From 1764-1767, a wild animal terrorized the region of Gevaudan in rural France. To this “Beast of Gevaudan” were attributed at least 200 attacks on human beings, 90 of which were fatal.
The internet is full of articles about it. I recommend the 12-minute video by “The Cajun Cutthroat,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fyTL50hQKM . (If the link doesn’t work, sorry–I’ve done my best. But you ought to be able to find this just by searching for the title: “The Beast of Gevaudan–The True Story”.)
At one point during the Beast’s reign of terror, in 1765, 10,000 men–at the royal government’s expense–were hunting it. They shot 17 wolves but couldn’t nail the Beast. Finally, in the spring of 1767, local man Jean Chastel shot and killed the Beast. The authorities had the carcass stuffed and mounted for display, briefly–and then it was secretly buried somewhere on the grounds of Versailles Palace. Secretly! The French do have a passion for secrecy; therefore modern scientists can’t dig up the Beast and study it.
What was it? A rogue wolf of unusual size, energy, and ferocity, most people believed at the time. But wolves hunt in packs, and the Beast was never seen in association with other wolves. Not to mention that its depredations on the human population are unmatched in history–the shark in Jaws was a guppy, compared to the Beast of Gevaudan.
A wolf-dog hybrid? Maybe. Wolf-dog hybrids often display a highly nervous temperament, and can be more aggressive than a wolf or a dog.
A big hyena escaped from a menagerie? Or a panther? Contemporary pictures of the Beast argue against that. Some of the pictures, though, show the Beast with a long, stiff tail that isn’t at all wolf-like–not a mistake that any 18th-century illustrator would make.
Could it have been some cryptic prehistoric animal–like a mesonychid, or a hyaenodon–inadvertently flushed out of a micro-habitat, with disastrous results? We would know if we could find the stuffed carcass; but I don’t think the French are going to let anybody dig up the grounds of Versailles, looking for it.
Maybe the local bishop had something there when he pronounced the Beast “a scourge of God,” sent to punish the people for their wicked ways. But usually in such cases, God issues a warning well in advance and gives the people time to repent–as we see on many occasions in the Bible.
It certainly gives you something to think about, doesn’t it?