Just what WAS the Beast of Gévaudan?

There is no shortage of theories as to the identity of the murderous beast I described recently,  la Bèstia de Gévaudan,which terrorised a whole province of France from 1764-1767, and claimed upwards of a hundred victims, mostly women and young girls. From what I have read, but above all, from what I have watched on “Youtube”,  basically, you will have to make your own  choice.

The creature was, therefore, perhaps a single enormous wolf, or maybe a number of wolves in a single pack, or even a large number of wolves in a number of separate packs.

Less fancifully, it could have been some type of enormous domestic dog, or perhaps even a wolf dog hybrid, perhaps with a red coloured mastiff involved. Its supposed invulnerability to bullets was because it wore the armoured hide of young boar.

It may have been a hyena although this species is thought to have been long extinct in Europe at this time. It has even been suggested that it was not a real animal, but a sex-crazed serial killer who dressed in a fur costume, pretending to be a wolf. In the same vein, it was perhaps a werewolf with a penchant for hunting women and young girls.

An initial, perhaps simplistic approach, is quite simply to look at pictures of the beast, and to compare it with photographs of the most likely candidates, and then to make up your own mind.

Firstly, here are some pictures of the beast itself. You need to bear in mind that they are unlikely to have been drawn directly from a witness descriptions, and that many of them may have been mere copies of the work of other artists. Furthermore, at this time, it was accepted practice to draw animals in a very stylised fashion, rather than in the more accurate zoological one. Because of this, therefore, the head and limbs are often out of proportion, and the body is frequently too large for a small head and legs. In many pictures, the artist sought to portray an unknown animal by reaching into his knowledge of Heraldry…

 

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Here are some photographs of wolves. I have deliberately picked what I consider to be the largest individuals, and to provide illustrations of animals in poses which are hopefully similar to those in the engravings of the beast.

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Here are some photographs of what are usually called wolf dog hybrids. Having looked at a much larger number of them on the Internet, I do feel that most can be dismissed immediately because an ordinary person would think that they were pure bred wolves. They are only noticeably different when crossed with a very distinctive breed of dog.

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Many cryptozoologists favour the hyena. Certainly, a number of the original drawings from the eighteenth century are titled as being “la Bèstia de Gévaudan, the hyena”.  Many of them, even the most wolf-like, have their flanks covered with either stripes or spots.
This picture was allegedly drawn by the killer of the second beast, Jean Chastel.

drawn chastel

Here are some pictures of the striped hyena.

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And here are some pictures of the spotted hyena.

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Basically, you pay your euros, and you take your choice.
As blogposts cannot be of infinite length, let me summarise the fors and againsts of all the possibilities as I see them.

A wolf or wolves?

This is the mot acceptable of a very large number of  explanations. Certainly, the prints found were deemed to be those of a wolf. Monsieur Antoine de Beauterne who was to kill the first animal, the Wolf of Chazes, said that there was « aucune différence avec le pied d’un grand loup » “no difference with the pawprint of a large wolf”

BUT…

Wolves do not normally attack Man. The locals used to kill around 700 wolves every year, so they all knew what a wolf looked like and could defend themselves against them. All the witnesses were adamant that the animal was not a wolf, but an animal that they did not know. That is why it was immediately christened “la bèstia”. Neither can wolves have a white breast and underparts, as a large number of witnesses said in their descriptions and, indeed, as is portrayed in many of the contemporary illustrations. Only a hybrid animal could exhibit this pattern of coloration.

Wolves do not strip the clothes off their victims, neither do they decapitate their prey.

After the Wolf of Chazes was killed, the deaths did not stop.

A rabid wolf?

An animal  diseased in this way would not have been afraid of Man, but it would certainly have died well before the three year period was  up. A number of rabid wolves? Isn’t that possibly stretching the argument a little?

A hyena?

The animal would certainly have been unknown to the inhabitants of the area. Members of the French nobility, however, frequently indulged themselves by importing exotic animals such as lions and tigers into the country, and we know that hyenas were brought into France at this time. So too, hyenas are supposedly relatively easy to train, or at least, easier than you might expect! Whether this would extend to converting them into fearless and ferocious attack animals is a different matter, however.
Hyenas are certainly capable of decapitating their prey. I have been unable to ascertain if they take the clothes off their victims, although I would have thought that they might have needed opposable thumbs for any particularly intricate garments.

