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Biology of the "Beast of Gévaudan": Morphology, Habitat Use, and Hunting Behaviour of an 18 th Century Man-Eating Carnivore

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Abstract and Figures

The extensive information handed down by witnesses in the 18 th century with regard to a carnivore that killed approximately one hundred people in Gévaudan and in bordering regions (Southern France) from 1764 to 1767 is summarized. The reported morphological and behavioural characteristics of the animal contradict the widespread assumption that "the Beast" (la Bête) was a synonym for man-eating wolves (Canis lupus). The details which have been passed on about the physique of the Beast, the descriptions of its fur, its prey selection, its predatory attack behaviour, its handling of human victims, as well as its response to the pressure imposed by hunters, indicate that the Beast was a single animal that is identifiable as a subadult male lion (Panthera leo).
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Taake,!Karl-Hans!(2020).!Biology'of'the'“Beast'of'Gévaudan”:'Morphology,'Habitat'Use,'and'
Hunting'Behaviour'of'an'18th'Century'Man-Eating'Carnivore.!ResearchGate.!
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Biology!of!the!Beast!of!Gévaudan:!Morphology,!Habitat!Use,!and!
Hunting!Behaviour!of!an!18th!Century!Man-Eating!Carnivore!
!
Karl-Hans!Taake!
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Abstract:!The!extensive!information!handed!down!by!witnesses!in!the!18th!century!with!
regard!to!a!carnivore!that!killed!approximately!one!hundred!people!in!Gévaudan!and!in!
bordering! regions! (Southern! France)! from!1764! to! 1767!is! summarized.!The! reported!
morphological!and!behavioural!characteristics!of! the! animal!contradict!the! widespread!
assumption! that! the! Beast”! (la' Bête)! was! a! synonym! for! man-eating! wolves! (Canis'
lupus).! The! details! which! have! been! passed!on! about!the! physique!of! the! Beast,! the!
descriptions!of!its! fur,! its!prey! selection,!its!predatory!attack!behaviour,! its!handling! of!
human!victims,!as!well!as!its!response!to!the!pressure!imposed!by!hunters,!indicate!that!
the!Beast! was! a!single!animal!that!is!identifiable!as!a!subadult!male!lion!(Panthera'leo).!
The!identification!of!this!animal!as!Canis'lupus!contradicts!basic!zoological!knowledge.!
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Table!of!Contents!
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Morphology!...........................................................................................................................................................!1!
Habitat!use!............................................................................................................................................................!3!
Wolf!territories!....................................................................................................................................................!5!
Attacking!and!handling!victims!....................................................................................................................!5!
Selection!of!human!prey!..................................................................................................................................!7!
Conclusion!.............................................................................................................................................................!9!
References!.............................................................................................................................................................!9!
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Morphology!
The!described!body!size,!the!length! of! a! paw!imprint,! and! the! reported!strength! (Table!
1)!prove!in!combination!that!the!animal!belonged!to!one!of!the!few!species!of!very!large!
terrestrial!carnivores.!Morphological!details,!such!as!the!long!tail!with!its!tassel,!the!flat!
upper!side!of!the!head,!the!stronger!front!of!the!body!as!compared!to!the!rear,!as!well!as!
characteristics!of!the!fur!and!behavioural!traits!allow!us!to!narrow!down!the!number!of!
species!that!come!into!question!to!only!one,!namely!Panthera'leo.!!
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Surviving! victims,! other! eyewitnesses,! and! hunters!reported! having!seen! a! large!
carnivore!that!had!upright!hair!on!the!back!of!its!head!and!neck!and!a!dark!line!along!its!
spine.! Both! features! are! among! the! best-documented! traits!of! the! Beast:! witnesses!
described!these!and!other!revealing!features!on!different!occasions,!usually!in!their!own!
words.! A! dark! line! and! upright! hair! at! the! neck,! a! so-called! Mohawk! mane,! are!
characteristics!which!occur!in!lions!(Photos!1!and!2).!
