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In April 1764, the Gévaudan, a former French province (today, Languedoc-Roussillon, in the Occitanie region), was shaken by an event that is still considered one of the worst massacres of an animal against humans in history.
The first time, the Beast attacked a young girl, who managed to survive thanks to the intervention of the cows she was taking out to pasture. The girl described the animal as a big wolf with thick reddish-black hair. The first victim was a 14-year-old boy, of whom only the shoes were found.
Between the summer and autumn of 1764, many people were killed. The authorities decided to send a squadron of dragoons (mounted soldiers) to hunt down and kill the Beast, thus ending the attacks. The dragoons, flanked by 400 horsemen from Clermont commanded by Captain Jean Boulanger Duhamel, began the hunt.
In 1765 the King of France, Louis XV, hired the famous wolf hunter Jean-Charles D’Enneval to help the soldiers. However, it turned out that the noble Norman hunter was a great liar. Every time he claimed to have killed or seriously wounded the animal he had been hired to stop, it mysteriously continued to claim victims. Louis XV, therefore, chose to dismiss him and replace him with Francois Antoine. Antoine was the highest representative of the French Grand Louvetier association, founded in the 14th century to eliminate ferocious beasts. The attacks ended in 1767 when the innkeeper Jean Chastel probably killed the actual Beast.
The total number of confirmed victims was 112 out of at least 240 attacks. Probably there were many more victims because at a certain point, on the orders of Louis XV, they stopped counting the dead.
There are some details about the Chastel family that are very important to the story. In August 1765, two rangers escorting Francois Antoine argued with Jean Chastel and his two sons. Antoine decided to arrest the innkeeper and release him only four days after his departure. We know that Jean Chastel was known by the nickname ‘Sorcerer’. In the 1730s, local peasants already suspected the Chastels of being wolf trainers and committing murders out of pure sadism or private revenge. When Jean was in prison, there was indeed a decrease in the Beast’s attacks.
The last remaining doubt at this point is the identity of the animal. The first hypothesis is that it was a striped hyena that had escaped from captivity. The hyena shares some physical characteristics with wolves. This fact can justify the rusty colour of its fur and the smell that accompanied the Beast that survivors said they had felt. The second hypothesis was proposed in 2015 by the biologist Hans Taake.
Taake, based on the descriptions and behaviour reported by witnesses claims that the Beast was a male lion. A lion that probably escaped from a cage while being transported to some French zoo. In the end, the most likely hypothesis is that the Beast was a pack of wolves who had become anthropophagous. Mass hysteria did the rest, giving birth to that creature with supernatural and immortal characteristics, which was said to be the image of divine wrath against men, which still feeds fears and fantasies today.
Beast of Gévaudan
Feared no sword and feared no gun
Sent from Heaven, the seventh of creatures
Beast of Gévaudan
For the wrath of God to come
Came to sanction the mass and the preachers
Hunted by hundreds and never to be caught
He’s sent to wander, bring terror and take ‘em all beyond
To the Father and the SonBeast of Gévaudan, Powerwolf
Came the beast of Gévaudan
Terminator, a traitor, half wolf and half machine
To thе prior and the nun
Came the bеast of Gévaudan
A redeemer, believer all fatal, mad and mean
Beast of Gévaudan