BUT…

the second beast to be killed, the Bête de Chastel, did not have enough teeth to be a hyena. This creature was, without doubt, a canid of some description, according to the King’s Notary, Roch Étienne Marin, the man who carried out what appears to be an extraordinarily thorough autopsy. On the other hand, the creature was also examined by the famous Conte de Buffon, an extremely famous scientist and naturalist of the day, whose ideas were to have a great influence on Charles Darwin. Buffon pronounced it to be a very large wolf.

skulls ccccccc

The larger Striped Hyena, which resembles most closely perhaps, la Bèstia, does not hunt but scavenges. The much smaller Spotted Hyena does  hunt for itself, but is not really large enough to be the monster.
In one of his blogposts, C.R. Rookwood suggests another exotic solution. He suggests that la Bèstia was a  mesonychid, a prehistoric mammal related to present day whales. They were very large predators with huge heads, long tails, and hooves instead of feet. The largest was Andrewsarchus mongoliensis, known only from its skull, minus the jawbone: for this reason, illustrations of its colour are, for the most part, just well informed guesswork. The structure of the animal is based on the other members of the family, whose skeletal structure is better known.

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This animal does fit quite closely the description given by many of the peasants who saw la Bèstia. A few of the reports did mention hooves instead of feet, although the creature may well have been described as having hooves to emphasise its connection with the Devil.

BUT…

How could a gigantic, fierce, flesh eating mammal have survived from a prehistoric era until the eighteenth century, without anybody noticing it?

A human serial killer?

Humans can remove dead people’s clothes. Humans can decapitate their victims. Some bizarre serial killers would enjoy the chance to mask their activities behind the depredations of a very large trained carnivore.

BUT…

All the reports by eye witnesses say that only an animal was involved. This idea of a human serial killer can only be maintained  if mutilated bodies were found and there were no eye witnesses who saw an animal attacking them. Only in the Cantal area, apparently, were these circumstances fulfilled.
Of late, many people have  become increasingly concerned by the involvement of Jean Chastel in this marvellous enigma. Jean, a farmer and inn-keeper in the province of Gévaudan, and his son Jean-Antoine, have come under suspicion because when both of them were imprisoned for a period  because of their aggressive attitude to two of Francois Antoine’s gamekeepers, the number of attacks by the monster diminished noticeably.

chastel 2 ccccccc
It has therefore been put forward that la Bèstia was the result of Jean’s crossing either his own or his son’s red-coloured mastiff with a wolf, and then subsequently training it to kill. Almost all the evidence is perforce circumstantial, but much of it is quite compelling.
The creature may have been, therefore, a particularly  aggressive hybrid, which Jean-Antoine Chastel trained to have no fear of human beings, but instead to attack and to kill them. Witnesses have said that if its attacks were met with strong resistance, la Bèstia would retreat fifty yards or so, then sit and wait, as if sizing up the situation, before finally returning to the fray. This has been  taken to be the behaviour of a trained animal, unafraid of its opponent, rather than a wild one, whose natural instinct in an equal contest would have been to save itself by fleeing. Furthermore, witnesses thought that la Bèstia was driven not by hunger but by its own fury and an innate aggressiveness. It could also be more agile and jump much higher than a normal dog.
According to hunters in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, crosses between dogs and wolves were invariably very varied in appearance with dark or light tinges, sometimes marked with yellow or white or striped a little like a zebra. This, of course, agrees with many of the eye witness descriptions of la Bèstia.
Here are some pictures of mastiffs, although it is very difficult to know exactly what they looked like two and a half centuries ago. Nowadays, they simply don’t look particularly fierce….

 


Here is an English Mastiff around 1700.
mastiff 1700 ccccccc

If we are going down the road of wolf-dog hybrids, then I was quite attracted to a long extinct breed of German bulldog, or Bullenbeisser…

Bullenbeisser extinct ccccccccc

On the other hand, others have said that no successful interbreeding of a Mastiff, or Mastiff type dog, has ever been successfully carried out with a wolf, even though such a hybrid might explain the colours noted by many witnesses.
From the summer 1764 to its death in 1767, la Bèstia wandered over vast distances in almost no time whatsoever. Perhaps the two Chastel were conveying their creature around the province by some artificial means…an explanation of the high frequency of attacks spread over a not inconsiderable area.
On many occasions, people reported the apparent invulnerability of the creature when either stabbed or shot at. It has been suggested that it was wearing some kind of body armour made from the skin of a wild boar. Many witnesses told of the creature being shot several times by experienced hunters, and not being affected by it. Other witnesses spoke of its entrails hanging down after it was stabbed. Could this have been the strapping for some kind of home made armour?
When it was killed, la Bèstia died in the parish of La Besseyre Saint Mary, where Jean Chastel and his son lived. Perhaps they felt that they were about to be discovered, so they shot the creature and then manufactured a tale of heroism and religious devotion to snatch a glorious propaganda victory from the jaws of ignominious discovery and defeat.
As to why the two Chastel would want to kill so many of the people in the area where they lived, that remains a matter of pure guesswork. Certainly, Jean Chastel was supposed to have been an unpopular loner, and given his previous record of various episodes of fairly serious criminal behaviour, he may well have been a man who the locals disliked and feared in equal measure.
Perhaps les Chastel, père et fils were rejected and hated by local women and children, and then took their massive revenge on them, like those American teenagers who return to their High School and kill everybody they can. Perhaps they were sexual psychopaths who enjoyed killing and eating women and little girls.

