January 10, 2015: The Great Mozambique Crocodile Bile Beer Poisoning

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A Brief History

On January 10, 2015, a southern African funeral in the country of Mozambique was the horror scene of a mass (believed intentional) poisoning in which 75 people died and another nearly 200 were hospitalized.  Reports said the mourners were poisoned when they drank beer that had been spiked with crocodile bile (There is such a thing?).

Digging Deeper

People from the villages of Chitima and Songo were at the funeral drinking the traditional beer brewed for the occasion, a concoction of sorghum, corn, sugar and bran with a type of yeast unlike that used in European brewing.  Death and illness on this scale is sure to attract the attention of the authorities, and initial investigation led investigators to believe “crocodile bile,” known in those parts as “nduru” had been placed into the beer in order to poison the funeral goers.  Later speculation included the possibility that the poison used had been a form of the medicine digitalis, derived from the Foxglove flower, a plant introduced by Europeans into Africa. Scientists also stated doubt that crocodile bile could be toxic enough to kill people in the first place, and in fact it is a product used in traditional Chinese medicine. This fact led to speculation that a pesticide had been the culprit.

An absence of a known motive for murder and later laboratory analysis showed that the contaminated beer contained a form of bacteria that produced 2 types of toxins, and that this bacteria had been introduced into the beer making process unintentionally when corn flour that had been subjected to a flood was used in producing the beer.  The subject corn flour was ruined for use as food, but was mistakenly believed to be suitable for making beer.  Symptoms of the people poisoned by the beer included severe diarrhea and cramping.

Mozambique is a poor third world nation in which less than half the population has access to clean drinking water and rates of disease such as AIDS is disturbingly high.  Plagues, locusts and other insects, floods, droughts and every other disaster you can think of besets this miserable place, leaving the poverty stricken masses with exceedingly poor food security.  The nation is rated as 64% food insecure.  After hundreds of years of Portuguese rule, Mozambique gained independence in 1975, and its 25,000.000 people make it the 50th most populous country.  Despite the poverty, Mozambique attracts tourists for its natural beauty and wildlife, and the 2012 discovery of natural gas reserves offers the hope of increased national wealth.

Question for students (and subscribers): Have you visited sub-Saharan Africa?  If so, where did you go and what places did you like?  Please share your experiences with the rest of us in the comments section below this article.  (The author has been to Kenya and enjoyed it immensely.)

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see here and here.

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About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.