The Beast of Gevaudan

A

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#1
[Emp edit: Warning: This thread may contain spoilers for the film Brotherhood of the Wolf which is loosely based on these events.

Its also worth noting that thre is a BoW discussion thread here:

www.forteantimes.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1953

if you are only looking to talk about the film.]

I am writing an article on the well-known, but often wrongly perceived 'beast' of Gevaudan which terrorised a rural area of France in the 1700's. I would be interested in hearing opions on what the 'beast' could have been. I do not believe a wolf, or whole pack of wolves, rabid or not, were responsible due to the fact that witnesses to this very real event would have been familar with an animal native to their land. A roaming Hyena is a distinct possibility, due to the descriptions given and it would have been a likely man-eater, many described the beast as reddish, having a dog-like muzzle, large head and having a coat streaked with black. Large, exotic cats can also be ruled out, there would be no reason for any feline to attack so many humans, but any theories would be appreciated.
 

MrRING

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Here are my theories:

1) Could have been a lion, a la Brotherhood of the Wolf. Consider the real lion attacks that influenced The Ghost and the Darkness - they were killer lions who were also suffering from a strange ailement that caused their manes to fall out, so they didn't look like what we thinks lions should. And it's not impossible to think they could have gotten to France somehow.

2) Perhaps an ice age holdover of some kind that hadn't completely died out in the frozen north but that were exceddingly rare. I want to say I've read reports of it being striped, and wasn't there a prehistoric distant relative of the possum that looked like a wolf and was striped?
 
A

Anonymous

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Relative of the possum? Do you mean a Thylacoleo or a Thylacine? If so, how could they have got from Australia to France? (wolf-like Thylacines certainly, and more big cat-like Thylacoleos possibly, were alive at the time, but AFAIK unknown to Europeans - although the Girt Dog of Cumbria, about a century later, is theorised to have been a thylacine which escaped from a travelling menagerie)

There were cave hyenas (larger than living African hyenas) in Europe during the Ice Age, but it is IMHO pretty unlikely that they would have survived that long without many more reports in the intervening time, if they were liable to attack both humans and livestock.

If living Old World species are looked at, we have wolves, lions, tigers, leopards, bears, wolverines, African hunting dogs and hyenas. Bears and wolves would be well known - although a freakishly large and oddly behaved wolf (or wolf-dog hybrid?) could be seen as something different to a normal wolf. Wolverines would IMHO be too small, although they are vicious, and IIRC a wolverine can take down an elk. Any of the big cats or a hyena would have to have got to Europe somehow from Asia or Africa - although all were known and used in gladiatorial combat by the Romans, so it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that someone could have brought and secretly released one, although the motives would be obscure.

BTW, what did it look like in the film "Brotherhood of the Wolf"? I haven't seen it, but the hyena-like monsters ridden by the orcs in the latest Lord of the Rings film are very close to what the Beast would have looked like in my imagination...
 
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I don't know much about the Beast of Gevaudan - how much is known about it? I thought people just saw a large wolf-like creature during a few years that saw over 50 people slaughtered, until the king's gun-carrier shot a massively large wolf. Am I terribly off base, or omitting anything important?
 
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Anonymous

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Many wolves were slaughtered during the period the 'beast' struck, but the film, BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF, although beautifully filmed, tends to go off the beaten track and whilst the creature in question is pretty good it looks more like something from LORD OF THE RINGS with its armour.

I do not believe the 'beast' at large was a Thylacine, despite the reports of stripes, and I do not believe a large cat was responsible, whatever lurked in the forests was pretty ruthless considering humans were the main prey, skethches handed down from the period definitely describe a hyena-like, or dog-like creature.
 
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Found this description at http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Cavern/9638/gevaudan.html :

It was much larger than a wolf, almost as big as a cow, and with a huge head. Its nose was long and pointed, sort of redish in color. It had short ears and very big teeth. The fur was short and light gray in color. The chest was white, and along its back was a black stripe. The big paws had razorsharp claws, and the tail was as thick as that of a wolf. Furthermore it was very agile and extremely strong. It was sometimes sighted in locations very far apart on the same day. When hunting it crawled almost with its belly to the ground. One shepherd claimed it could stand up on its rear legs and was strong enough to lift a fullgrown sheep with its arms. Dogs fled in terror from it as most other animals. The only animals strong and big enough to make a stand against it were bulls. It was also said that it was afraid of firearms.
 
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Anonymous

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god bear?

