asia. (A man eating hyena terrorized Malawi quite recently, forcing hundreds of people to leave their villages). Just like the beast of Gevauden, hyenas are noted for their formidable teeth and strong odor, and they are also bigger and more powerful than average wolves.
The beast managed to evade hunters and even the army, exhibiting the man eater’s legendary cunning, but it was eventually killed in 1767 by local hunter Jean Chastel. Legend has it that Chastel used a silver bullet to kill the creature, but this is probably a myth. Upon opening the creature’s stomach, Chastel found the remains of its last human victims, confirming the animal as the dreaded man-eater.
In 1898, the British started the construction of a railway bridge over the Tsavo river in Kenya. Over the next nine months, the unfortunate railway workers became the target of two man-eating lions (now known to have been brothers). These lions were huge, measuring over three meters long, and, as is usual among lions from the Tsavo region, they were maneless. At first, the two lions snatched the men from their tents, dragging them to the bush and devouring them at night. But soon they became so fearless, that they wouldn’t even drag their victims away and would start feeding on their flesh just a few yards from the tents. Their size, ferocity and cunning were so extraordinary that many natives thought that they were not actually lions, but rather demons, or perhaps the reincarnation of ancient local kings trying to repel the British invaders (the belief of dead kings being reborn as lions was once very common in Eastern Africa). The two man-eaters were nicknamed The Ghost and The Darkness, and workers were so afraid of them that they fled by the hundreds out of Tsavo. The railway construction was halted; no one wanted to be the next victim of the “devil lions”.
Eventually, the Chief Engineer in charge of the railway project, John Henry Patterson, decided that the only solution was to kill the man eaters. He was very close to being killed by the lions but, eventually, he managed to shoot the first one in December of 1989, and two weeks later, he managed to shot the second one. By this time, the lions had killed 140 people. Patterson also found the man-eaters’ lair; a cave near the Tsavo river bank, which contained the remains of many human victims, as well as pieces of clothes and ornaments. This cave still exists today and, although many bones have been exhumed, it is said that many still remain inside. Some experts have recently claimed that the lions only ate about 35 of their human victims. But this doesn’t mean they didn’t kill many others; like other man eaters, they were often said to kill even when not hungry. Today, the Tsavo man-eaters (or rather, their stuffed pelts) can be seen in the Field Museum of Chicago, although Kenyan authorities have expressed interest in building a museum completely dedicated to them, in which case the Ghost and the Darkness could return to Tsavo once again.
The leopard is the smallest of the true “big cats”, but that doesn’t make it any less deadly than its bigger relatives. As a matter of fact, the leopard is perhaps our oldest predator; leopard bite marks have been found in the fossil bones of our hominid relatives, suggesting that the spotted cat was already dining on our ancestors over three million years ago. But although any adult leopard may see humans as suitable prey under the right circumstances, only a few of them become actual man-eaters, preferring human flesh over any other food. The deadliest man-eating leopard of all times was the Panar leopard. This male leopard lived in the Kumaon area of India during the early XX century. He was most active in the Panar province, where he killed over 400 people, being the second most prolific man eater in recorded history (after #2 in this list).
It seems that the leopard had been injured by a hunter, and rendered unable to hunt wild animals, so it turned to man-eating to survive. He was finally killed by famous hunter and conservationist, Jim Corbett, in 1910. Although the Panar leopard is the most infamous of all, there were others that were just as feared. The Kahani man-eater, for example, killed over 200 people, and the Rudraprayag man-eater, who stalked and killed pilgrims en route to a Hindu shrine, killed 125 people before he, too, was shot by Jim Corbett. Smaller, more agile and, some say, more cunning than lions or tigers, leopards were considered to be among the deadliest animals in the world by big game hunters. One of them claimed that “if the leopard was the size of a lion, it would be ten times more dangerous”.
