When disease breaks out and the animals that are natural prey dwindle, some creatures take to human flesh. Sometimes they seemingly hunt people for fun, not just for sustenance. Either way, these man-eating creatures cause entire villages and towns to be paralyzed with fear. When people say “don't mess with Mother Nature,” these animals are a great example why.
As author Charles Guggisberg mentioned, when confronted with deadly animals that have teeth and claws and size to their advantage, an unarmed person is “one of the most helpless creatures. Man cannot run as fast as a zebra or gazelle, he has not the horns of a sable antelope or the tusks of a warthog.” In other words, people are easy pickings for wild animals.
While humans are considered the most dangerous animal on earth thanks to their advanced brains and ingenious, destructive tools, they don't usually fare well when face to face with a predatory animal. The predatory instinct, strength and speed of many wildlife species - who usually kill for food, territory, and out of fear - make them some of the most dangerous serial killers on the planet, when they want to be. These are ten serial killing animals who reminded humans just how fragile they are at the violent hands of hungry predators.
10 The Sloth Bear of Mysore - 12 Victims
The Sloth bear of Mysore was an aggressive Indian sloth who was responsible for the deaths of at least 12 people, and the mauling of two dozen others, in 1957. While most sloth bears are usually docile bug-eaters, this rogue sloth was thought by natives to be taking out its anger on humanity after her cubs were stolen.
The Mysore sloth attacked victims’ faces with its razor-sharp claws, and those who survived typically lost one or both eyes, or their noses. Those who died often had their faces completely torn off, and at least three victims were partially eaten. The sloth’s dark deeds came to the attention of hunter Kenneth Anderson, who had to go on three separate hunts that took months before he finally killed the animal by shooting it in the chest.
He described the encounter with “The Black Bear of Mysore” in his memoirs, Man-Eaters and Jungle Killers, and explained it thusly: “[Sloth] Bears, as a rule, are excitable but generally harmless creatures. This particular bear carried the mark of Cain, in that he had become the wanton and deliberate murderer of several men, whom he had done death in the most terrible fashion, without provocation.”
9 The Nigerian Killer Snake - 16 Victims
In northern Nigeria in late 1999, no less than 16 people were killed by the same snake’s poisonous bite. The victims were all attacked within 10 days in Birnin Kidu, the capital of the state of Kebbi. Snakes are generally more scared of humans than we are of them (though that can be debated), but this particular one was a certifiable human hunter.
The area where the snake attacked had a major problem with overgrown weeds, giving the killer a perfect hunting ground. A local journalist reported that, “It would appear suddenly, strike a victim before disappearing, only to reappear to bite yet another.”
Because of the attacks, government officials in Birnin Kidu launched a public campaign to take care of their overgrown weed problem, and to ration out vaccines against snake bites. Nonetheless, this killer cobra was never found, and he still might be roaming and killing today.
8 Osama bin Laden the Elephant - 27 Victims
Elephants are huge and very capable of killing if they have to. That being said, elephants are usually docile, so it becomes quite newsworthy when one goes on a killing spree. That was the case in 2004, when a single male Asian elephant rampaged the villagers of Sonitpur in India for two years straight.
At one point, the terrorizing elephant (aptly named after al-Qaeda’s leader) trampled and gored 14 people to death in one six-month period. He destroyed homes and crops, and always managed to elude hunters and search parties.
After two years of mayhem, India’s government issued a “shoot-to-kill” order for Osama - an edict that had been sitting on legislation’s lap for 730 days while the elephant continued murdering. He was finally scared by villagers’ drums and torches into the corner of a tea estate in December of 2006, where professional hunter Dwipen Phukan had laid a trap.
Once cornered, the elephant charged furiously. As Phukan told BBC News, “It was charging towards me and I kept firing. Another few yards and it would have run over me.” A similar rogue elephant killed 12 people in a single day in 1992 in the same district of Sonitpur.