I recall hearing about "god bears" that are "exctinct" but have had sightings in the forests of russia in recent years. There a bit leaner than normal bears but almost the size of a horse. Its paws all face forward as its joints did, so it was built for speed. I believe they prey'd upon eropean bisen. but i opening forests left them with a hunting disadvantage as they sprinted in and fought the kill down. ...which would make humans easy prey.

The slender appearance could account for it being mistaken for a massive wolf.
 

OldTimeRadio

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Beast of Gevaudan

First of all, there is absolutely no doubt that the Beasts of Gevaudan (there were TWO of them) actually EXISTED - the events transpired during modern times (1764-1765), records were kept, there was newspaper coverage, and most importantly the Beasts were seen by several hundred people.

The Beasts attacked approximately 300 individuals, of whom two- thirds survived to tell the tale. Many of the slain were partially devoured. Like the old newspaper boner advertizement offering dogs free to a good home, the Beasts "would eat anything and were especially fond of children."

Numerous theories have been offered as to the Beasts' identifies; among others:

1. Extraordinarily-huge domestic wolves. This doesn't seem at all likely, since the people of Gevaudan KNOW their wolves.

2. Dire Wolves. But not only are they American, they have been extinct for around 10,000 years.

3. Werewolves. Fine, but first prove that werewolves exist.

4. Thylacines. Okay, but how did they get from Australia or Tasmania to the interior of France?

5. Hyenas. But are hyenas as INTELLIGENT as the Beasts were reported to be?

6. An "impossible" cross between two distinct species, say a bull and a bear. Now demonstrate that such crosses are even theoretically possible.

Only one thing is certain - they were sure as hell two NASTY brutes.
 

MrRING

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This is a great newer resource for the Beast of Gevaudan:

http://bdgpointcom.neuf.fr/EngGevaudan.htm

It has plenty of interesting tidbits, like this:
The problem of heads cut off

Let's start with a few grammatical notes: nowadays the meaning of a word depends more on the context than on the semantics (the literal meaning of the word) but in the 18th century, the reverse was true. In G. Crouzet "La Grande Peur du Gévaudan" ("The Great Scare In Gévaudan"), pages 132 to 133, you can find 7 heads cut off and 9 torn head. The people who wrote down these events were probably all lettered and also certainly good Latinists ; it would have been impossible for them to mistakenly confuse the words they used. If they made a difference between "cut-off head" - "torn-out head", so must we.

Working purely from semantics, we can say that in the process of decapitation, wolves - or the Beast – tore out the head of their victims 9 times by gnawing on it or carrying the body, and a human being (a sadist or someone settling scores) was involved 7 times. This does not mean that all the victims of the Beast were killed by a human, but the semantic analysis of the original writings about the Beast is something that was never used to explain this detail of the case.
 
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#10
There is a good Wikipedia page on it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beast_of_G%C3%A9vaudan

It was described as being a wolflike creature the size of a cow with a wide chest, a long sinuous tail with a lion-like tuft of fur on the end, and a greyhoundlike head with large, protruding fangs. It was also noted making huge leaps approaching thirty feet in length. The victims were almost entirely children (of both sexes) and women.
Of note is the fact that the creature had a strange method of killing, often ignoring the usual areas targeted by predators (legs and throat to incapacitate and kill, respectively) and instead concentrating on the head, crushing it before feeding. It also seemed to have a particular taste for humans, as even when cattle and other farm animals were more easily attainable it often ignored them completely to attack the person tending them. There were differing reports on the beast itself, which was sometimes reportedly seen with a man and was several times reported to be with another beast, or with young.
Various explanations were offered at the time of the attacks. They ranged from exaggerated accounts of wolf attacks, to a loup-garou (werewolf), all the way to the beast being a punishment from God, to being an unholy creature summoned by a sorcerer.

Current opinions offer up the interesting theory that the attacks were actually a serial killer, or group of serial killers, using wolf attacks to cover their own murders. Also sometimes mentioned are the theories that the beast may have been a dire wolf, a marginally larger, extinct relative of modern wolves; as well as the theory that the animal may have simply been an escaped captive exotic animal such as a hyena or lion.

Yet another theory is that the creature was a specially bred wolf-dog hybrid used for hunting, such as those bred and used by the Spanish in the 16th century.

Certain cryptozoologists believe that it may have been a Mesonychid.
A Mesonychid? Sounds like a bit of reaching there.