One further detail which may be of significance is that the loud, belligerent and generally anti-social behaviour of the father, Jean Chastel, seems to have changed profoundly from May 16th 1767 onwards. On this date, in the village of Septols, Marie Denty was attacked in a little lane near her house, right under the eyes of her parents, and killed, just before her twelfth birthday. Supposedly, she and Jean Chastel were very close friends and he doted on her like the grand-daughter he never had. Now he was “fou de douleur”, “mad with grief”, and seemed about to lose his sanity. Perhaps, les Chastel and their appalling pet had killed by mistake. Certainly, his ne’er-do-well son, Antoine, seemed suddenly to be released from an evil spell, and he turned straightway to God. Jean spent his time in pure pursuits such as prayer, confession and penitence. For his redemption to be complete, he and he alone had to be the man who finally killed la Bèstia. According to which sources you believe, in best werewolf killer tradition, he made some silver bullets. Or perhaps, he made them from molten lead which had had a statue of the Virgin Mary dipped into it. Or perhaps he made them from the medals of the Virgin Mary which he wore on his hat. Whatever the case, he certainly had them blessed at a religious ceremony.

The manner in which he killed the creature is extremely suspicious, and could very easily be interpreted as a tale told merely to satisfy contemporary religious feelings, and to exonerate a man who is not bravely hunting down a ferocious killer beast, but who is, instead, shooting it through the head in its kennel before the locals find out it is actually his beloved pet, and then string him up from the nearest tree. The following account I have translated from the French Wikipédia

“On June 19th, the Marquis d’Apcher decides to organise a beat around Mont Mouchet in the wood of la Ténazeire. He is accompanied by a few neighbours as volunteers including Jean Chastel reputed to be an excellent hunter. The latter finds himself at a place called la Sogne d’Auvers,  a crossroads where he sees the animal go past. Chastel fires at it, and manages to wound on the shoulder. Quickly the marquis’ dogs arrive to finish off the beast.”
“As regards this rifle shot, Legend has preserved the romanticised words of the priest Pierre Pourcher which he used to say came from tale told by his family, “When the beast came along, Chastel was saying prayers to the Holy Virgin. He recognised it straightaway, but through a feeling of piety and confidence in the Mother of God, he wanted to finish his prayers. Afterwards, he closes his prayerbook, folds his glasses up, puts them in his pocket and takes his rifle. In an instant he kills the beast which had been waiting for him.”

“A week after the destruction of the beast by Jean Chastel,on June 25th, a female wolf which according to several witness accounts used to accompany the beast itself was killed by Sir Jean Terrisse, one of the hunters His Grace de la Tour d’Auvergne.  He received £78 as a reward.”

Perhaps they were acting on behalf of somebody else. The usual favourite is Jean-François-Charles de La Molette, the Count of Morangiès. He may have wanted to destabilise the area, so that he could take over when the revolution inevitably came.  There were others. The Church wanted to teach the King and the members of the  intelligentsia of the time that free thinking is frowned uon by God….

“Return to the Ways of the Lord or face the Hound of Hell”

As I said before, basically, you pay your euros, and you take your choice.

I had just finished my investigations about la Bèstia de Gévaudan, and had made up my own mind that all the devastation could be attributed, without necessarily knowing the real motivation behind it, to Jean Chastel and his son Antoine.
And then I bought “Real Wolfmen: True Encounters in Modern America” by Linda S. Godfrey. I was enjoying reading this interesting and innovative book, when I stumbled upon page 93 which was about the Wampus Cat of Ariton in Alabama.

“The man who wrote me was disturbed by unidentifiable animal sounds while camping on his ten acres on the Pea River near Ariton, which lies about half an hour’s drive south of the picturesquely named town of Smut Eye. His normally rambunctious standard poodle refused to leave the safety of his trailer that afternoon, and the man was having a cup of tea at about 5.00 p.m. when he heard loud rustling sounds coming from outside the camper.”
“As he peered out the camper window he noticed a large black furred animal with a doglike face surveying his campsite on all fours. It was bigger than his standard poodle and, he said, “Looks like a cross between an ugly collie and an even uglier lab.” Weirdly, it sported a white chest.”
“The creature ambled nonchalantly through the camp and when it jumped over a fallen tree, the man saw that it had a long, sinuous tail like that of a cougar. He reported the creature to the area game warden who said that while she didn’t know what it was, others have reported seeing it, too!”