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Table!1! summarizes!characteristics!of! the!Beast.!Conclusions! that!are! definitely! wrong!
have!been!excluded!from!the!table,!for!example,!the!assumption!that!the!Beast!had!claws!
only! on! its! front! paws.! Also,! the! descriptions! of! those! killed! wolves! which! were!
arbitrarily! selected! by! hunters! or! peasants! and! presented! as! “the! Beast”! remain!
unconsidered!in!this! article.!This! includes!the!description! of! a!male!wolf! that! was!shot!
on!19!June!1767!and! is! regarded!until! this!day!as! the! attacker,!although! the! inherently!
contradictory! autopsy! report! on! this! animal! reflects! the! obvious! effort! to! attribute!
catlike!features!of!the!Beast!to!a!normal!wolf.!
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Table!1:!Characteristics!of!the!Beast!of!Gévaudan!!
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Criteria!
Description!
Body!
body!size!compared!to!that!of!a!one-year-old!bovine!and!a!
donkey;1,2,3!“twice!as!long!as!an!ordinary!wolf!and!much!
higher”;4!“body!‘much!broader!in!front!than!in!the!rear’”;5!
great!“‘agility!and!flexibility’”;6!“catlike!features”7!!
Fur!
described!as!reddish,8!reddish!brown,9!rusty,!or!tawny;10,11!
stripe!along!the!spine,!described!as!black,!brown!or!dark;12!“a!
black!stripe!with!the!width!of!four!fingers!from!the!neck!to!the!
tail”;13!chest!hair!grey-white;14!belly!hair!whitish;15!“the!neck!
covered!with!long!and!black!hair”;16!“bristly!patch!of!fur!
between!its!ears”;17!“tuft!of!fur!above!its!eyes!which!it!bristles!
up”;18!“‘raised!tuft!of!hair!on!top!of!the!head!and!between!the!
ears’”;19!“hair!is!very!long”20!!
Head!
“‘very!large!and!flat!head’”;21!“wide!forehead!‘a!foot!across’”;22!
“eyes!…!sparkle”;23!“short!ears”;24!“the!muzzle!almost!
comparable!with!that!of!a!lion”25!
Paw!
paw!imprint!about!16!cm!in!length;26!claws!“as!long!as!a!
finger”,!used!in!attacks!and!for!defence;27,28!Beast!held!human!
victims!down!with!its!paws29!!
Tail!
“extremely!long!and!tufted”;30!“so!long!that!it!reaches!the!
ground”;31!“similar!to!the!tail!of!a!leopard”;32!of!a!“terrible!
strength”;33!“as!thick!as!an!arm”;34!tip!of!the!tail!
extraordinarily!thick”;!tail!“‘sticking!up!at!the!end’”;!“swings!it!
like!a!cat!before!pouncing!on!its!prey”35!!
Strength!
leaped!“28!feet!in!one!bound!in!flat!country”;36!dragged!a!
killed!woman!“a!long!way!through!the!bushes,!which!were!
very!dense”;37!dragged!the!body!of!a!12-year-old!girl!“to!the!
top!of!a!high!mountain”38!
Robustness!
hunters!failed!to!kill!the!Beast!with!lead!bullets!and!only!
injured!it39!!
Vocalization!
“‘its!cry!is!precisely!that!of!a!braying!ass’”;40!“a!dull!sound!like!
that!of!a!dog!wishing!to!bark”41!
Odour!
“‘a!tuft!of!fur!…!was!striking!for!its!great!stench’”;42!“unusual!
stench”;43!hounds,!trained!to!follow!wolf!tracks,!refused!to!
follow!the!Beast’s!track;44,45!dogs!which!saw!or!smelled!the!
Beast!took!flight46!
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Photo!1:!Subadult!male!lion!in!Namibia,!Southern!Africa,!with!a!dark!
“Mohawk”!mane!at!the!nape!of!its!neck.!!
(Henk!Bogaard/shutterstock.com)!!
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Photo! 2:! A! dark! line! along! the! spine,! either! continuous! or!
interrupted,!occurs! in! lions!in!several!variants,! including!differences!
in!the!width!and!length!of!the!line.!Male!lion!in!Zimbabwe,!Southern!
