Gustave, the Demonic, Bullet-proof Crocodile


I’ve already covered crocodiles and their success as apex predators, but now I’d like to introduce you to someone. Gustave is a prime example of his species: a man-eating Nile crocodile who is near impossible to kill. Gustave hatched around 1955 in the African country of Burundi, making him roughly 67 years old. This massive beast has reached mythical status, having allegedly killed nearly 300 people and survived many attempts on his life. 


Gustave has never been captured, but he’s estimated to be around 18 feet long from head to tail, weighing over 2,000 pounds. Scientists and herpetologists who have studied him put him at about 60 years due to his teeth, which indicate he is not finished growing. Aside from his unnatural size, Gustave has several distinctive markings: three bullet scars on his body and a deep wound on his right shoulder. 

Gustave’s Hunting

Gustave’s unusual eating habits came about because of his extreme size. While crocodiles usually hunt antelopes, zebras, and fish, these prey are too agile for Gustave. So to fill his stomach, he is forced to hunt larger animals like hippos, wildebeest, and sometimes even humans. Crocodiles’ metabolisms allow them to go months without eating, so Gustave only has to feed every so often. A disturbing habit of his seems to be killing people and leaving their corpses, uneaten. The fact that he is killing prey without eating it has some nasty implications. 

Hunting Gustave

With the crocodile posing such a dangerous threat to locals, there have been many attempts to relocate or destroy him. Herpetologist Patrice Faye had documented him since the 1990s and made a 2004 documentary, Capturing the Killer Croc. In it, a nine-meter-long cage was lowered into the river and outfitted with bait and an infra-red camera. Only a few smaller crocodiles were caught, not Gustave. 

Before the research team had to leave, they made one last attempt: putting a live goat in the cage. One night a storm hit, the camera failed, and when they arrived at the scene the goat was gone. It could have escaped due to rising water or a fault in the cage, but without the camera footage, no one knows for sure. 

It’s clear that Gustave would not go down without a fight. He has been shot at multiple times; not just with shotguns but machine guns as well. They haven’t done a thing to deter him. 

Myth or Legend?

It’s likely that some reports of Gustave have been exaggerated. Like the mythical Beast of Gevaudan, it’s possible that it was multiple animals killing these people. There are rumours of him having burning red eyes, or people throwing hand grenades to scare him (because even those wouldn’t kill him). It’s difficult to tell how many victims have fallen to this massive crocodile, but he does exist. Or at least, he did at one point. 

There were reports in 2019 that he had been killed, but there was no evidence to support these claims. Nothing has been said since then, but it’s entirely possible that this monstrous modern dinosaur is still out there, just below the surface of a Burundi river. 

Creature Feature: Manatees, The Ocean’s Pacifists


I firmly believe that if we replaced all hippos with manatees, the world would be a better place (I’m joking; hippopotamus dung is great for the environment but their attitude is not). Manatees are the most peaceful, serene animals in existence and it’s beautiful how simple they are. They’re such pacifists that they don’t even have any natural predators (aside from desperate crocodiles eating young calves), and their natural curiosity makes them friendly to other species! 

Manatee Biology

Evolutionarily, manatees are most closely related to elephants and surprisingly, hyraxes, which are a species of tiny furred mammals. 

A manatee’s diet consists of seagrass and other aquatic vegetation, which has informed how they’ve adapted over time. Because of their lack of natural threats and their highly specific diet, they only have about 6 teeth in each jaw. They lack incisors and canines, instead having 12 molar-like teeth towards the backs of their mouths. Their thick upper lip is prehensile, allowing them to grasp at grass, but preventing them from biting another creature. Their lack of sharp teeth, claws, or hooves means that they couldn’t hurt anyone if they tried. 

Manatee Behaviour

Manatees are typically solitary, spending half of their time in the water. They swim in the shallows at about 8km an hour, eating 10% of their body weight in aquatic plants. Using their front flippers to “walk” along the river floor, they push their food into their mouth. This food occasionally includes fish, but typically only when the manatee is lacking nutrients. 

As I mentioned before, manatees are extremely docile and peaceful creatures. They are also highly curious and have often come close to humans and human-built structures. Manatees share their homes with alligators, and with their inability to fight back, you might think they’d be easy prey. But alligators will more often leave them alone than attack. There are a few reasons for this: a manatee’s hide is too thick to bite through, and the alligator’s usual hunting method – drowning their prey – doesn’t work on an animal that can hold its breath for 20 minutes. So the manatee is free to go along its merry way. 


