Beast of Gvaudan

An enigmatic Dog, wolf, or Hyena of south-central France.

Etymology: Gévaudan was the old name for an area that roughly corresponds to the modern department of Lozère, France.

Physical description: Bigger than a wolf. Reddish color. Large head. Small, pointed, upright ears. Muzzle like a greyhound dog's. Wide, gray chest. Black streaks on the back. Hind legs are longer than forelegs. Cropped tail.

Behavior: Active in the daytime. Said to be able to leap a distance of 28 feet and stand on its hind legs on occasion. Cry is like a horse neighing. Seemingly impervious to bullets. Completely ignores sheep but is wary of cows' horns. Kills and eats women and children by knocking them down and then biting into their throats and faces, sometimes decapitating them.

Tracks: Doglike. Long and clawed.

Habitat: Montane forest.

Distribution: The mountainous region of Languedoc, especially near Mont Mouchet, Montagne de la Margeride, Lozère Department, France.

Significant sightings: In June 1764, a young girl was tending cows in the Fôret de Mercoire near Langogne, Lozère Department, when she saw what looked like an enormous wolf running toward her. Her dogs panicked, and the animal injured her badly, but the cattle drove the Beast off with their horns. The first fatality was a fourteen-year-old shepherdess named Jeanne Boulet, who was mauled on June 30. Eleven other fatal attacks on women and children took place through the end of November, when an army unit stationed in Languedoc was called in to hunt down the Beast.

On December 24, 1764, a seven-year-old boy was killed by a similar wolflike animal, as were a shepherd and two young girls before the end of the year. On January 12, 1765, the Beast attacked a group of children near Vileret d'Apcher and seized an eight-year-old boy, but the others drove it away by jabbing it with a blade attached to a stick and throwing stones.

After the army under Captain Duhamel, aided by a host of volunteers, failed to catch the animal even though they slaughtered about 100 wolves, King Louis XV in February called in a famous Norman wolf hunter named Denneval, who fared no better. The king's harquebusier Antoine, Sieur de Beauterne, was sent to Ge-vaudan in late July.

A girl of the village of Vachelerie, near Paul-hac-en-Margeride, disappeared on the evening of September 8, 1765. After a shepherd found her cap, Beauterne and some gamekeepers found torn and bloodstained clothing and finally the naked body of the girl, with fang marks on her throat and one thigh eaten to the bone.

By mid-September, seventy-three people had been killed over a crescent-shaped area stretching about 31 miles long. Then, Beauterne killed an animal on September 20, 1765, near the

Royal Abbey of Chazes in Auvergne. It seems to have been a large wolf (5 feet 7 inches long and 130 pounds) with a white throat. It was autop-sied, taken to a taxidermist in Clermont-Ferrand, then preserved at the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris until it was lost. The attacks ceased for nearly three months.

On December 2, 1765, two young children were attacked near Mont Mouchet, and more children were killed in February and March 1766. The region again appealed for royal aid, but since the Beast was officially dead, the request was ignored.

When another little girl was killed at Noze-rolles on June 18, 1767, the marquis d'Apcher and twelve hunters set off to track the beast. One of the hunters, Jean Chastel, shot a reddish animal on June 19, after which the depredations finally stopped. The corpse of the animal was crudely stuffed, then displayed in the region for two weeks, after which it was sent to Paris and examined by the naturalist the comte de Buffon. The animal was preserved at the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris until 1819 and evidently identified at the time as a striped hyena.

The official tally of deaths attributed to the Beast of Gévaudan is 100, most of them women and children.

Present status: A French film about the Beast, Le pacte des loups, was released in 2001. Possible explanations:

(1) A Gray wolf (Canis lupus) that turned to maneating, though this is completely uncharacteristic of the species and cannot explain the decapitations. Except for rare attacks by rabid animals, there is virtually no evidence for attacks by wolves on humans throughout the twentieth century.

(2) Domestic dog (Canis familiaris) x wolf hybrid.

(3) The Striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) of Africa, like the animal killed in 1767, has a blunt muzzle, pointed nose, striped body, and shaggy mane from head to tail. Primarily interested in carrion, it can kill prey up to the size of an adult donkey. It is seldom swift enough to catch alert wild animals but is said to occasionally snatch unprotected human babies. Nonetheless, it is shier than its relative the Spotted hyena ( Crocuta crocuta).

(4) A baboon of some kind, since one was rumored to have been killed in the area.

(5) A Wolverine (Gulo gulo), suggested by Francis Petter.

(6) A sterile lion x tiger hybrid, either a Liger (male lion x female tiger) or Tigon (male tiger x female lion).

(7) Jean-Jacques Barloy has suggested that Protestant hunters deliberately unleashed huge dogs (or a hyena) on the Catholic peasantry after the first animal was killed in 1765. There was an intense Protestant-Jesuit rivalry in the area at the time.

(8) A serial killer wearing an animal skin, perhaps even one of the brothers of Jean Chastel, who may have faked killing a hyena to cover up the murders.

Sources: Abel Chevalley, La Bête du Gévaudan (Paris: Gallimard, 1936); Marie Moreau-Bellecroix, La Bête du Gévaudan (Paris: Editions Alsatia, 1945); Andrew E. Rothovius, "Who or What Was the Beast of Gévaudan?" Fate 14 (September 1961): 32-37; Xavier Pic, La bête qui mangeait le monde en pays de Gévaudan et d'Auvergne (Mende, France: Chaptal, 1968); Jacques Delperrié de Bayac, Du sang dans la montagne (Paris: Fayard, 1970); C. H. D. Clarke, "The Beast of Gévaudan," Natural History 80 (April 1971): 44-51, 66-73; Gérard Ménatory, La Bête du Gévaudan: Histoire, légende, réalité (Mende, France: Chaptal, 1976); Jean-Jacques Barloy, "La Bête du Gévaudan soumise a l'ordinateur," Science et Vie 131 (June 1980): 54-59, 172; Félix Buffière, La Bête du Gévaudan: Une grande énigme d'histoire (Toulouse, France: Félix Buffière, 1987); Richard H. Thompson, Wolf-Hunting in France in the Reign of Louis XV: The Beast of the Gévaudan (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edward Mellen Press, 1991); Michel Louis, La Bête du Gévaudan: L'innocence des loups (Paris: Perrin, 1992); Andrew D. Gable, "The Beast of Gévaudan and Other 'Maulers,'" Cryptozoology Review 1, no. 3 (Winter-Spring 1997): 19-22; Franz Jullien, "La deuxième mort de la Bête de Gévaudan," Annales du Muséum du Havre, no. 59 (August 1998): 1-9; Michel Meurger, "A

Hyena for the Gévaudan: Testimonial Reports and Cultural Stereotypes," Fortean Studies 4 (1998): 227-229; Geneviève Carbone, "La Bête du Gévaudan," Sciences et Avenir, no. 123 (July-August 2000), on line at http://www. sciences-et-avenir.com/hs_123/page16.html.

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