What was the beast of Gévaudan?


Between 1764 and 1767, a mysterious creature called the Beast ravaged the rural region of Gévaudan, France. Around 100 men, women and children were reportedly victims of The Gevaudan’s beast. While many French people at the time assumed that the Beast was a wolf and many modern scholars agree, some have suggested that the Beast may not have been a wolf at all.

So what was it?

“Like a wolf, but not a wolf”

Illustration of the beast of Gevaudan, circa 1765.

The first one recorded fatal attack de la Bête took place on June 30, 1764 when a 14-year-old shepherdess, Jeanne Boulet, was tending to a flock of sheep. Boulet was not the creature’s first victim. As historian Jay M. Smith writing in Monsters of Gévaudan, about two months earlier, a young woman tending to the cattle was attacked by a creature “like a wolf, but not a wolf” but escaped because the herd defended her.

The attacks continued throughout the summer and into the fall, according to George M. Eberhart’s 2002 book, Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. France was then in crisis, after the Seven Years’ War. The nation had lost battles against Prussia and the British and Louis XV had lost colonies overseas. The Beast offered a perfect foil to rally – and the press was not short of reports of encounters with the animal.

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The ferocious beast (ferocious beast) attacked and partially ate the women and youth, according to reports, but single adult men were also targets. There have been so many attacks that some have speculated there were actually two or more animals.

The terrified population of Gévaudan did not remain inactive and the individual stories of bravery captivated the public. As Smith writes, bounties were offered and hunters scoured the countryside in search of the creature. On October 8, 1764, a few hours after a mutilation, the Beast was seen at the Château de la Baume, tracking down a shepherd. The hunters followed the animal into the woods of the estate and threw the animal into the open. The hunters fired a volley of muskets at the creature, but after a fall, the Beast got up and fled.

King Louis XV sends hunters

The Gevaudan's beast

A statue of Marie-Jeanne Valet fighting the Beast of Gévaudan in France.

Even children were celebrated for having faced the Beast. On January 12, 1765, the Beast attacked Jacques Portefaix, 10, and a group of seven friends aged eight to 12. However, Portefaix led a counterattack with staves to drive the creature away. The children are rewarded by Louis XV and Portefaix receives an education paid for by the crown.

The heroism of the children prompted the court of King Louis XV to send royal hunters to destroy the Beast. There were now 6,000-delivered bounty on the creature’s head. The story of the Beast, meanwhile, was spreading and being covered in newspapers from Boston to Brussels, becoming one of the first in history. media sensations.

One of the most striking accounts of bravery is when Marie-Jeanne Valet, 19 or 20, was attacked by the Beast on August 11, 1765 while crossing the Desges River with her sister. Armed with a bayonet attached to a post, Valet impaled the beast’s chest. The creature ran away, but Valet became known like “the Amazon” and the “Maid of Gévaudan”.

The great wolf is slain by King’s Gunbearer

On September 20, 1765, François Antoine, the 71-year-old king’s rifle carrier, and his nephew slaughter a large wolf near an abbey in Chazes which is believed to be the Beast. Antoine received money and titles, and the animal’s corpse was stuffed and sent to the royal court.

But the attacks recommenced in December, according to an account in the 1898 volume of the Parisian illustrated magazine. This time the Beast looked different, at least behaviorally. Where previously the creature was afraid of cattle, this time it showed no fear. Was it then a second Beast?

The royal court chose to ignore these new attacks, insisting that Antoine had killed the creature. Finally, a sudden explosion of attacks in early June 1767 forced a local nobleman, the Marquis d’Apcher, to to organise a hunt. On June 19, one of the hunters, a local by the name of Jean Chastel, shot a wolf on the slopes of Mont Mouchet.

An autopsy of the animal revealed human remains inside, and the animal had non-wolf characteristics as described by witnesses. The attacks ended, but while it was assumed that the beast that Chastel had bagged was the Beast, doubts remained on the fact that it was indeed a wolf.