7 The Beast of Gévaudan - 113 Victims
One of the most infamous and mysterious man-eaters was the “Beast of Gévaudan,” an unidentified creature that terrorized the French province of Gévaudan from 1764 to 1767. Although he is considered to have been an unusually large wolf or wolf-dog hybrid, no one really knows what he was. It was said to have been larger than a wolf, with reddish fur and huge teeth. Some locals feared it was a lupe-garou (werewolf) or a demon sent by the Devil.
The attacks covered an area of 56 by 50 miles, making him almost impossible to catch. His first victim was a young girl in June of 1764. The beast was also unusual in that it would target women and children, but ignore cattle and domestic animals. Those who survived left varying accounts of what the beast looked like.
The beast came to the attention of Louis XV, who sent professional wolf-hunters on hunts specifically targeting the beast. Despite a few hunters claiming they’d killed the beast, attacks continued. The killing of the creature that eventually marked the end of the attacks is credited to local hunter Jean Chastel. In all, there were estimated to have been 210 attacks, resulting in 113 deaths and 49 injuries - and 98 of the killed victims were partly eaten.
6 The Ghost and The Darkness, the Tsavo Man-Eaters - 135 Victims
The Tsavo Man-Eaters were a notorious pair of maneless Tsavo lions who were brothers. They were responsible for between 35 and 135 deaths of construction workers on the Kenya-Uganda Railway, from March through December 1898. They terrorized and devoured along Kenya’s Tsavo River, and along the 1,000 mile stretch of track that cut across British East Africa.
The lions were not simply protecting themselves. They were outright hunting humans, mostly during the night, where they’d stalk into camps and tents and drag workers out to a screaming, terrifying death. This theory was confirmed when their supposed cave was later found, and it was strewn with the remains, many un-eaten, of the lions’ victims.
Crews tried to scare off the lions by building campfires and thorn fences, but to no avail. Construction on the bridge was halted as the workers fled in terror. Lt. Col. Henry Patterson was eventually tasked with killing the beasts. He set traps and tried to ambush the lions from a tree at night several times, but they eluded him.
Finally, on December 9, 1898, Patterson shot the first lion. It was always assumed that once one of the brothers were killed, the other would soon follow as they were dependent upon each other. Sure enough, twenty days later, Patterson found and shot the second lion. It took nine bullets to kill the second lion, and eight men to carry the carcass to camp. Patterson claimed it died gnawing on a fallen tree branch, still trying to reach him.
Patterson used the lions’ skins as floor rugs for 25 years, before finally selling the skins to the Chicago Field Museum in 1924. The lions were reconstructed and are now on permanent display, along with the original skulls. Patterson’s accounts were published in his 1907 book, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo.
5 The Devilish Cunning Panther - 150 Victims
The Leopard of the Central Provinces, also known as the Devilish Cunning Panther, was a man-eating male Indian leopard which, over the course of a few years in British India in the early 20th century, killed over 150 people. All of the victims were women and children, and the leopard claimed a victim once every two to three days, each time in a different area, oftentimes 20 to 30 miles apart from the last attack. The panther caused such a panic that local natives rarely left their homes alone, or at all.
The leopard would often break into people’s huts and homes, kill the residents, and then leave the corpses, showing that he was not killing out of necessity, but for the thrill. An unnamed British hunter was sent in to kill the leopard. He searched for three weeks without success, and the body count climbed.
Finally, the hunter laid out a victim’s body to try and fool the leopard. The leopard arrived at night, when it couldn’t be shot at accurately, and feasted on the body. Soon after, the hunter was asleep at night when he heard the sound of a leopard stalking him from outside his tent, clawing at the fabric. The hunter had literally become the hunted.
The hunter failed, and the infamous Devilish Cunning Panther ended up getting shot by a local goat herder who didn’t realize what it was. There were no sign of past injuries that prevented the panther from hunting, which left the chilling realization that the leopard had probably been fed human flesh as a cub by its mother, likely a man-eater herself.
4 Gustave the Crocodile - 300 Victims
For all the man-eaters on this list who are gone and dead, this gigantic Nile crocodile is still lurking around. Gustave is the largest Nile crocodile ever recorded. He weighs a ton and is estimated to be between 18 and 25 feet long. He is a legend in the African country of Burundi. French naturalist Patrice Faye has been trying to capture the elusive croc for years, but Gustave always strikes in different places, and no one can predict where he’ll be next.