While they don’t have any natural predators, humans have accounted for a large number of manatee deaths. Manatees, with their curious nature, aren’t aware of man-made danger and will get too close to speedboats and aquatic vehicles. They are frequently injured and killed by propellers, as well as collisions with ships. Manatees are susceptible to any change in their habitat, diet, or health, making their stability as a species very shaky. There are many manatee conservation efforts, like the Save the Manatee Club, which raises money to protect these threatened species.


As I covered in an earlier post, sailors like Christopher Columbus mistook manatees for mermaids. Manatees are also important in West African folklore: they were believed to have once been human, and it is taboo to kill them.

I also just drew this cute little manatee for my RedBubble shop, which you can buy on a shirt, a mug, a sticker, or more!

Creature Feature: Hungry Hippos


Hippos are one of the few animals that genuinely freak me out. Hyenas? Love ‘em. Vultures? They’re my favourite bird! But the thought of meeting a hippo in the wild absolutely terrifies me. 

Hippopotamuses – meaning “rive horses” in Greek – should be just as cute and cuddly as manatees. They’re big lazy herbivores who float around in shallow water, and their cartoon depictions are simply adorable. They seem like gentle giants (being the largest mammal after elephants and rhinos), but they are anything but. 

Hippo Evolution

Despite looking similar to pigs and elephants, hippos are closer to cetaceans like dolphins and whales. If you look at a whale’s skeleton, you can see that the bones that make up the fins look like hands. Hippos and cetaceans evolved from a common ancestor, and though hippos adapted to walk on land, they still prefer water. 

Many hippopotamus species existed in the past, but the only ones that have survived are the modern hippo in sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt, and the pygmy hippo in West Africa. Among the modern hippos are subspecies with varying face shapes.


Like I mentioned, hippos are the third largest land animal. Weighing between 1365kg and 1480kg, the herbivorous animal must consume around 40kgs of grass a day. While their diet mainly consists of grass and some aquatic vegetation, they’ve also been reported to eat meat. Their stomachs are not suited to meat, but like most herbivores, they’ll resort to carrion if their diet is lacking in certain nutrients.

Though they look like they would be slow to move, they can run up to 30km per hour. Their large canine teeth are used only for combat; their molars do all of the work when they eat. 

Hippos have think skin, but very little hair. For an animal that lives in such hot climates, this could lead to a lot of skin issues. To combat this, their skin actually secretes a reddish-brown liquid known as blood-sweat. It’s not sweat or blood, but it acts like sunscreen to protect their skin from damage. 

Despite spending most of their time in the water, they’re not particularly good swimmers. They walk along the bottom of lakes and swamps, pushing up from the bottom to resurface every 3-5 minutes. 


If you weren’t already in the know, hippos kill more people than lions. They’re incredibly territorial in water, and generally extremely aggressive. They have overturned canoes full of people and brutally killed and injured them. Though they are herbivores, their jaw has a huge amount of force behind it and can leave massive wounds. They’ll even square up against crocodiles, no matter the size. 

In a rare, non-violent situation, hippos share a mutualistic relationship with some species of fish. The hippo visits a “cleaning station” and opens its mouth up wide underwater, letting the fish swim around and clean bacteria off of the teeth. 

If it weren’t for their aggression, hippos could be somewhat pleasant. But the reason I’m terrified of them is their over-the-top reaction to anything that moves. If you’re in the water with one, it’s already too late for you. You have no hope of outrunning one on land, either. Even crocodiles are scared of them.

Creature Feature: The Prehistoric Crocodile


This post comes at the request of my mum, who said “write about crocodiles and maybe I’ll like them!” And with the crocodile being one of Earth’s oldest creatures, I was more than happy to oblige. 

I’m Australian, which means I grew up watching Steve Irwin and worrying I’d see a crocodile in any body of water. I’ve never run into one in the wild before, but I have seen a few in zoos and held a baby one as a kid! 