Even if we factor in a bit of exagertaion on the size/intelligence front its still an impressive beast. The tuft on the tale does suggest lion but the size...

Could someone have bred a particuarily huge and robust mastiff?
 

tattooted

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Of note is the fact that the creature had a strange method of killing, often ignoring the usual areas targeted by predators (legs and throat to incapacitate and kill, respectively) and instead concentrating on the head, crushing it before feeding.
This is ringing a bell in my predator database, but I'm not sure if I'm remembering a real extant animal, a real extinct one, or a crytpid. The part of my brain that is responsible for gross organization tells me the answer lies either in the Man-eaters of Tsavo or Bernard Heuvelmans' African chapters in On the Track of Unknown Animals.

Maybe someone with a better memory or immediate access to either of these books could confirm and flesh this out?
 
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#12
tattooted said:
Of note is the fact that the creature had a strange method of killing, often ignoring the usual areas targeted by predators (legs and throat to incapacitate and kill, respectively) and instead concentrating on the head, crushing it before feeding.
This is ringing a bell in my predator database, but I'm not sure if I'm remembering a real extant animal, a real extinct one, or a crytpid. The part of my brain that is responsible for gross organization tells me the answer lies either in the Man-eaters of Tsavo or Bernard Heuvelmans' African chapters in On the Track of Unknown Animals.

Maybe someone with a better memory or immediate access to either of these books could confirm and flesh this out?
IIRC, Heuvelmans mentions the Mngwa or Nunda, a big felid ('the size of a donkey')
with grey , brindled fur.
 

Xanatico

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#13
Just so others can have the pleasure of watching the brilliant movie Brotherhood of the Wolf, could someone perhaps put in some spoiler warnings up at the top?
 
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#14
Xanatico said:
Just so others can have the pleasure of watching the brilliant movie Brotherhood of the Wolf, could someone perhaps put in some spoiler warnings up at the top?
Good point - done.
 

DougalLongfoot

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Even if a Thylacine could get from Tasmania to Europe at this time, It would be extremely aberrant behaviour for it to behave this way. I don't think there are any reports of them attacking people, and were very shy animals, even before they were hunted to near extinction.
 

tattooted

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Ansonargyris wrote:
IIRC, Heuvelmans mentions the Mngwa or Nunda, a big felid ('the size of a donkey') with grey , brindled fur.
Thanks for the help, but I'm thinking that it was probably the infamous Nandi bear. The thing that sounded familiar was the head attack/brain eating characteristic.

From this site on the Nandi bear:
Heuvelmans... says that one of the monster's habits is to lie on a low branch, and to swipe at passers-by, ripping open the head and devouring the brain.
In 1919, a farmer named Cara Buxton related the following story:

A short time ago a 'Gadett' visited the district. This name is given to the animal by the Lumbwa and signifies the 'brain-eater.'

Its first appearance was on my farm, where the sheep were missing. We finally found all ten, seven dead and three still alive. In no case were the bodies touched, but the brains were torn out...
Heuvelmans mentions that the strangest fact about the Nandi Bear is not its appearance, but its supposed ferocity; even those animals notorious for attacking man will do so without provocation only extremely rarely.
I'm not suggesting that a Nandi bear was the Beast of Gévaudan, just thinking that it might be fruitful to look at predators with similar hunting methods. Does anyone know of any real animals that crush the skull of their prey to kill it, rather than the tried and true tearing out of the throat?
 

OldTimeRadio

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#17
Two More Theories Plus an Idea

7. A wolf-dog cross. But why would such a cross produce offspring the size of a small cow? And shouldn't the product of a wolf-dog mating be LESS ferocious that a pure wolf? People keep half-wolves as HOUSEHOLD PETS (however unwisely).

8. A cross between a European wolf and a thylacine. But how DO you cross a placental with a non-placental animal? If you could actually DO that you might be able to cross horses with kangaroos!

Dougal Longfoot, thank you for you comment regarding thylacines. I'd never heard that they were man-killers, so it's nice to have your verification.

The taxidermied Gevaudan Beast which was exhibited at a Paris Museum seems to have been a victim of the French Revolution. But a contemporary sketch of it being examined by crowds in the Museum is widely available numerous places on the Web.

One of my wilder speculations is that the Beasts may have been a one-in-a-zillion offspring between two animals of different species - say a bull and a bear. If that extremely unlikely gestation did take place, though, the offspring might have spent their lives in extreme pain, which might explain their demonic nastiness.