You can pursue this interesting hunt for truth a lot further if you have any knowledge of French. There are three exceptionally good videos about la Bèstia which can be found on a tourist website for the Auvergne region. They are well worth your time, and seem to portray this most baffling of stories in a fairly reasonable and sensible way. Un, deux et trois.
If you want to see even more videos about la Bèstia, then go to this website which is the French equivalent of “Youtube”. If you search for “la Bête du Gévaudan”, you will find a huge number of films, varying from 15 or 20 seconds long to an hour or more. On the first page, there are eighteen different videos, a further eighteen on the second page, and any number of pages after that.

Bonne chance! And don’t be put off by having to practice your French!

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32 Comments

Filed under Criminology, Cryptozoology, France, History, Science, Wildlife and Nature

32 responses to “Just what WAS the Beast of Gévaudan?

  1. I think the idea of crossbreeding is the best answer. Where would a hyena come from? and fear does change a person’s recollections – just ask a policeman who has 2 witnesses to the same crime – almost always they vary.

  2. At the time, rich noblemen used to show off to other rich noblemen by importing exotic animals. It is an established fact that hyenas were imported to France at this time. Our current descriptions of the Beast come from later writers who have read all the descriptions of the time and averaged them out, so to speak. Fear does indeed change people’s recollections, but not all of the attacks were “smash and grab” affairs. On several occasions a group of people would form into a circle, and the Beast would then withdraw a short distance, as if thinking what to do next. That must be when the best descriptions were taken. What a tragedy that they did not have cameras on their mobile phones! And yes, the modern belief is that the Beast was a hybrid animal, but it needed an evil man to give it an almost unbelievable desire to kill.

    • littlefoot

      Good and entertaining summary. I was introduced to the subject by Christopher Gans’ great movie. After viewing it I was shocked to discover that the movie might not have deviated from the truth all that much.
      Whatever the beast’s biological origin might’ve been – personally I’m convinced that it was trained and controlled by humans. Maybe, there was even more than one beast. The perps could’ve had a litter of adorable puppies and turned them into loyal killers. That would be one way to explain the apparently extraordinary invulnerability of the beast. Some kind of armor is another explanation. Was it a wolf/dog hybrid or a subadult lion, as National Geographic has theorized lately? I’d go with the idea of a wolf/dog mix, since training such beasts should be easier. As to what the beast looked like: the contemporary renderings sure look canine to me. As to some strange features: if the beast(s) was/were really wearing some kind of armor it might well have altered the exterior. The ultimate demise is indeed very suspicious.
      A sad and grizzly story – and like at the end of the movie I can’t help feeling sorry for the beast, too.

      • Thank you for your views. I’m glad you enjoyed what I wrote. The Beast has become a little bit of a celebrity of late because the local tourist boards have set up a trail so that you can go from village to village looking at the new statues and seeing where the victims were killed.

      • littlefoot

        Thanks for approving my comment, John. I’m sick with the flue right now. What could be better than contemplating the deeds of grizzly beasts in the past, lol! Yes, I really liked your article – especially all the pictures you put together.

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  7. Just a person

    I’m sorry, but this new theory that Jean Chastel trained a hyena or wolfdog hybrid to kill for him is ridiculous! Do you know how difficult it would be to carry that plot out?
    First, he’d need to acquire a hyena, which would be a difficult feat in itself, but then he’d need to train it, which would be super difficult to do with a wild animal. Or, he’d have to capture a live wolf and try to breed it with his mastiff, which, has never even been done before and is probably straight up impossible!
    And what was his motive? Where is the evidence for this wild theory rather than speculation? Why are we even thinking this?
    Because wolves don’t normally kill people? Sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s a myth. Just take a looksie at Wikipedia’s “List of Wolf Attacks” and see for yourself.
    Because you think it’s suspicious that it was so easy for him to kill the animal? Have you actually ever been hunting?? I have-and when you have a rifle, often animals will stand there for long periods of time. Trust me, he had plenty of time.
    Because hunters claim it was unstoppable? Again, I have a little experience in this area-and even very good hunters when faced with a target miss, and of course, they make up wild stories about the animal being “bulletproof” to defend their marksmanship. People say this all the time. It’s much much more likely that they just missed a moving target, than that the animal was wearing some type of invisible bulletproof armor.
    Why is this insane theory so popular? Because we want some sensational explanation? I know that lots of people find this to be a compelling theory-but think rationally for a minute. Any theory sounds good if it’s argued vehemently enough.
    Do we have any serious reason to believe that Jean Chastel trained a hyena or bred a mastiff wolf hybrid? Really think about it-it’s absurd to think this guy is actually a serial killer who imported a hyena, trained it to kill, and equipped it with armor, took it around the country killing people, then shot it as a part of a huge scheme for just “some reason” that we don’t even know, and somehow not a single witness or shred of evidence of this happening exists. And if it were true that the nobility were importing hyenas, they should have been able to identify the body of the animal as a hyena right away.
    It seems to me a LOT more likely, that the animal was simply an unusual looking wolf. Perhaps a hybrid of sorts, or a mutation. These aren’t uncommon. By all accounts it was definitely wolf like. There are similar animals popping up allthe time. Native American lore tells of an animal killed called a “shunka warakin”, that looked like a cross between a hyena and a wolf. In Montana, we have a mounted specimen of what is called a “Ringdocus”, which is another creature that looks like a hyena wolf cross. As recently as 2006 there was a reddish wolf like animal shot in Montana, and all these sound very similar to the Beast of Gevaudan.
    Don’t let your imagination run wild or your personal feelings for Jean Chastel cloud your judgement. Look at the facts, man. This crazy new theory is seriously lacking in evidence. It’s obvious that this was just a strange looking wolf, similar to other strange looking wolves that have popped up in history, probably representative of a common mutation in the wolf population or hybrid of some kind that happens occasionally.