Africa.!(Anton!Ivanov/shutterstock.com)!
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Habitat!use!!
The!total!home!range!of!the!Beast!over!the!years!1764-67!covered!an!area!of!about!two!
and!a!half!thousand!square!kilometres!in! Gévaudan! and! adjoining! parts! of! Vivarais! and!
Auvergne.!This!landscape!was!a!highly!diverse!highland!region,!sparsely!populated,!with!
woods,!shrubland,! heathland,!open! grassland,!marshland,! bogs,! gorges,!caves,! streams,!
and!rocky!outcrops.!The!Beast’s!preferred!abode!was!the!open!country,!where!it! hid!in!
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wheat!fields!(its!“favourite!hiding!places”)47!or! sat!on! a! rock,!for! instance,! and! watched!
what! was! going! on! in! a! valley,! or! lurked! on! pastures! among! broom! and! juniper! or!
behind!dry! walls.!It!usually!only! retreated!into! the! wood!when! it! was!being!hunted!or!
wanted!to!carry!its!prey!to!a!place!where!this!could!be!devoured!in!safety.48,49!The!Beast!
also! entered! villages! and! gardens! of! houses,! even! in! full! daylight,! to! attack! humans!
there.50!!
In!spring!and!summer!1764,!the!Beast!concentrated!its!attacks!on!an!area!of!350!to!400!
square!kilometres!at!an!altitude!of!1000!to! 1200! metres!to! the! south! and! southwest!of!
the!commune!Langogne.!In!October!1764,!it!moved,!obviously!in!reaction!to!the!hunts!in!
this!area,! about! two! dozen! kilometres! to! the! west!and! attacked! humans! in! an! area! of!
roughly! equal! size! in! the! region! around! the! communes! Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole,!
Aumont-Aubrac,! and! Saint-Chély-d’Apcher.! In! November! and! December! 1764,! it!
extended!the!latter!area!to! a! (rough)! triangle! that!reached!to!the!southwest,!north,!and!
southeast!for!about!two!to!three!dozen!kilometres!in!each!of!these!directions!beyond!the!
area!that! was! previously! haunted.! The! next! change! followed! in! January! 1765!and! so!
on.51!Although!these!changes!of!location!were!very!probably!a!consequence!of!hunts!on!
the! Beast,! they! were! not! always!a! direct! response! to! the! hunts! in! its! home! range! –!
instead!the!Beast!seems! to! have!learned! that!frequent! changes!of! its!abode! diminished!
the!risk!of!confrontations!with!hunters.!After!the!large-scale!battues!had!been!given!up,!
the!Beast!stopped!its!migrations.!!
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Photo! 3:! The!plateaus! of! the!Margeride!were! the! Beast’s!preferred!
habitat.!(Marc!Poveda/shutterstock.com)!
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The! last! area! haunted! by! the! Beast,! where! it! remained! for,! by! far,! the! longest! time,!
namely!from!September!1765!to!summer!1767,!was!again!an!area!of!about!400!square!
kilometres!in!the! Margeride!around! the!commune!Paulhac-en-Margeride!–!exactly!that!
area!where!the!king’s!gun-bearer!François!Antoine!had!shot!wolves!before,52!including!a!
big!wolf! in!September!1765,!which!he!presented!at!the!court!in!Versailles!as!the! “Beast!
of!Gévaudan”.!After!Antoine’s!wolf!hunts!in!this!area,!the!case!was!closed!for!the!court:53!
no! more! extensive!hunts! were! organized.! The! Beast! stayed!in! an!area! that! obviously!
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provided,! with! its! rocky!grass!and! heathlands,! a! particularly!suitable!habitat.!
Furthermore,! the! Beast! benefited! from! the! fact! that! Antoine! had! “cleared”! the! area! of!
wolves,! which! were! competitors! for! the! Beast:! just! like! wolves,! the! Beast! must! have!
relied,!to!a!great!extent,!on!ungulates!as!prey.!!