Avoiding Extinction 

These massive reptiles have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, and haven’t evolved much since. In the Jurassic period, they came in a variety of species including those that ate plants, ran, and lived solely in water. The crocodile might seem like a simple creature, but it has a flexible lifestyle that has allowed it to outlive its prehistoric relatives like pterosaurs and other winged reptiles.

The crocodiles that survived the catastrophic meteor and survived into the modern age were very versatile. Their ability to thrive in and out of water meant that survival was easier for them than most. But the biggest factor in their longevity was the fact that they have a cerebral cortex, something only mammals and a few select reptiles possess. The cerebral cortex is vital for memory, perception, and recognising patterns. This means that crocodiles are a lot more intelligent than we give them credit for. Afterall, it’s not easy to be an apex predator.

Crocodile Biology

Crocodiles rose through the food chain by having advanced senses compared to their competition. Their eyes, ears, and nostrils are at the top of the head, so they can float near the surface of the water and scope out prey while still remaining hidden. As nocturnal hunters, they have great night vision and their sense of smell and hearing are excellent. 

A crocodile’s jaws are lined with tiny black sensors, which can detect the slightest disturbance in the water. This gives them a very good advantage when hunting.

Their bite is their most impressive feature. The crocodile has a bite force stronger than any other recorded animal, using a muscle that is almost as hard as bone. While they have incredible force them biting down, the muscle to open the jaw is surprisingly weak. Vets and other animal workers use simple tape to subdue them. Even a crab can hold a crocodile’s jaw shut! I found that fact so fun that I drew a picture of it, which you can buy on RedBubble!


Crocodile teeth are not equipped for tearing off chunks of flesh, like other predators. Instead, they use their bite force to clamp onto prey, keeping them from escaping, then engaging in the “death roll”. The death roll is basically the crocodile’s signature move, where it spins around so violently underwater that the prey becomes disoriented. This can cause the prey to drown, or snap their neck from the motion. They also use this death roll to assert dominance over other crocodiles. 


Crocodiles are actually the most social of reptiles. They don’t form groups necessarily, but they aren’t overly territorial and will put up with each other quite peacefully. Crocodiles are also the most vocal reptiles! Babies make an adorable peeping sound, and adults make a variety of noises including bellows, hisses, and screeches. 

Baby crocs break through their eggs with a “milk tooth” made from their skin. Then, their mother piles them into her mouth to safely deliver them to the water, as hatchlings are easy prey for birds. A crocodile mother is very protective of her young, and will guard them for months. 


Before this post gets too long, I wanted to add a few things to wrap this up!

It’s hard to know how long crocodiles live, but scientists use growth rings in their teeth to predict that they can live around 60-70 years. 

Crocodile meat is eaten in Australia. It’s not very common in most states and I’ve only tried it once on a school camp. But crocodile farms are big in the warmer parts of the country! 

Crocodiles appear in many mythologies, but my favourite is the Egyptian goddess Ammut. She is a funerary deity with the head of a crocodile, the forelegs of a lion, and the back legs of a hippo. In the Ancient Egyptian afterlife, your heart was weighed against a feather on a scale. If the heart was impure and outweighed the feather, Ammut would eat it and doom the soul to wander eternally. Ammut embodied everything the Ancient Egyptians feared, being a combination of their three deadliest animals. 

I’m sure I’ll talk about hippos soon, but you should know they’re so dangerous that crocodiles will let the babies lick salt off of them, because they know an angry mumma hippo is watching. Crocodiles may be apex predators, but even they know not to mess with a hippopotamus.

Creature Feature: The Slimy Salamander


The salamander is not a singular species, but a family of amphibians (animals that can live on land and water). This family includes true salamanders, newts, and some fun names like hellbenders and mud puppies. They all have tails, stumpy bodies, and generally slimy skin. Some of them are plain, some are brightly coloured, but all of them are wonderfully bizarre creatures. 


Unlike lizards, the salamander actually has a larval stage not unlike fish and bugs. These larval forms have gills and teeth, but no eyelids. Some species of salamander keep these traits throughout their lives, like mudpuppies and axolotls. They come in many different sizes, with the smallest being 6 inches long, and the Japanese giant salamander is the largest at 6 feet from head to tail. 

Some salamanders use their skin as camouflage to hide from predators, while others boast impressively bright colours as a warning to other animals. These vibrant hues in nature are often bluffs to seem like a creature is poisonous, but for some salamanders, it’s not a lie. These species have special glands that emit toxic fluid. Salamanders can also regrow their tail if they lose it.