  8. Just a person

    I’m sorry, but this new theory that Jean Chastel trained a hyena or wolfdog hybrid to kill for him is ridiculous! Do you know how difficult it would be to carry that plot out?
    First, he’d need to acquire a hyena, which would be a difficult feat in itself, but then he’d need to train it, which would be super difficult to do with a wild animal. Or, he’d have to capture a live wolf and try to breed it with his mastiff, which, has never even been done before and is probably straight up impossible!
    And what was his motive? Where is the evidence for this wild theory rather than speculation? Why are we even thinking this?
    Because wolves don’t normally kill people? Sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s a myth. Just take a looksie at Wikipedia’s “List of Wolf Attacks” and see for yourself.
    Because you think it’s suspicious that it was so easy for him to kill the animal? Have you actually ever been hunting?? I have-and when you have a rifle, often animals will stand there for long periods of time. Trust me, he had plenty of time.
    Because hunters claim it was unstoppable? Again, I have a little experience in this area-and even very good hunters when faced with a target miss, and of course, they make up wild stories about the animal being “bulletproof” to defend their marksmanship. People say this all the time. It’s much much more likely that they just missed a moving target, than that the animal was wearing some type of invisible bulletproof armor.
    Because you want to believe that it wasn’t just a rash of wolf attacks, but something far more sinister? Some extremely complicated conspiracy involving staged hunts and serial killers? So you can find something else to blame the Church for?
    Why is this insane theory so popular? Because we want some sensational explanation? I know that lots of people find this to be a compelling theory-but think rationally for a minute. Any theory sounds good if it’s argued vehemently enough.
    Do we have any serious reason to believe that Jean Chastel trained a hyena or bred a mastiff wolf hybrid? Really think about it-it’s absurd to think this guy is actually a serial killer who imported a hyena, trained it to kill, and equipped it with armor, took it around the country killing people, then shot it as a part of a huge scheme for just “some reason” that we don’t even know, and somehow not a single witness or shred of evidence of this happening exists. And if it were true that the nobility were importing hyenas, they should have been able to identify the body of the animal as a hyena right away.
    It seems to me a LOT more likely, that the animal was simply an unusual looking wolf. Perhaps a hybrid of sorts, or a mutation. These aren’t uncommon. By all accounts it was definitely wolf like. There are similar animals popping up allthe time. Native American lore tells of an animal killed called a “shunka warakin”, that looked like a cross between a hyena and a wolf. In Montana, we have a mounted specimen of what is called a “Ringdocus”, which is another creature that looks like a hyena wolf cross. As recently as 2006 there was a reddish wolf like animal shot in Montana, and all these sound very similar to the Beast of Gevaudan.
    Don’t let your imagination run wild or your personal feelings for Jean Chastel cloud your judgement. Look at the facts, man. This crazy new theory is seriously lacking in evidence. It’s obvious that this was just a strange looking wolf, similar to other strange looking wolves that have popped up in history, probably representative of a common mutation in the wolf population or hybrid of some kind that happens occasionally.

  9. Just a person

    The appearance of the beast I think is mostly due t the artist’s rendition. Here is a picture of a regular wolf drawn in the tenth century
    https://mimimatthews.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/wolves-from-oppian-of-apamea-cynegetica-10thc.png?w=620&h=280
    If nobility did import hyenas to hunt, they would have recognized what the animal was from the body. But it was by every account simply a large wolf.
    I’m a firm believer that the beast was a shunka warakin or ringdocus-a mutated wolf that pops up from time to time in wolf populations
    There is simply no evidence to support this wild theory.