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Wolf!territories!
Gévaudan!was!undoubtedly!populated!by!more!than!one!pack!of!wolves.!This!is!obvious!
when! one! considers,! among! other! things,! the! high! numbers! of! shot! and! poisoned!
wolves:!for!example,!99!wolves!were!killed!in!Gévaudan!from!12!April!1766!to!19!March!
1767.54!The!land!was!an!optimal!wolf!habitat:!rich!in!hiding!places,!often!inaccessible!for!
man,! and! rich! in! wild! and! domesticated! ungulates;! wild! ungulates! were!abundant,!
because!they!were!protected!(until!the!revolutionary!year!of!1789)!by!the!gamekeepers!
of!the!aristocratic!landowners.!This!extended!wolf!habitat!must!have!been!divided!into!
wolf!territories.!Man-eating!wolves!would!not!have!the!freedom!to!prey!on!humans!(as!
the! Beast! did)! for! some! months! in! the! east! of! an! area! with! the! size! of! thousands! of!
square! kilometres,! then! to! migrate! to! the! west,! attack! humans! there! (now! leaving! the!
previously!haunted!area!in!peace),!later!to!move!to!the!north!and!so!on:!such!migrations!
would!have! necessitated!crossing!the!territories!of!other!wolves,!and!the!consequences!
of!this! would! have!been!deadly!attacks! by!conspecifics.!The!only!theoretically!possible!
alternative!to!support! the!assumption! that! the!Beast! was!a!wolf! (or!wolves)! would! be!
that! man-eating! wolves!of! one! pack! stopped! attacking! humans! at! the! very! time! when!
wolves!of!another!pack!started! attacking!humans! in!their!own! territory,!a!process!that!
would! require! multiple! repetitions! with! the! participation! of! several! wolf! packs! –! this!
does!not!need!any!discussion.!!
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Attacking!and!handling!victims!!
The! Beast! “attacks! …! by! surprise”;55!it! was! observed! “laying! in! ambush”,56!stalking!its!
prey!by!“creeping!on!its!belly!like!a!snake”,!and!rearing!“up!on!its!hind!legs”57!during!the!
attack!(Figure!1).!It!attacked!humans!in!the!region!of!the!head!and!neck58!and!obviously!
suffocated! victims! in! some! cases! –! a! killing! technique! used! by! pantherine! cats! to! kill!
ungulates.! On! 8! October!1764,! the! Beast! seized! a! 15-year-old! youth! near! Le! Pouget!
(parish!of!La!Fage-Montivernoux)!by!his!neck!and!tried,!without!piercing!his! neck! with!
its! teeth,! to! throttle! him! between! its! jaws.! Because! of! his! fierce! resistance,! the! boy!
survived!with! serious! injuries!and!was! temporarily! mentally!handicapped;!claw! marks!
were!visible!on!his!chest.59!!
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The!books!of! the! abbés!Pierre!Pourcher! and!François! Fabre!(first! editions!published! in!
1889,! respectively! in! 1901)! contain! a! large! number! of! 18th! century! testimonies! about!
those!attacks!of!the! Beast! where!it! was!reported! having!used! its!paws! and/or!claws!in!
attacks!or!in!defence!against!a!stabbing!weapon!or!where!injuries!on!humans!caused!by!
the! Beast’s! claws!are! described.! It! is! beyond! any! doubt!that! this! behaviour! is!
inconsistent! with! the! behaviour! of! any! species! of! the! family! Canidae,! but! thoroughly!
consistent!with!the!behaviour!of!a!pantherine!cat.!!
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Figure! 1:!This! picture! probably! shows! the!
deadly! attack! on! Marianne! Hébrad! on! 6!
August! 1764! at! St-Jean-La-Fouilhouse! near!
Mende,60!as! it! was! observed,! according! to!
the!text!under!the! picture,! by!an!abbé!Petit.!
The!text!says,!among!other!things,!that!there!
were!too!few!villagers!to!helpfully!intervene!
and!that!there!should!be!no!doubt!about!the!
appearance! of! the! animal.! (Date:! 1764;!