In fact, scientists are studying limb regeneration in salamanders to learn how we can apply it to humans! Axolotls have been genetically engineered so that their cells are fluorescent and cell division can be tracked. 


The salamander lives on a carnivorous diet of insects, worms, snails, small lizards, and even other salamanders. They need to absorb water through their skin, so they make their homes close to water and in humid areas. To preserve body heat, they hibernate when the temperature goes below freezing. Because they are cold-blooded, it takes them a lot of energy to stay warm during the winter. Hibernation saves them from having to burn this energy and lets them rest instead. Most of them are nocturnal, hunting by night and hiding during the day. 

While a few select species give birth to live young, nearly every salamander lays eggs. Baby salamanaders are similar to tadpoles: they are born without legs in clear, jelly-like eggs and released into the water. 

Salamanders have quite a long lifespan for amphibians. Depending on their size, they can live to 55 years


The salamander appears frequently in different mythologies. If you’re like me, you might associate salamanders with fire. Many stories sprang from the tendency of salamanders to hide in rotting logs. When people used these logs for firewood, the salamander would scurry out, making it look like they were created from the fire. 

Pliny the Elder, my favourite natural philosopher, wrote that “A salamander is so cold that it puts out fire on contact. It vomits from its mouth a milky liquid; if this liquid touches any part of the human body it causes all the hair to fall off, and the skin to change color and break out in a rash.” They were thought to be so toxic that it could poison a fruit to such a degree that if that fruit fell into a well, it would kill anyone who drank from it. 

There are so many distinct salamander species that I’d love to get into someday, but hopefully this was a good general overview! They’re such interesting creatures, and I’ll admit I only knew the tiniest amount before writing this post. Leave a comment on what animal you’d like me to write about next!

Also, I have a RedBubble store now! You can buy prints of my illustrations, like this salamander, for mugs, shirts, pins and more!

Animals Mistaken For Mythical Creatures


Monsters and mythical creatures have always captured the human imagination. They are humanity’s answer to things we can’t explain, and proof that storytelling is our oldest art form. Before we had access to a great wealth of information about the world, there were a lot of things we had no name for. Palaeontology, the study of fossils, is a relatively new science and for a long time, so if someone dug up a bone and didn’t know what it belonged to, their imagination would run wild. 

We have many of our popular monsters due to one thing being mistaken for another. Pre-history, it was rare to know what a human skeleton looked like, let alone the skeleton of an animal you had never seen before. 

You’ve surely heard of most of these mythical creatures, but you might not know how they came to be. 


Common depictions of unicorns come from medieval Europe, but they’ve been around for a long time. These horned horses became a symbol of Christianity, representing purity and dedication. They’re the epitome of virtuousness and are said to be so rare that if one approaches you, it’s considered a blessing. In the Middle Ages, unicorn horns were highly sought after and they were believed to have healing properties. These horns were sometimes crushed up into a powder as medicine. 

But where were these horns coming from? 

Rhinos were the most likely inspiration for these magical creatures. Through word-of-mouth stories and illustrations based on vague descriptions, it’s easy to see how a quadrupedal beast with a horn on its head could become a unicorn. So that explains the creature, but not the physical horns that were found. 

These horns actually came from narwhals, large whales with an eight-foot-long canine tooth protruding from their head. The spiral shape and ivory colour are strikingly similar to unicorn illustrations. 


Cyclopes – yes, I’m a pedant, so I’m using the early plural – were a race of one-eyed giants in Greek mythology. The original cyclopes were the sons of Gaia (Earth) and Ouranos (Sky), and forged powerful weapons for the gods. Later, in Homer’s Odyssey, the cyclops Polyphemus is a brutal shepherd who eats several of Odysseus’s men. 

Giants exist in some form in nearly every culture. The concept of “human but big” plays on primal fears. So where does the single-eyed mythical creature factor into the equation? Some believe that the ancient Greeks found the skull of an extinct species of elephant, and mistook it for a cyclops’ skull. This would be an easy enough mistake to make; these skulls had a large single hole for the elephant’s trunk. 