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  11. Jack

    Please excuse my poor English. First of all, I wish you all a happy new year. After having read the historical texts by Pourcher and Fabre, I think that the things are not as complicated as they seem to be. While reading these books I have counted five wolves, killed from 1764 to 1767, that all were said to have been the Beast. In Gévaudan they followed the strategy of killing wolves until the attacks stopped. In 1767 the attacks stopped indeed, but they obviously had already stopped before Chastel killed “his” wolf. All of these wolves, including that one killed by Chastel, were very probable normal wolves with normal fur colours. What was not normal was the description of these wolves. In Gévaudan they adapted these descriptions so that these were compatible with descriptions of the Beast. One of the reasons why Chastel’s wolf cannot have been the Beast is that this wolf weighed 53 kilograms: For simple physical reasons this animal was not able to carry off youths and adult women over longer distances. It is clear to me that the Beast was an exotic carnivore (definitely not a hyena) that had escaped from captivity. In the 18th century exotic animals were exhibited in (travelling) menageries and at fairs and, as mentioned here before, displayed by noblemen and wealthy citizens.

    • Your English is very impressive, so don’t worry about it! Which exotic carnivore do you think it was? There were apparently some witnesses who said that the Beast was more feline than many other people said. Anyway, thanks for your interest and a Happy New Year to you and your family.

      • Jack

        Thanks for your friendly welcome. Yes, some attacked people in Gévaudan said that the attacker was a wolf; others said that the attacker was a big creature with an alien and/or feline appearance. In my opinion both statements are right. There can be no doubt that people in Gévaudan were attacked by wolves in a few cases. But that animal that was called “la bête féroce”, the wild beast, must have been a cat, namely a lion. The beast had the size of a one-year-old bovine animal, it had a tassel on the tail, a dark line along its spine (sometimes present in lions), it used its claws as weapons during an attack, it attacked horses by jumping on their back, it was able to carry off adult humans, it left paw prints of 16 centimetres length, could jump 9 metres, it made sounds described as a horrible barking, etc.

      • littlefoot

        National Geographic ran a story two years ago which argued that going by the contemporary descriptions and the alleged behavior the beast was a subadult lion which woud explain the mohawk hair, the stripes and spots and the tassle, which have been desribed by some observers. It was argued that lions can become prolific and cunning killers of humans, like the famous Tsavo Lions, who escaped time and again and collected the bones of their human victims in a den. It’s not out of the question that the beast was either an escaped or trained lion. That is also the solution of the movie. It’s not quite obvious since you only ever see the movie beast in it’s armor. But Christopher Gans said that according to his script the beast was indeed a trained lion.
        Another possibility is a cross between a lion and a tiger- a liger. They can become much larger than either lions or tigers and they are easier to control by humans. But such an exotic solution would surely hint at the clandestine envolvement of an aristocrat, since it has never been reported that an exotic animal or crossbreed had escaped someone’s menagerie.

      • “Beast” by Gustavo Sanchez Romero and SR Schwalb examines all of the possible theories about the beast. It deals with big cats on pp 163-174.

      • littlefoot

        Thank you.Yes, going back to the original sources is always a great idea.
        Another more recent good read is a fairly new examination by the German biologist Karl-Hans Taake (“The Gevaudin Tragedy”).It’s availabe in English for Kindle and Taake’s take is also featured in a National Geographic article from 2016.
        He also made good use of the original sources and presents an unsensational and sober case that the beast was an escaped subadult male lion. He actually managed to shake my view that humans have controlled and aided the beast, although many of them certainly used the tragedy for their own purposes. Taake argues that back then it was very hard to kill a cunning lion who specialized on human prey, and that the commonly available knifes and lances weren’t sharp enough for a lion skin and that the rifles weren’t all that precise. According to him the beast didn’t need an armor, lol! He also says that the hunters and villagers had zero experience with the behavior of a lion which made it easier for the beast once it got the hang of killing humans. Karl-HansTaake presents a very good statistical analysis of the beast’s victims vs. ordinary wolves’ killings and admits that some victims were probably killed by ordinary wolves. He looks at the purported range of the beast and the locations of the attacks, and concludes that a lion could definitely manage such an area and would prefer to kill at more open places and not in dense forests. Maybe, the killing spree of the “Ghost and the Darkness”, the two famous Tsavo lions at the end of the 19th century is a good analogy. They managed to kill much more than a hundred humans within ten month, and they were incredibly cunning and very hard to catch.
        So, maybe the only human crime was to repeatedly present an ordinary wolf as the beast, while the beast was still at large and continued to kill for a while. By killing so many wolves humans might even have helped the beast because they removed competitors. Taake thinks that the beast eventually succumbed to his wounds, or – more likely – that it finally ate from one of the poisoned carcasses which have been widely distributed.
        Whatever the beast really was – a devious wolf, a big cat, a wolf/dog hybrid or a prehistoric relic – it’s such a fascinating story because it’s so well documented. It’s not a myth but it certainly inspired myths. There’s a plausible theory that the Brothers Grimm had the beast in mind when they wrote the German version of “Little Red Riding Hood” in the 19th century. The French version though (“Petit Chaperon Rouge”) is from Charles Perrault and was written in the 17th century, well before the beast’s killing spree.
        I will read now more of your blog entries, since I enjoyed this one so much 🙂