Wikimedia!Commons,!public!domain)!
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Figure! 2:!Other! contemporary!illustrations!
depict!the! Beast! as! a! wolf,! a! hyena! (the!
alleged!hyena!shown!here),! or! as! an!
unidentifiable! fantastic! creature.! Some!
pictures,! including! this! one,! show! traits!
which! eyewitnesses! had! reported! from! the!
Beast:! e.g.! an! enormous! body! size;! the!
stronger!front! of!the!animal!as!compared!to!
its! rear! side;! long! claws;! a! whitish!
underside;! and! a! long,! tufted! tail.! (Date:!
about! 1765;! Wikimedia! Commons,! public!
domain)!
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A!strange!aspect!regarding!the!Beast’s!treatment!of!human!victims!is!that!it!decapitated!
15! victims:! children,! youths,! and! women.! Historians! believe! that! the! heads! were!
accidentally!separated!from!the!bodies!as! a! consequence! of! attacks! at! the! throat! and! of!
dragging!victims!through!vegetation.!However,!it!is!improbable!that!the!head!of!a!youth!
or! adult! victim! was! accidentally! separated! from! the! body! during! an! attack! or! while!
carrying! off! the! body,! all! the! more! as! the! total! number! of! decapitated! victims! was!
remarkably!high.!On!6!January!1765,!the!Beast!tore!out!pieces!of!tissue!from!the!throat!
of!a!25-year-old!woman,!killed!between!the!villages!of!Montclergues!and!Montfol!(parish!
of! Fournels),! but! did! not! eat! these! pieces;61!this! seems! to! have! been! an! incomplete!
decapitation.! An! explanation! for! this! behaviour! and! for! the! decapitations! is! that! the!
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Beast,!which!was!reported!as!drinking,!licking!up,!or!“sucking”!blood,62,63!wanted!to!gain!
unhindered!access!to!the!blood!flow!from!ruptured!carotid!arteries!and!jugular!veins.!!
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Seven!heads!were!carried!off!by!the!Beast.64!As!eight!separated!heads!were!not! carried!
off,! carrying! off! heads! was! a! consequence! of! the! beheadings! and! not! the! aim.! On! 25!
November! 1764,! the! Beast! killed! and! beheaded! the! approximately! 60-year-old!
Catherine!Vally! from! the!village!of! Buffeyrettes!(parish!of! Aumont)!and! carried! off!her!
head;! when!the! head! was! found,! it! had! been! split! in! two,! judging! from! the! enormous!
teeth! marks! “in! the! way! a! man’s! mouth! might! crack! a! nut”.! And! the! skull! had! been!
cleaned! inside! and! outside! so! thoroughly,! “as! if! polished! with! a! tool”.65!It! is! hard! to!
imagine!in! this!case!any!other!“tool”!than!a!specially!adapted!cat!tongue.!This!thorough!
removal! of! the! soft! body! tissues! certainly! did! not! result,! as! proposed! by! François! de!
Beaufort!(cited!by!Moriceau)66,!from!the!activity!of!wolf!cubs!playing!with!the!head;!the!
more! so! as! in! November! there! were! no! cubs! that! could! have! romped! around! with!
remains!of!prey.!!
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On!2!July!1765,!in!the!region!of!Aubrac,!the!Beast!attacked!a!horse!that!was!followed!by!
two! men.! The! Beast! jumped! on! the! horse! and! inflicted! two! serious! wounds! to! it,! ten!
centimetres!apart.!The!wound!that!was!higher!up!on!the!back!of!the!horse!was!about!17!
centimetres! long! and! ran! from! the! croup! to! the! rear! end.! The! lower! wound!was! four!
centimetres!wide!and!just!as!deep.67!The!long!wound!was!very!probably!a!claw!injury.!It!
is!not!conceivable!why!a!wolf!should!jump!on!the!back!of!a!horse!and!how!a!wolf!could!
have!inflicted!such!a!wound;!but!it!is!a!well-known!attack!strategy!of!big!cats!to!jump!at!
large!ungulates!from!behind!and!to!hold!onto!the!back!or!rear!end!with!their!claws!and!
teeth!to!bring!down!the!victim.!In!two!other!cases!the!Beast!attacked!horses!with!riders;!
as!explained!earlier,!also!in!these!cases!very!probably!the!horses!and!not!the!riders!were!
the!aim!of!the!attacks.68!