Description and behavior of the beast

The Beast has always been described by eyewitnesses as something other than a typical wolf. He was as big as a calf or sometimes a horse. His coat was reddish gray with a long, strong panther tail. The head and legs were short-haired and the color of a deer. He had a black band on his back and “talons” on his feet. Many designs of the Beast at the time give it the characteristics of lupine.

Witnesses have described the Beast as an ambush hunter who stalked its prey and grabbed it by the throat. The wounds found on the bodies were usually to the head and limbs, the remains of 16 victims were reportedly beheaded. The creature roamed in the evening and in the morning.

The theories of the beast


Representation of the extinct Hyaenodon.

Historians, scientists, pseudo-scientists, and conspiracy theorists have all come up with theories about what the Beast was. Among the suspects: a Eurasian wolf, an armored war dog, a striped hyena, a lion, some sort of prehistoric predator, a werewolf, a wolfhound hybrid, and a human.

Among the candidates, the most fanciful is the werewolf. Smith points out that Chastel allegedly used a silver bullet to kill the wolf, thus fueling werewolf mythology.

It is also unrealistic that the Beast was an extinct prehistoric predator such as a bear dog, dreaded wolf, or hyaenodon. The idea that such a large animal would escape detection for thousands or even millions of years is just too implausible, argues Smith.

Others have suggested that a human serial killer could be responsible for the attacks. Many Beast victims would have been beheaded, which few animals could do. While it is unlikely that a killer would walk around in broad daylight for victims dressed in a bestial costume, those who support this theory believe that the human killer used an animal to commit the crimes. What was the animal? Some have speculated that it was an armored war dog, which explains its odd appearance and why it ignored musket shots.

Striped hyena?

Some depictions of the Beast – and the animal killed by Chastel – suggest that she looked like a striped hyena. It is possible that a striped hyena was in someone’s private property and then escaped. Since he was not from France, it would have seemed unusual. However, striped hyenas are not known to attack humans.



Karl-Hans Taake, biologist and author of The tragedy of Gévaudan: the disastrous campaign of a deported “beast” argues that the Beast may have been an immature male lion. Like the hyena, it is possible that a lion escaped captivity. The Beast is said to have been an ambush hunter who grabbed prey by the neck and could potentially behead a victim. A lion, Taake argues, could exhibit these predatory behaviors.

Lions are known to prey on humans as a food source, as in the famous case of Tsavo lions, in which a pair of lions claimed more than 130 lives in less than a year. Another supporting fact is that the Beast’s territory, at around 56 by 50 miles, lines up with the typical range of a lion.

Eyewitnesses in France at the time were probably not familiar with living lions and what they knew about them came from highly stylized images. A sub-adult male does not have a fully developed mane and sometimes has a Mohawk-like stripe running down his back. This matches eye-witness descriptions of the beast, Taake argues. A hunter at the time, Captain Jean Baptiste Duhamel, wrote: “You will probably think, like me, that it is a monster. [hybrid], whose father is a lion. What his mother was remains to be seen.

A wolf?


One of the theories considered to be the most credible is that the wolves perpetuated the attacks. As Smith recount Smithsonian, “Gévaudan has experienced a serious wolf infestation.” He believes that large solitary wolves were attacking individual communities across the region or that it was a pack of wolves.

Smith claims that many of the fantastic qualities attributed to the Beast were induced by the clergy who aroused fear among the population that God was punishing the French for their defeat in the Seven Years’ War. For the hunters, killing the beast was a way of regaining the lost honor of France.

Wolves are native to the area and had attacked humans before — some statistics show that wolves attacked man 9,000 times in France between the 17th and 19th centuries. In most cases, these types of attacks were rabid wolves.

There are a few potential flaws to the wolf theory, including the frequency of the Beast’s deadly attacks, suggesting that it was not just one rabid wolf. Additionally, none of his victims appear to have contracted rabies, suggesting that their attacker was not a carrier of rabies either.

Although there are strong voices arguing for multiple theories about the identity of the Beast of Gevaudan, all agree that the truth will never be fully known. Without any genetic or forensic evidence, the Beast of Gévaudan will forever remain a mystery.

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