And a closing thought - while one of the two Beasts was taken to Paris for preservation and exhibition, the other was buried in situ in the Gevaudan Forest.

THE BONES ARE LIKELY STILL THERE!!
 

OldTimeRadio

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#18
Hyena

Many people believe that the "Beast of Gevaudan" was a pair of African hyenas.

So ARE hyenas that ferocious and blood-thirsty towards humans? I confess that I was raised to think of hyenas as SCAVENGERS rather than as man-killers.

Is there ANY record from Africa of one or two hyenas attacking 300 humans, and devouring 100 of those, within a two-year period?

P. S. And don't hyenas "laugh"? That particular trait doesn't seem to have been possessed by the Gevaudan "what-are-they."
 

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#19
Gevaudan WOLF Question

The peoples of the Gevaudan have lived at peace with the wolves of the Gevaudan Forest for uncounted centuries. While the human inhabitants don't exactly go out and pet the wolves, they supply them with food and even build windbreaks during harsh winters.

This is reason enough to believe that the Gevaudan Beasts were not merely two regulation wolves.

So what WAS the relationship of the regular wolves to the Beasts? Did they regard them as friend or foe?

And did the Beasts regard those everyday wolves as distant cousins....or as Christimas dinner?

In short, what do we know of "regular" wolf behavior in the Gevaudan during 1764-1765?
 

Xanatico

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#20
I thought a thylacine was no bigger than a medium sized dog. So in fact smaller than a wolf. No where near cow sized. I think the hyena idea is interesting, they are thouroughly nasty creatures.

Animals that are castrated end up being larger than non-castrated animals. This goes for humans too. So that could produce creatures of a different size, but I think castration would also make them less agressive not more.
 

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#21
Trying to find animals that attack the head, I came across The Beast of Gévaudan and Other "Maulers" an article reprinted from The Cryptozoology Review 1:2, Fall 1996. The author makes a strong case for the Beasts being some sort of mustelid.
Descriptions varied widely, but most agreed that it was wolf-like, though nearly the size of a cow. Its chest was wide, its tail long and thin with a lion-like tuft of fur at its end. Its snout was like that of a greyhound, and large fangs protruded from its formidable jaws. The beast was believed to be incredibly agile - it was credited with taking leaps of up to 30 feet (2). The Paris Gazette, carrying a story about the monster, commented that it was reddish in colour, that its chest was wide and grey, and that the hind legs were longer than the fore legs.

Although the story of the Beast of Gévaudan is doubtless embellished greatly in terms of its size and other features, the facts remain: some sort of large creature was ravaging the district, killing people more often than livestock. The beast seems to have had a definite preference for attacking victims around the head, oftentimes crushing the skull and eating the entrails. Wounds of this type were also displayed by victims of a similar creature which prowled Limerick, Ireland, more than a century later.
Does anyone else know anything about the Ireland reference?

Excerpt from The Beast of Gévaudan and Other "Maulers" continued:
Mustelids are fearless animals, attacking nearly anything they feel they have even a chance of bringing down. The wolverine and many other members of the family have a preference for either lying in ambush in a tree and jumping upon a victim's head, or leaping at the victim's throat.

One species in particular, the pine marten (Martes martes), fits many characteristics of maulers almost perfectly. The pine marten is a small, weasel-like animal (barely bigger than an average house cat) that preys on rodents and birds, occasionally eating eggs or fruit. The pine marten is unusually agile, living most of its life in trees. It has a dark brown, almost black, colour and a cream-coloured patch around the throat. Most reports of maulers are from areas within the pine marten's range, and it would leave "clawed-cat"-type tracks. (One difference, however, is that martens are nocturnal while most maulers seem to be diurnal; however, this detail is a relatively minor one.)

I am not proposing that maulers are pine martens in the strictest sense; pine martens are far too unimpressive. There may be a subspecies, however, that co-exists with its substantially smaller conspecifics, which would account for sightings of maulers and accounts of their depredations.
 