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Selection!of!human!prey!
As!shown! earlier,!the!proportion! of! adult!Beast! victims! over!18! years! is!more! than! six!
times! higher! than! the! comparable! percentage! published! by! Linnell! et! al.! for! wolves:!
when! the! data! related! to! the! Beast!are! presented! separately! from!the! wolf!data,! these!
percentages! are! 26! (Beast! victims)! versus! 4! (wolf! victims).! On! the! other! hand,! the!
proportion!of! children! under!the! age! of!ten!is,! in!the!Gévaudan! data,!only!one! third!as!
compared!to!the! wolf! data:! 20!versus!60!percent.69!Older! victims! are,!in!general,!bigger!
and!stronger;!therefore,!these!percentages!reflect!the!larger!body!size!of!the!Beast!as!a!
predator.!!
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What! is! particularly! remarkable! is! that! attacks! on! children! under! the! age! of! ten!
obviously!resulted!from!the!hunting!pressure!on!the!Beast:!among!the!first!15!victims!of!
known!age,!killed!in!the!year!1764,!there!was!no!child!under!the!age!of!ten;!the!same!is!
true!for!seven!more!victims!who!were!hurt!or!attacked!without!being!hurt!in! 1764.! On!
the!other!hand,!the!proportion!of!killed!victims!over!the!age!of!18!was,!with!40!percent,!
strikingly!high!(Figure!3).!So!this!man-eating!carnivore,!appearing!in!1764!in!Gévaudan!
and!generally!classified!as!a!wolf!(or!as!wolves),!did,!in!this!year,!as!far!as!we!know,!not!
even!attempt!to!attack!a!child!under!the!age!of!ten!–!although!young!children!were!sent!
out! to! the! pastures! every! day! and! although! the! carnivore! did! not! shrink! back! from!
preying! on! humans! in! their!gardens.! Regarding! historical! wolf! attacks,! children! under!
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the!age!of!ten!were!the!most!affected!group.!Furthermore,!adult!human!victims!over!the!
age!of!18,!accounting!for!only!four!percent!in!the!wolf!data!published!by!Linnell!et!al.!if!
the! Gévaudan! data! are! excluded,70,71!were! affected! in! Gévaudan! in! the! year! 1764,! the!
tenfold!of!that!percentage.!!
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Figure! 3:!Percentage! of! fatalities! per! age! group! in! the! years! 1764! to! 1767.! The!
respective!total!of!the!fatalities,!as!far!as!the!victims’!ages!are!known,!is!in!brackets.!
The!proportion!of!the!10!to!18-year-old!victims!accounts!in!all!years!for!at!least!half!
of!all!fatalities;!compared!to!the!other!two!age!groups,!it!varies!the!least.!In!1764,!the!
Beast! killed! no! child! under! the! age! of! 10! years;! the! proportion! of! the! oldest!age!
group!was!highest!in!this!year.!It!should!be!noted!that!the!attacks!of!the!years!1764!
and!1767!each!refer!only!to!a!half-year:!in!1764!it!is!the!second!half,!in!1767!the!first!
half.! Although! no! person! over!the! age! of! 18! was! killed! in! 1766,! there! were! a! few!
attacks!on!adults!that!year.!(Database!for!the!figure!above:!Moriceau,! 2008:! La!bête!
du! Gévaudan;72!victims! with! the! specification! “enfant”,! which! cannot! be! assigned!
exactly!to!an!age!group,!and!two!wolf!attacks!are!discounted!in!the!figure).!!
!
!