During the late XIX century, a Nepalese region close to the Himalayas was terrorized by the most notorious and prolific man-eater of all times. Men, women and children were ambushed in the jungle by the dozens. The attacks were so frequent and so bloody that people started talking about demons, and even punishment from the gods. The responsible was a Bengal tigress who had been shot by a hunter. She had escaped, but the bullet had broken two of her fangs. In constant pain, and rendered unable to hunt her usual prey, the tigress had became adam khor, a man eater.
Soon, the victim count of the tigress reached 200. Hunters were sent to kill the beast, but she was too cunning and was seldom even seen by them. Eventually, the Nepalese government decided that the problema was big enough to send the National Army after the killer cat. Other than the case of the Gevauden beast (see #5), this was probably the only time in History when the army was deemed necessary to deal with a man eater. But they failed to capture the tigress. She was, however, forced to abandon her territory and she crossed the border to India, to the Champawat region where she continued her depredations. It is said that with every human she killed, she became bolder and more fearless, and eventually, she started attacking in broad daylight and prowling around villages. Men wouldn’t even dare leave their huts to work, for they could hear the roaring of the killer tigress in the forest, waiting for them. But most man eaters share the same fate, and eventually, one man decided to put the reign of the tigress to an end. This man was Jim Corbett, who would (ironically) become one of the first great advocates of tiger conservation.
Corbett would later tell of how he only found the tigress by following the macabre trail of blood and limbs from her latest victim; a teenaged girl. Corbett was a brave man, but even he was horrified at the gruesome sight.
Corbett shot the tigress in 1911. The local people were so relieved and grateful that they actually made Corbett a sadhu, a holy man. By that time, the tigress had killed 436 humans, and these were only the recorded victims, with probably many more who were never reported. She is still the most prolific individual man eater in History. Not only that; she killed more people than even the worst human serial killers (leaving genocide aside). Only one serial killer is said to rival the Champawat tigress; an infamous Hungarian countess named Erzebet Bathory… who was, funnily enough, known as the “Tigress of Csejte”.
All the man-eaters in this list are gone; their killing sprees are just frightening memories by now. All of them… except for one. In the African, conflict-ridden country of Burundi lives the greatest man-eater of our times, a male Nile crocodile measuring six meters long and weighing around one ton. He is the largest Nile crocodile alive, as well as the largest individual predator in the entire African continent, and according to the natives and to Patrice Faye (a French naturalist who has spent years trying to capture the man-eater), he has killed over 300 people by now! Although still alive and active, the crocodile (nicknamed “Gustave” by Faye) has already become a legend. (There’s even a movie loosely based on his story, although it is quite bad).
Natives say he kills for fun, not just for food; that he kills several people in every attack, and then disappears for months, or even years, only to reappear later in another, different location to kill again. No one can predict when or where he will appear next. He is also said to have a monstrous appetite, and rumor has it that he killed and devoured an adult male hippopotamus (an extremely dangerous and powerful animal that most crocodiles avoid). Gustave’s body armor carries countless scars made by knives, spears and even firearms. A dark spot on the top of his head is the only remaining trace of a bullet wound that was supposed to put and end to his reign. But all hunters (and even, once, a group of armed soldiers) have failed to kill him.
Faye himself tried to capture Gustave by building a huge underwater trap, but, although the crocodile did show up, he never approached the cage. He just swam around it, “as if mocking his would-be captors”. Said to be over 60 years old, Gustave is probably too experienced and smart to be fooled, so it seems likely that he will continue with his depredations and perhaps, soon, claim the title of the most prolific man eater for himself. Things have changed a lot since the times of the Champawat tigress; Patrice Faye no longer wants to kill Gustave. He wants to protect him from human retaliation; by capturing Gustave alive and keeping him in a safe enclosure, Faye hopes to save human lives as well as the man eater himself, and perhaps use him as breeding stock to help the conservation of the Nile crocodile as well. The enclosure has already been built in the Ruzizi National Park of Burundi, waiting for the capture of the greatest man eater of our times.