Human-like creatures with aquatic tails are a cornerstone of many mythologies, including Greek, Roman, and African. Due to their huge cultural significance worldwide, there’s no single definition of a mermaid. Sometimes they’re benevolent fey creatures who save people from drowning; other times, they’re vicious beings who purposely drown sailors for their own enjoyment. Traditionally they’re depicted as human from the waist up, and fish from the waist down. But modern interpretations make them more fish-like all over, giving them scaly green skin or serrated teeth like a shark’s. I love both versions, but I’m really fond of monstrous mermaids. You can get really creative with how they look!

So these mythical creatures have existed since ancient times, but there have been reported sightings of them well into the modern age. How is this explained? 

Manatees. These aquatic mammals feed on sea grass and kelp. They’re famously mild-mannered and unafraid of humans. Many sailors during America’s colonisation, including Christopher Colombus, claimed to see mermaids on their travels. From a distance, and possibly with heat-induced madness, it would be easy enough to mistake a manatee for a mermaid. 


Popularised through Ancient Greek mythology, these mythical creatures were brilliant red-and-yellow birds whose eggs could only hatch by being consumed by flame. The Greek version of these birds resembled peacocks in illustrations, but the phoenix was actually borrowed from a different Ancient Egyptian creature; the bennu. Bennus were associated with Ra, the Sun God, which is where they get their bright colours. But these illustrations don’t look like peacocks; their tails are less ornamental, and they’re a dark pink colour. Was the bennu purely imaginary, or did it have roots elsewhere?

Many believe the bennu was inspired by flamingos. They match the colour description, and they live in tropical areas. As I mentioned in my flamingo post, they make their nests in incredibly hostile environments, including salty water capable of stripping your skin. Seeing these majestic birds rising out of the salt pans during a heatwave would have certainly been inspiring.

Top 3 Symbiotic Relationships in Nature


“Survival of the fittest” is an oft-quoted, oft-misunderstood saying that implies it’s every animal for themselves in the wild. But the truth is, many animals of different species co-exist peacefully, even having mutually beneficial relationships. When two different kinds of animals work together in symbiotic relationships, it’s known as mutualism. Unlike parasites, both parties get something out of this arrangement. There are so many incredible examples it was hard to narrow it down to just three, but here goes!  

Oxpecker Birds 

These African birds form symbiotic relationships with a number of large mammals. You might have seen, in any number of cartoons, a small bird perched on top of a rhino. That’s an oxpecker, and they also make friends with zebras, wildebeest, antelope and more! The birds, as their name suggests, peck ticks and other parasites off of their host. It keeps the larger animal clean and healthy, and provides the oxpecker with an easy meal. These relationships go beyond free food; the oxpecker will raise the alarm when danger is approaching, which is especially helpful for rhinos with terrible eyesight. 

Clownfish and Anemones 

Many of you will recognise this from Finding Nemo. Clownfish shelter within  anemones, a tentacled sea creature whose stinging neurotoxins the clownfish are immune to. The anemone uses these tentacles to catch and eat small invertebrate, but the brightly-coloured clownfish attracts bigger prey for the anemone to devour. Not only that, but clownfish also help out their tendriled friends by eating up parasites and scaring away potential threats. It’s still unknown why the fish aren’t affected by the anemone’s neurotoxins; it could be due to a layer of mucus on the fish’s body. Either way, these are a great example of symbiotic relationships. 

Ravens and Wolves

This is my favourite! Sometimes an unkindness of ravens and a pack of wolves will form symbiotic relationships in the wild that go beyond a mere transactional exchange. Ravens are incredibly intelligent and tactical, and have a great vantage point when it comes to seeking prey. But they’re not as equipped to open up a carcass as wolves are, so they invite them to the hunt. Ravens are often at the sight of a wolf’s kill, and sometimes make off with the majority of the food. It really seems like ravens form a close bond with certain wolves, seeing them more as team members than a free meal ticket. Ravens will play with wolf cubs, engaging in games of tug-of-war and teasing them by holding sticks in the air for them to jump for. Ravens have even been known to tug on a grown wolf’s tail, purely just to cause mischief. Usually, the wolves don’t mind too much. 

There are plenty more examples of this kind of relationship: aphids and ants, bats and pitcher plants, sharks and tiny fish. Nature is full of different species working together to survive, and it really shows just how diverse the ecosystem is. 