      • littlefoot

        The story of the Beast attracts a lot of different people. But I guess the majority is mostly interested in the question of the beast’s biological identity. I’m a criminal psychologist, and therefore I’m much more interested in the possibly criminal human behavior, since I think the beast -whatever it was – was used by humans.

      • The Beast was used by humans but only circumstantially to make the king look good and to preserve his divine right to rule. I find it difficult to believe that peasants or local nobility could have produced this monster and there were a many much simpler ways to discomfort the king such as the revolution proved in 1789.

  12. It really must have been an unbelievably formidable opponent for those poor uneducated farm workers to try and resist. Armed only with knives and home made spears, they really were in an impossible situation. Robert Louis Stevenson called the monster the ‘Napoleon of Wolves’ but perhaps the final word should go to Pierre Pourcher, the priest who was the first to record these terrible events. He considered it “a scourge sent by God”. We may have to be happy with that!

  13. Pingback: The Wolves of Paris | John Knifton

  14. RV

    Kudos on your work and especially the picture collection. But as a previous poster mentioned, you’re a bit quick to dismiss a few options without providing any proof for it. “Wolves don’t normally kill people”: wolves have consistently attacked people since the dawn of man. Especially the pattern of systematic predation of young children and women by one or more ‘rogue’ wolfs has been repeated over and over again: Turku, Kirov, Uttar Pradesh… Your dismissal of the spotted hyena doesn’t fit with the facts as well: these animals do hunt, solo as well as in pack, and are quite good at it. The myth of the spotted hyena as a cowardly scavenger has been discredited long ago. There are numerous cases of hyena’s killing children and adults alike without any provocation.

    • Thanks very much for your contribution. It’s rather harsh to say that I am quick to dismiss things after reading seven major books on the topic, most of them in French and visiting countless websites. I don’t think wolves are fierce enough. There have been no wolf killings in Europe since 1945 and only 2 in North America since 1900. The Beast had a white patch on its chest apparently and this excludes the wolf as a solution anyway. Both Beasts had an autopsy, the Wolf of Chazes and the one shot by Jean Chastel. Neither autopsy has been challenged in 350 years. Both autopsies excluded the hyena because of the number of teeth. The two animals could only have been members of the dog family. One recently favoured idea is that the Beast was a wolf dog hybrid which would account for the teeth and the white patch. At this time in Western Europe there were a number of attack dogs kept, including breeds now extinct. If one of those somehow bred with a wolf, that animal might be a fit. On the other hand, there is a saying “Wolves don’t breed with dogs, they eat them!” Overall, I still stick to my idea that the Beast, and the other Beasts in France both before and since, were the last remaining few of an animal on its way to extinction. Perhaps a European dire wolf or some such animal from a previous age.

      • littlefoot

        Wolves have interbred with dogs all the time! Especially when encouraged by humans. There are breeding programs nowadays (Chzech Wolfdogs) in order to establish a new breed, and there have been breeding programs in the past – some were run by respected biologists, who wanted to learn more about the origins of dogs. They are genetically almost the same than wolves after all. So, it’s quite possible and not at all out of the question that French country folks created hybrids and used them for their own purposes.
        The French researcher Louis Michel wrote an book which claims that the wild wolves in that area were innocent! As you also say, he points out that ordinary wolves aren’t fierce enough and don’t exhibit the observed behavior of the beast. I really believe that a lot of what we know points into the direction that the beast had human assistence and protection. And that opens up a lot of possibilities as to the biological origins of the beast(s). But a wolf/dog mix woud be the simplest solution. Hybrids can be much largers than the parent species. It sounds like a crazy conspiracy theory. But in the enviroment of pre-revolutionary France it could’ve been pulled off. It’s hard , though, to imagine nowadays what exactly might’ve been the goal of the alleged perps. Were they just blood thirsty and perverse or did they have ulterior political motives?

      • I don’t agree with this theory but the reason that any perpetrators would have created the monster was the doctrine of “The Divine Right of Kings”. King Louis ruled because he was the direct choice of God to do so. Therefore, if everything started going wrong during his reign, that would mean that he was not really God’s choice and he should be overthrown. Fairly early on, a local bishop declared the Beast a “Scourge from God” so the capacity was certainly there for this idea to take root (although I don’t believe it did).

