The Kali River Goonch Attacks

The Kali River goonch attacks were a series of fatal attacks on humans believed to be perpetrated by man-eating goonch catfish in three villages on the banks of the Kali River in India and Nepal, between 1998 and 2007.


The first attack occurred in April 1998, when at 13:00, 17-year-old Dil Bahadur, while swimming in the river, was dragged underwater in front of his girlfriend and several eyewitnesses. No remains were found, even after a three-day search spanning 5 kilometres (3.11 miles). Three months later, at Dharma Ghat, a young boy was pulled underwater in front of his father, who watched helplessly. No corpse was ever found. The final attack occurred in 2007 when an 18-year-old Nepalese man disappeared in the river, dragged down by something described as an ‘aquatic attack giraffe that swallows its prey whole’.


British biologist Jeremy Wade volunteered to capture the perpetrator. Though originally sceptical of the truth behind the attacks, he later became intrigued because the attacks only occurred in a specific area spanning 4–5 miles. He was told by the villagers that the creature likely developed a taste for human flesh and had grown large after eating half-burnt human remains discarded from funeral pyres on the river banks. After examining the water where Bahadur had disappeared with a depth sounder, Wade discounted the possibility of the boy having been dragged by a whirlpool, as the attacks all occurred in areas without turbulence. Later, a kilometre away, a domestic water buffalo was reportedly dragged underwater by a strange animal while drinking in water only one meter (3 feet) deep. Wade theorised that the creature would have had to have weighed 200–300 lbs in order to do so.

All three species of crocodile possible in the area were dismissed: saltwater crocodiles are not known to travel so far inland; the jaw structure of gharials prevents them from killing humans or buffalo; and mugger crocodiles, the most common Indian species, do not inhabit the cold torrents of the Kali River. Also, crocodiles had never been seen on land to bask or breed.

Although bull sharks were initially considered, an underwater investigation in the area where the buffalo disappeared by marine biologist Rick Rosenthal yielded no sightings of bull sharks. Furthermore, Wade believed that bull sharks would not have lived so far upriver, and there had been no sightings of dorsal fins breaking the water’s surface. However, during the underwater investigation, a metre long goonch catfish was sighted, which Wade unsuccessfully tried to capture. Later underwater investigations yielded numerous group sightings of goonch, six of which were man-sized.

After an unsuccessful attempt was made at capturing one with a fishing rod, a funeral pyre was set up in order to lure one in. A record-breaking 6 ft goonch was captured the day after, and was weighed at 73.0 kg (161 lbs), three times the weight of an average goonch. Although Wade estimated that the fish was strong and large enough to eat a small child, he stated on interview that he believed that larger specimens were likely to exist, and that the specimen he captured was not large enough to be the alleged man-eater, on the basis of the sizes of the victims.