With! increasing! hunting! pressure! that! also! resulted! in!injuries! for! the! Beast,! the!
percentage! of! the! older! victims! decreased,! while! the! proportion! of! the! youngest! age!
group,!those!victims! who!were!the!easiest!to!overwhelm!and!the!quickest!to!be!carried!
off,!went!up.!The!Beast,!an!“agile!leaper!of!uncommon!strength”,73!managed!to!carry!off!a!
child!quickly,!as!an!attack!on!27!July!1765!showed;!the!victim!was!Pierre!Roussel,!a!boy!
of!about!eleven!years!of!age,!who!was!attacked!near!Servières!(parish!of!Saugues).74!The!
Beast!attacked!the!boy!before!the!eyes!of!his!family,!ran!off!with!its!victim,!and!jumped,!
chased!by!its!persecutors,!with!him!over!three!field!walls,!each!three!feet!high.!!
!
The!hunting!pressure!on!the!animal,!starting!in!September!1764,!was!especially!high!in!
the!first!half!of!February!1765!with!the!deployment!of!tens!of!thousands!of!beaters!and!
hunters.!In!the!weeks!after!these!so!called!“general!hunts”,!the!number!of!killed!children!
under!the!age!of! ten! went! up:! of! the! ten! children! who!were!killed!in!1765!and!who!are!
known! to! have! been! under! the! age! of! ten,! seven! were! killed! in! the! period! from! the!
second! half! of! February! until! the! end! of! March.! After! September! 1765,! the! hunting!
pressure!decreased!(because! the!court! in!Versailles!believed! that! the!Beast!was! dead),!
but!the! Beast!showed,!probably!as!the!aftermath!of!the!battues,!a!substantial!decline!of!
its! attacks.! This! decline! became! evident! in! the! last! quarter! of! 1765! and! it! continued!
0!
10!
20!
30!
40!
50!
60!
70!
1764!
(N=15)!
1765!
(N=39)!
1766!
(N=7)!
1767!
(N=12)!
Percent!
up!to!9!years!
10!to!18!y.!
over!18!y.!
!
9!
throughout! 1766:! in! the! latter! year! there! were! only! seven! death! victims.! However,! in!
1767,!the!numbers!of!human!victims!and!the!proportion!of!adult!victims!went!up!again!
(Figure!3).!!
!
Conclusion!
The! assessment! that!the!attacks!of! the! Beast! of! Gévaudan! are! a! prime! example! of!
historic!wolf!attacks!on!humans!is!based!upon!a!misinterpretation!of!historical!sources.!
The! alleged! identity! of! the! Beast! as! Canis'lupus,! considered! even! by! scientific! authors!
more! as! a! fact! than! as! a! hypothesis,! contradicts,! in! a! striking! manner,! handed-down!
observations!and!fails!to!explain!significant!aspects!of!the!events.!The!changes!in!the!age!
groups! of! those! attacked! and! the! shifts! of! the! affected! areas! show! the! response! of! an!
individual!animal!to!hunting!pressure!and!cannot!be!explained!by!a!“dangerously!dense!
wolf! infestation” 75 .! Furthermore,! hunters! and! other! witnesses! described!an!
extraordinary,!highly!recognisable!animal!that!was,!with!regard!to!its!size!(proven,!inter!
alia,! by! a! paw! imprint! measure),! its! physique,! its! strength,! and! its! fur,! very! different!
from! a! wolf.! The! frequent!use! of! claws! in! attacks!and! the! way! in! which!the! carnivore!
attacked! a! horse!are!further!observations!that! allow!us! to! exclude! a! canid! species.!
However,!as!already!noted!earlier,!there!were,!independently!of!the!attacks!of!the!Beast,!
indeed!a!few!wolf!attacks!on!humans!in!Gévaudan,!including!a!fatal!attack!on!two!boys!
on!9!April!1767!near!Fraissinet!(parish!of!Saint-Privat-du-Fau).76!
