Aug 9, 2010

The Beast of Gévaudan

One day in June 1764, in a forest in the Gévaudan, a mountainous region of south-central France, a young woman tending cows looked up to see a hideous beast bearing down on her. The creature resembled an enormous wolf. Her dogs fled, but the cattle drove the beast off with their horns. The woman would prove considerably more fortunate than most witnesses of what became known as the “Beast of Gévaudan.” The beasts were consistently described by eyewitnesses as having formidable teeth and immense tails. Their fur had a reddish tinge, and was said to have emitted an unbearable odour. An enormous amount of manpower and resources was used in the hunting of the beast, including the army, conscripted civilians, several nobles, and a number of royal huntsmen.

The Beast of Gévaudan (French: La Bête du Gévaudan) is a name given to man-eating wolf-like animals alleged to have terrorized the former province of Gévaudan (modern day département of Lozère and part of Haute-Loire), in the Margeride Mountains in south-central France from 1764 to 1767 over an area stretching 90 by 80 kilometres.

In a study of the relationship of human-attacking wolf reports to werewolf legends, W. M. S. and Claire Russell write that “modern wolves have had many generations’ experience of fire-arms, and are likely to be more cautious than their ancestors.” Few peasants in mid-eighteenth-century France possessed guns. Much folklore and printed speculation aside — the beast has been “identified” variously as a werewolf, a hyena, a man in wolf skins, or a hybrid bred by a madman specifically to kill people — no real doubt about the animal’s identity remains.

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