The Nile giant has killed over 300 people, and not just for food. He’ll often strike entire boats full of people, killing multiple victims, and then he’ll leave the bodies floating in the water. Experts say that Gustave has been alive for over 60 years, and has lived through civil wars and even a genocide in the Burundi region.
He has his own battle wounds as well, including scars from knives, spears, and even a missing eye from a bullet wound that was supposed to put an end to his bloodthirsty reign. He is too experienced and wise to be caught, often avoiding underwater traps as if mocking those who try to catch him. Legend has it that he has even devoured a whole hippopotamus, a giant animal that most crocodiles try to avoid, but Gustave just sees it as a challenge. He was last spotted in 2008 by a National Geographic photographer.
3 The Leopard of Panar - 400 Victims
The Leopard of Panar was a legendary big cat in the early 20th century, who claimed more human victims than any other leopard. He was a male leopard who was responsible for at least 400 victims in the Panar region of the Almora district in Northern India. Legendary hunter Jim Corbett heard of the big cat in 1907, and set out to kill him in 1910.
In his memoirs, Corbett notes that leopards are driven to man-eating by acquiring a taste for human flesh from scavenging corpses thrown into the jungle, usually during an epidemic. The Panar leopard followed on the heels of a severe outbreak of cholera in India, and when the disease died down, he naturally took to finding humans in their own homes.
He received less attention from the British Indian press than the Leopard of the Central Provinces or the Rudraprayag man-eater because of the remoteness of Almora, but despite that, he was one of the most feared big cats in India at the time. Corbett eventually managed to hunt him down and kill him.
2 The Champawat Tiger - 430 Victims
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this female Bengal tiger was the most dreaded man-eater around. As many of the other deadly man-eaters on this list, the Champawat tigress attacked people in Nepal and the Kumaon area of India. At an estimated 430 victims, this deadly beast has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the highest number of fatalities from a tiger.
As people walked through the jungle close to the Himalayas, the tiger would ambush full groups. She managed to evade hunters, and eventually the Napalese Army was called in. They weren’t able to kill or capture her, but they did manage to force her away from her territory, driving her across the border, into India.
In the Kumoan District, she grew bolder, attacking people in broad daylight, and stalking around villages. The region grew paralyzed with fear, and in 1907 the British hunter Jim Corbett was called in. The tiger had killed a 16-year-old girl in the town of Champawat, leaving a trail of blood and limbs. Corbett followed the trail and shot the tiger dead the next day. The dramatic feat was confirmed by about 300 villagers, and a cement board was erected to mark the place where the tigress was brought down.
1 The Man-Eaters of Njombe - 1,500 Victims
The worst case of man-eating animals likely comes from this pride of lions. There were about 15 lions in the pride, who hunted people in Tanzania near the town of Njombe, between 1932 and 1947. Legend has it that the large pride was being controlled by a witch doctor named Matamula Mangera, who sent them on their bloodthirsty killing spree. The locals say that Mangera sent them on a rampage as revenge against his own people after being deposed of his post in the village.
The tribesmen were so scared of the lions that they wouldn’t even mention them, for fear that speaking of the pride would cause them to appear. The lions kept attacking, even after the tribesmen begged the tribe chief to restore the witch doctor to his post. Eventually, famed British hunter George Rushby decided to put an end to the attacks.
Prior to the pride’s killing spree, the colonial government had reduced the number of prey animals in the area in an effort to control a rinderpest outbreak that was destroying cattle herds. The lions quickly settled on human flesh as a substitute. Rushby arrived in Njombe in 1947, 15 years after the attacks had begun. By then, they’d killed between 1,500 and 2,000 people.
Unlike most lions, Rushby remarked that the pride did their killing in the afternoon, and used the night to travel as far as 15 to 20 miles to unsuspecting villages. He believed they used a relay system to drag bodies into the safety of the bushes. He eventually hunted them down and managed to kill 15 of the lions, and the rest of the pride dispersed shortly after.