Creature Feature: Spotted Hyenas


I know what the common perception of hyenas is: cruel, cowardly scavengers who leech off of other predators’ hunts. When we think of these animals, we most often think of the trio from The Lion King

Disney actually got in a bit of trouble over its depiction of spotted hyenas. The animators went to the University of California to sketch captive subjects and promised the researchers that they would portray the animals in a positive light. One of the researchers, jokingly, called on people to “boycott The Lion King” to help preserve wild hyenas and that the film “set back hyena conservation efforts” with its depiction of them as craven, simple-minded comic relief. However, the researchers did admit that the film drew more attention to hyenas. 

Hyenas vs. Lions

But if people hate hyenas for stealing from other animals or killing young and weak prey, then they should also hate lions for the same reasons. I love lions, but they certainly do not have the moral high ground over hyenas. 

Spotted hyenas, which live in Africa, are pack hunters. They operate in a very strict hierarchy, with a matriarch at the top. While their close relatives, the striped hyena, are primarily scavengers, these hyenas kill up to 95% of their own prey (meanwhile a large part of a lion’s diet is made of carrion stolen from a hyena). It’s not the case of lions being at the top of the food chain while the hyena struggles to best them; both animals are essentially on equal footing with how much they hunt, and how often they fight each other. 

Hyena Hierarchy

Hyena “clans” can number in the eighties, and their clan structure and social dynamics are much more complicated than most carnivores. Every hyena has a rank, starting with the matriarch. Typically adult males are at the bottom, unless he’s the son of the matriarch (yes – hyenas have nepotism). While the males don’t have much to do with raising cubs, they recognise and play with their daughters, who show less aggression to their fathers than other males. A hyena hierarchy is determined not by strength, but by social networks. Their ranks often depend on their relationship to the matriarch, and hyenas will fall into groups that work cooperatively in the clan. 

Hyena Biology

Hyenas might seem like a type of wild dog, but they’re actually more closely related to cats. They belong to a suborder of mammals called feliform, which include mongooses, meerkats and other cat-like carnivores. They do have similarities to canines, and that’s to do with something called convergent evolution. Convergent evolution is when very different species develop similar traits to fill an ecological niche. Hyenas, despite not being canids at all, developed similar bone-crushing jaws as dogs. And just like dogs, they catch prey with their teeth instead of their claws. 

Hyenas have a bite force nearly twice the strength of a lion’s. This allows them to easily break through the thickest bones of their prey, granting them access to the delicious bone marrow. 

Hyenas in Mythology

In West Africa and Tanzania, hyenas often have negative associations as omens of immorality and treachery. They have more supernatural connotations in the Middle East, appearing as cannibalistic lycanthropes. The Greeks believed that the bodies of werewolves who died on the battlefield would rise as vampiric hyenas that feast on dying soldiers.

Unlike my post on bearded vultures, I’m not trying to convince you that hyenas are actually nice and friendly animals. They’re still quite vicious and cruel, and their sadistic laughter is certainly creepy. But hopefully, I’ve dispelled some of the misconceptions around them. These animals are intelligent, with complex social structures. They aren’t cowards; they’ll go up against a lion with no qualms. They’re also closer to cats than dogs, and have jaws strong enough to shatter bones.

Creature Feature: Elephants, the Gentle Giants of the Land


Elephants are truly gorgeous creatures. While I usually write about the weird and unnerving animals on this blog, I want to also appreciate these gentle giants. 

Elephants are known for their size and strength, and are symbols of wisdom and peace. They are the largest land mammals on earth and have caused their fair share of destruction, but they also harbour incredible intelligence and empathy. In India and Africa, elephants are symbols of war and peace, representing both victory and protection. 

The reason for this is understandable; elephants have become increasingly aggressive as humans encroach on their territories and food sources. An angry elephant is a dangerous thing to be around, contributing to around 500 deaths a year. With the largest members of the species weighing up to 6,800 kilos, elephants should not be underestimated. 

Despite their strength, elephants possess incredible emotional intelligence. Their herds function as a close community, with aunts, sisters and cousins helping to raise calves. Elephants play with their young, bond with other animals, and grieve over their loved ones. 

Elephants have their own funeral rites and mourning periods. This process involves the herd standing vigil over the dead elephant, touching it with their trunks to signal their grief. The herd will sleep alongside the body for a time, and will fiercely defend it against predators. 