      • littlefoot

        John, sorry about my flood of messages, but I recently researched the subject extensively, and have become very enthusiastic about it 😉
        You say that the contemporary autopsies have never been challenged. That might be true.But we have no way of knowing if the presented carcass(es) were really the carcasses of the beast! If it is true that humans aided or even controlled the beast, and that it was not a wolf, but a hybrid or even an exotic animal, then they wouldn’t present the carcasse of the true beast because it might lead to the human perps. They would simply present the carcass of a fairly large wolf and claim that it was the beast, while the real beast was quietly hidden or disposed of somewhere. There are tell tale signs that carcasses have indeed been altered to fit the description of the beast, and that fabric has been shoved down their throats with a stick in order to create the illusion that the dreaded beast was dead. Not all of those who did that need to be in cahoots with the perps. This was probably just done in order to restore public trust in the authorities.

      • You should try going back to the original sources. The best book about the beast for me is by Abbé (French for “Reverend”) Pierre Pourcher. His grandfather actually fought the animal and his book is very detailed. If you do buy it, make sure that you get it in ENGLISH as he was originally writing in French back in the 19th century. A modern counterpart is “Beast” by Gustavo Sanchez Romero and SR Schwalb. That examines all of the possible theories about the beast and I enjoyed it a lot.

  15. Pingback: Episode 99: Like a Wolf, but Not a Wolf: The Loup Garou – Just A Story

  16. littlefoot

    John, you are probably right with your assessment that it’s a bit far fetched to assume someone explicitly created a beast and controlled it for political purposes. As you say, there are far more effective ways for creating political havoc. But the existence of the beast was most certainly exploited by various factions. You point out a very interesting thought: that the deeds of beast could’ve been viewed and promoted at the time as a sign of divine displeasure with the ruling monarch.
    While a lone psychopath might use a beast under his control as his weapon of choice, the beast acted probably just on it’s own because it was on the loose and hungry. As long as it wasn’t interfered with it actually ate quite a bit of the carcasses. That is a strike against the theory that it was under human control.
    But in principle the idea that humans create and use an animal under their control as a dangerous weapon isn’t that far fetched at all. Many dog breeds, like Dobermans and Staffordshire terriers, have been created exactly for that purpose, and Pit Bulls unfortunately are used as weapons regularly. In Germany you need nowadays a special licence for owning some breeds. The 2017 movie “Bullet Head”, star studded with John Malkovic, Adrian Brody and Antonio Banderas, deals with the subject of dogs which are turned into weapons. And one of the dogs – called “De Niro” – turns into a beast with it’s own agenda. Not to everybody’s taste and certainly not critically acclaimed, but I liked the movie and my heart went out for the beast De Niro.
    The Czechoslovakian Wolfdog, which I mentioned above, was originally created by the former Czechoslovakian armee in order to combine the superior skills and resilience of a wolf with the obedience of a dog. They wanted to use this new breed for being able to tackle fugitives during border controls. You could probably call that a Cold War dog, lol! In the end it didn’t work out, though, because their wolf heritage made these dogs too unpredictable and very difficult to handle. Nowadays only a few private people with a lot of time at their disposal own these beautiful animals. Interestingly the wolf heritage doesn’t make them more agressive because modern wolves aren’t naturally inclined to attack humans and only do so when they are really hungry and they can’t find something else to eat. Since they’ve been hunted in Europe to the point of extinction they’ve learned the hard way over many generations that it’s better to stay away from humans*. The Czech Wolfdog is so difficult to handle because they want to be together with their handlers all the time since wolves are very attached to their family/pack. They become incredibly destructive when they are left alone.
    There’s a wonderful book by Prof. Mark Rowlands (“The Philosopher and the Wolf”) which describes the difficulties and pleasures of living with a pure Alaskan wolf and a dog/wolf hybrid.

    *In Germany wolves are a protected species and they are actually encouraged to return. If that is really a wise move remains to be seen. They are very clever animals and learn quickly that lifestock is far easier to catch than deer. Therefore in some areas they move closer and closer towards human settlements. And while the first generations of wolves was indeed very shy, their offsprings become increasingly troublesome because they figure out quickly that humans normally don’t trouble them. Some predict that this slightly romantic politics of natural coexistence in modern times is a recipe for disaster, and that we will also see many wolf-dog mixes in the future, which might be much more dangerous than wolves. Reading about how common it was only 200 years ago to get attacked by wolves I started to doubt that wolves aren’t naturally inclined to attack humans. That might be true for a few generations – but apparently this species learns very fast and adapts it’s behavior. So far no wolf has attacked humans here. But they kill a lot of lifestock and some have started to show up openly in villages, and they have killed some pets. It happens more and more that individual wolves as well as whole families become so troublesome that they have to be “taken out” as killing them is called nowadays.

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