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#22
Regarding hyenas:

From here.
Sporting exceedingly powerful jaws, this meat-eater can be very bold when hungry and has been known to attack people as they sleep in their huts. When a hyena attacks a human, it usually begins by mauling the face first.
Doing a search on google with "hyena attacks" as the subject, many pages pop up, including information on attacks this year by the "Dedza Beast". I was unable to find a clear statistic on how many people are killed annually by hyenas, but it seems to be a fairly common occurrence. So much so that the Malawi Department of Parks and Wildlife had this to say in one report:
Problem Animal Control– A total of 392 animals comprising buffalo, hippo, hyena, crocodile, elephant and snakes were shot as problem animals and crop pests. Some of them made sensational news, for example, the Dedza beast. In general, hyenas were the biggest menace, attacking people in Lilongwe East (Chimutu), Kasungu (Santhe), Mchinji and other areas. The human/hyena problem is perennial, as two previous years we had the Dowa beast and other hyena attacks in Blantyre, Chikwawa and Ntcheu.
(italics mine)
 

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#23
I dont know about attacking humans, hyenas are smart creatures capable of adapting to a variety of situations.

They are highly social and so a lone hyena would be very unhappy.

They can be tamed as hunters...some reports said the Beast (refered to as `female` was someone in the know? Hyenas are led by a matriach) had human backup.

Was someone keeping a tame hyena and letting it loose upon the poplace?
 

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#24
Wounds of this type were also displayed by victims of a similar creature which prowled Limerick, Ireland, more than a century later.
Does anyone else know anything about the Ireland reference?
Was the the king otter (sorry, can't recall the Gaelic name) that supposedly killed a woman in rural Ireland a couple of hundred years ago?
 

OldTimeRadio

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#25
Hyena?

If the Gauveda Beasts were indeed hyenas, they had to have been purposely introduced into France by some human agent. They certainly didn't walk to France clear around the Mediterranean and they're not likely to have booked their own ship passage.

So can we track down that human agent? He (or she) was either wealthy or an explorer and more likely BOTH. Almost certainly a person who'd received an education in the sciences. A member of the Nobility, probably with royal family connections.

If this person was a native of the Gevaudan (traditionally a poor district) or spent a great deal of time there he should be quite easy to identify.

Is there a French genealogist in the house?
 

OldTimeRadio

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#26
Hyena a Large as a Cow?

Has there ever been any other hyena which grew to the size of a COW?

If the answer to that one is YES, the answer to the Gevaudan enigma is probably hyena.

If.....
 

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#27
I always got the impression that the Beast was actualy quite small.

Well within the range of a striped hyena, say.
 

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#28
Kondoru said:
"I always got the impression that the Beast was actualy quite small. Well within the range of a striped hyena, say."
But the surviving eyewitnesses described the Beasts (there were almost certainly two of them) as being COW-sized.

So I'm forced to repeat my original question: CAN hyenas grow to that size?

And let's not forget that the BONES of one of the twin beasts were interred in the Gauvedan forest. Wouldn't it be worthwhile to scientifically excavate/exhume those remains to SEE what the Beast truly was?
 

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#29
How many reports said the beast(s) were cow-sized? OK, so there was newspaper coverage, but in an age before photography the size of anything is hard to ascertain... one person could have been mistaken or exaggerated, and that report could just have been spread and copied, turning something of relatively mundane size into something "the size of a cow"...

Hyena seems to be the most generally acceptable explanation, but there are other details that seem a bit unlikely, such as the "greyhound-like" face - i can't think of anything much that has that long and pointed a face bigger than, well, a greyhound...

One of the theories that Heuvelmans put forward for the killings attributed to the Nandi "bear" was humans disguising themselves (for the purposes of some sort of ritual or political killing) as animals - i reckon something like this could be a factor here...

Man with a trained pair of hyenas (from a travelling circus, perhaps?) or a trained litter of wolf/mastiff (or some other very big dog) crosses maybe?
 

OldTimeRadio

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#30
nataraja said:
"One of the theories that Heuvelmans put forward for the killings attributed to the Nandi 'bear' was humans disguising themselves (for the purposes of some sort of ritual or political killing) as animals - i reckon something like this could be a factor here..."

But many of the surviving witnesses got up close and personal with the Gevaudan Beast(s). Wouldn't at least a few of them have realized that their attacker was a human being dressed in animal skins and wearing some sort of mask?

And if late 18th Century French circuses and carnivals commonly carried hyenas as part if their menageries, wouldn't the people of the Gevaudan have ALREADY been familiar with hyenas?

It's interesting that the hyena "explanation" seems to be a very modern guess. It's remarkable that 19th Century French naturalists, chronologically closer to the events than we are, don't seem to have made the hyena connection. (If I'm in error here, please let me know.)

I'd also like to know whether any single pair of hyenas, especially ones thrust into an alien, unfamiliar, non-native environment, are intelligent enough to elude, evade, outflank and make utter fools of whole teams of professional hunters for two years.
 
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