Just like humans, each elephant processes their grief differently. Those who have formed strong friendships with the dead will isolate themselves from the rest of the herd, refusing to eat. Some have even died of a broken heart.

Their empathy extends to elephants from different herds, and even members of different species. Lawrence Anthony was a conservationist and environmentalist who worked to rehabilitate traumatised elephants. A herd of nine elephants were acting aggressively and destroying property, and were about to be shot before Anthony intervened. 

He calmed the herd’s matriarch with his body language and tone of voice, which, amazingly, the elephant understood and respected. These elephants had been moved to a reserve for their own safety but didn’t understand that, so they lashed out. Earning himself the name “the elephant whisperer”, Lawrence formed an incredible bond with the animals. 

Anthony died years later of a heart attack. Despite not seeing him in a very long time, the elephants heard somehow knew he was dead and made their way to his house, standing vigil for two days. Apparently, that same herd comes back every year to mourn him, the man who saved their lives. 

You may have heard the saying, “an elephant never forgets”. While the animals do have great memories, this is a bit exaggerated. They don’t remember everything, but they will rarely forget a face. Elephants also have excellent spacial memory, which helps them remember the paths to vital watering holes. 

There are more myths about elephants to debunk; they are not afraid of mice, despite what cartoons have told us. Nor do they drink through their trunks or eat peanuts, either; they use their trunks as a hand, but they will suck water partway up their trunks to then spray it out while playing. 

There’s a lot to learn about these majestic creatures. Thankfully, efforts are being taken to preserve the species, but both African and Indian elephants are still in great danger of becoming extinct, mostly due to human interference.

These Plants Can Kill: Deadly Flora


“Every rose has its thorns”. We all love the sight of a beautiful garden, but sometimes the loveliest appearances hide a deadly nature. 

Jane Percy, the Duchess of Northumberland, decided in 1995 that she wanted to grow a garden exclusively containing harmful plants. She originally thought of a medicinal garden, but she changed her mind after seeing the Medici poison garden in Italy. The Duchess wanted her garden to be something different, something that would interest children beyond just what the plants looked like. Something about the macabre piques our curiosity. For some, it’s more fascinating to find out how something can kill you than how it can save your life. 

The Duchess’s Poison Garden at Alnwick Garden is educational as well as entertaining. The plants it contains include those used to make drugs, aphrodisiacs, and a few surprisingly common species that release toxic fumes. 

The garden is a definite tourist attraction, but it isn’t kidding around when it warns visitors not to smell, touch, or taste any of the plants. Just inhaling the plants’ perfume for too long has caused many visitors to faint. 

With that being said, let’s have a look at some deadly plants!


These gorgeous flowers are quite common in gardens, and look altogether unassuming. But every part of these plants – leaves, stem, petals and all – are so toxic to humans that you don’t even have to ingest it in order to feel its toxic effects, which can even end in death. Oleander affects the function of the heart, which leads to pain and symptoms in the rest of the body, essentially shutting down your body bit by bit. 

2.Milky Mangrove

Mangrove trees have many beneficial uses. They’re used in medicines and dyes, and are greatly important to the environment. In coastal areas, they protect against natural disasters like cyclones. But the waxy leaf of the milky mangrove is incredibly toxic. Smoke from burning the leaves can cause temporary blindness, earning it the nickname “blind your eye” mangrove. 


Australia is home to many types of nettle and other stinging plants, but the Gympie Gympie stinging tree takes the cake. When touched, the plant’s tiny hairs inject a venom into the skin, causing stings like a wasp attack, then swelling, which can sometimes last for months. 


The foxglove is my favourite beautiful-but-deadly flower; they play a part in Welsh mythology as hiding places for the fair folk, and its name in Old English likely translates to “fairy bells”. But although this dazzling, pink-speckled flower is used in many modern medicines, it’s also highly poisonous. Extreme dosages can cause strange side effects like confused vision and a heightened sense of the colours green and yellow. Enough foxglove can even cause death. 


Rounding out this list is hemlock, which is one of the most deadly plants outright. Its toxicity was used way back in Ancient Greece to kill convicted prisoners, including the philosopher Socrates. The poison is so potent that people have died from eating animals that have ingested the plant.

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