Any predatory animal can easily turn into a man eater, an animal that eats human flesh, under the right circumstances. These circumstances include natural disasters, or any other time where there is an abundance of human corpses and a lack of other food sources. Even your pet cat or dog will become a man eater if starved long enough. However, a true man eater is an animal that begins to eat humans and prefer human flesh over all others without an dire circumstances or particular provocation. Though some man eaters can be defined as such if humans are encroaching on their territory. Though the event of large predators such as lions, wolves, leopards, tigers, bears, sharks and crocodiles is somewhat rare strange anomalies throughout have happened.
The Pride of Njombe
While a predator becoming a straight up man-eater for no particular reason is rare, a whole group of them is even rarer. The pride of Njombe is a group of lions that did just that. Instead of hunting their usual prey, they decided to switch to humans, making it the single worst case of lion man-eating in history. In Tanzania in 1932, near the town of Njombe for which the pride gets its name, a large pride of lions went on a merciless killing spree. Local legend says that the lions were being controlled by the local witch doctor who was upset that ousted him from his noble position.
The people begged the town elder to reinstate the witch doctor, but he refused. So thus, the lions kept attacking and resulted in the loss of between 1,500 and 2,000 human lives. Eventually, George Rushby, a hunter, came along and decided to end the attacks. He killed fifteen members of the pride leaving the rest of them scattered to find new homes. While George Rushby was convinced he beat them back, the locals believe it was because the chief of the tribe finally reinstated the witch doctor.
The Beast of Gevauden
The beast of Gevauden is actually a fairly popular werewolf legend. In 1764 through 1767, a mysterious beast terrorized Gevauden. It was described as a wolf, however it was larger, more reddish in color, with large teeth and an unbearable smell. After starting it's spree with a young girl in 1764, it attacked 210 humans in fairly rapid succession. Strangely enough, when it attacked it largely ignored the abundance of cattle of other domestic animals. Of the 210 humans it attacked, 113 died and 98 were eaten. Many started to believe this beast was sent by God to punish him or that it was a loup-garou, a werewolf. Though the beast was killed, it was never truly identified, leaving it to be one of the more popular werewolf legends around because it didn't bear much resemblance to European wolves at the time.
In truth, the beast may have in fact been a hyena that escaped from a menagerie somewhere in France or elsewhere in Europe. Though depicted as scavengers, the hyena is quite the fiercesome predator and has a reputation of becoming man-eaters in Africa. A hyena would explain the larger body and teeth and the strong odor.
In 1767 a local hunter named Jean Chastel slayed the legendary beast that had evaded dozens of other hunters and even the army. Myth says that Chastel used a silver bullet, but this is likely false. The beast was identified by cutting open its stomach and finding the remains of the last human it ate, though it was never determined what animal it actually was.
The Man-Eating Leopard of Panar
While the leopard is the smallest of the "big cats", it is the oldest man-eater of the group. Leopard bite marks on the fossils of our hominid ancestors suggest the leopard was feasting on human flesh as long as three million years ago. While not all leopards are considered man-eaters, there was one particular leopard that is known as the deadliest man-eating leopard ever. The Panar leopard was a male leopard that lived in the Kumaon area of India in the 20th century. During his spree, he slayed and ate over 400 people.
Unlike the previous man-eaters on this list, the leopard did not turn to man-eating for an unknown reason. He turned to man-eating because he had been injured by a previous hunter, leaving him unable to hunt other wildlife. So he turned to easier human prey. He was killed by Jim Corbett in 1910, but because of its extraordinary cunning and agility, the leopard is seen as one of the most dangerous prey for big game hunters.
The Tigress of Champawat
Along the border of Nepal and India in the 19th century, very close to where the leopard f Panar slaughtered victims, there was a tigress who developed a taste for human flesh. The tigress in question, like the leopard of Panar, was injured by a previous hunter. The Bengal tigress had gotten away, but the hunter had broken two of her fangs. This left her in constant pain and caused her to abandon her usual prey for human flesh.
Because of the tigers cunning, victims rarely ever saw her coming and deaths soared into the 200's. Because of this tigress' legend, people hiking through the jungle in the area wear masks on the back of their heads, as both tigers and leopard like to attack the backs of humans. The tigress even alluded the army, with every person she killed, the more fearless she became. Eventually, she began to attack during the day, roaring in the jungle waiting for workers. The workers were afraid to even leave their huts knowing she was waiting for them.
However, like the leopard of Panar, she met the same fate to the same hunter. Jim Corbett killed the mighty man-eater in 1911, after following the macabre trail of blood and limbs she left in her wake.
While all the previous man-eaters on this list are long dead, there is one that still prowls today. He is Gustave, a six feet long, one ton crocodile who roams the African waters of Burundi. As well as being one of the most vicious man-eaters still alive, he is also the largest Nile crocodile alive.
The natives in Burundi say that Gustave kills for fun, taking several lives at a time before disappearing for months or years before striking again. As the legend goes, Gustave even had enough of an appetite to defeat and devour and extremely aggressive male hippopotamus, who are often thought more dangerous than crocodiles in general. The large crocodile still roams the waters of Burundi today, bearing the scars of constant knives, spears and firearms that have failed to kill it.