The! lion-hypothesis,! indirectly! proposed!already! in! 1765! by! the! dragoon! officer! Jean-
Baptiste! Duhamel,! who! supposed!that! the! Beast! could! be!a! lion! hybrid,77!is! consistent!
with!the!established!knowledge! about! Panthera'leo! and! with!the!historic!environment:!
big!cats!were!exhibited!in!royal!and!private!menageries!and!at!fairs;!they!were!forced!to!
fight! against! each! other! and! against! animals! of! other! species! in! exhibition! fights!and!
were!transported! with!travelling! menageries! throughout!France.78!The! lion-hypothesis!
explains! the! key! observations! handed! down! with!the! written! evidence! of! the! 18th!
century.! Furthermore,! this! hypothesis! fulfils! the! criterion! of! parsimony! as! it! explains!
very! different! aspects! of! the! incidents! by! a! single! factor.! And! the! hypothesis! is!
potentially! falsifiable:! for! example,! Beast! victims! could,! at! least! theoretically,! be!
exhumed!and! skeletal!injuries!inflicted! by!the!Beast! could!be!evaluated.! Moreover,!the!
attacks!on!humans!in!the!French!region!Limousin!(1698-1700),!which!were!not!so!well!
documented!and!which!are! likewise! regarded! as! wolf! attacks,79!can!be!explained!as!the!
attacks!of!a!lion.80!
!
References!
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Preprint
Full-text available
The authors of the so-called rapport Marin (Marin report), a procès-verbal (minutes) signed by, among others, the royal notary Roch Étienne Marin, claimed that the French farmer Jean Chastel had on 19 June 1767 shot a strange carnivore that only partially resembled a wolf: the animal was described as having a monstrous head, unusual body proportions, aberrant morphological characteristics, and unusual fur colours. But insofar as the handed-down descriptions and numerous measurements of the animal’s body parts are comprehensible, this was a normal wolf (Canis lupus) with normal body proportions and normal fur colours (including the colour patterns). The claim, maintained to this day, that this animal was the so-called “Beast of Gévaudan” (Bête du Gévaudan) or one of several man-eating wolves in Gévaudan is unsubstantiated.
Article
Full-text available
I analysed a number of published historical texts which dealt with carnivore attacks that took place in France from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, and the distributional patterns of several series of these attacks. Furthermore, I studied a report on a series of attacks in Germany after the Thirty Years’ War. Comparisons of historical reports with the known morphology and behaviour of wolves (Canis lupus) and other big carnivores, as well as the temporal and spatial distribution of attacks and the statistics on victims, have made it clear that several waves of attack, especially during the 17th and 18th century, some of them allegedly with hundreds of hurt or killed victims, cannot be attributed to wolves, although historians regard them as wolf attacks. The characteristics of many of the attacks and the historic environment indicate that the attackers were members of other carnivore species, especially big cats (Pantherinae) which had escaped from captivity. Some handed-down texts raise doubts as to whether the alleged attacks had really happened. My conclusion is that wolf attacks occurred in France on a much smaller scale than claimed in the analysed literature and that the only known series of alleged wolf attacks in Germany was probably a series of brown bear (Ursus arctos) attacks.
Article
Contents: List of Illustrations and Tables Acknowledgments Introduction Chapter 1: Live Cargo Chapter 2: The Royal Menagerie Chapter 3: Fairs and Fights Chapter 4: The Oiseleurs' Guild Chapter 5: Pampered Parrots Chapter 6: Animals in Print Chapter 7: Elephant Slaves Chapter 8: Vive la Liberte Epilogue Abbreviations List of Primary Resources Bibliographical Essay Index
The Beast of Gévaudan. La Bête du Gévaudan. Translated by Derek Brockis
  • Pierre Pourcher
Pourcher, Pierre (2007). The Beast of Gévaudan. La Bête du Gévaudan. Translated by Derek Brockis. AuthorHouse. p. 45.
The Fear of Wolves: A Review of Wolf Attacks on Humans
  • J D C Linnell
Linnell, J. D. C. et al. (2002). The Fear of Wolves: A Review of Wolf Attacks on Humans. Norsk Institutt for Naturforskning (NINA). Table 7. https://www.nina.no/archive/nina/PppBasePdf/oppdragsmelding/731.pdf 71 Taake 2020, p. 13, Figure 3.