The Beast Of Gevaudan or The Arenotelicon
For the residents of Gevaudan, nestled high in the Margeride Mountains of south-central France, the terror began one day in June of 1764. On that day, a young woman from Langogne was out tending her family's cattle in the Foret de Mercoire. Suddenly, a tremendous wolf-like animal came out of the forest, heading towards the girl. Her dogs ran at the sight of this terrifying monster, the cattle charged at the monster. Seemingly undeterred by the cattle, the creature continued to make its way towards the young girl. The cattle charged it once more, this time driving it back into the forest from where it came.
This young woman was luckier than many later victims of the man eating beast of Gevaudan, for very few survived an attack by the monster. Descriptions varied widely, but most agreed that it was wolf-like, though nearly the size of a horse. 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. 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 front legs. Another account of the beast, published in the English Saint James' Chronicle, stated that the beast was probably a member of "a new species".
Although the story of the Beast of Gevaudan 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, often 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.
After three long years of terror in the region and the shooting of "wolves" supposed to be the beast (by Antoine de Beauterne, King Louis XV's chief huntsman), the monster was finally killed at the Sogne d'Aubert by a hermit named Jean Chastel.
So who, or what, was the beast? Popular opinion at the time held it to be a punishment from God, a werewolf, or some sort of demon summoned by a sorcerer. Many more believed that it was a wolf or some other natural creature, citing a number of instances in which two or more beasts, presumably a mated pair with cubs, had been seen together. Other explanations offered by the learned folk of the day held that the beast was a bear, a wolverine, or even a baboon. Some modern researchers believe it to have been a serial killer who took advantage of a wolf in the area. Another popular theory is that the beast was a wolf-dog hybrid.
A well-known Celtic sculpture commonly known as the "Tarasque" of Noves, found at the base of the Pyrenees in France, depicts a large wolf-like animal similar to the Beast of Gevaudan. Each of its front paws rests on a human head, and a human arm is under its large jaw. A similar sculpture found at Linsdorf, in Alsace, France, may perhaps have been used to hold a human skull. These animals have been thought to be imaginary monsters.
A similar creature was referred to as the arenotelicon in medieval bestiaries. The arenotelicon, which was thought to dwell in wild forests, was widely believed to be a European relative of the hyena or tiger. The creature had a serrated ridge down its spine, feet armed with prodigious claws, a maned neck, and was either hairless or covered in short hair. A creature similar to the arenotelicon was supposedly captured around 1530. According to some sources this happened in the Hauberg Forest, Saxony, Germany, while others say it occurred in the Fannsberg Forest, Salzburg, Austria. It was yellowish in color.
Was The Beast of Gevaudan a mythical creature?
It would be nice to be able to declare the Beast of Gevaudan a hyena, a bear, an escaped lion, or something like that, but in order to do so we must disregard witness testimony. Of course, in this case witness testimony is so riddled with the supernatural that we would have to disregard some of it anyway, but if we accept the core description of the Beast as having any validity, we must also acknowledge that the creature described doesn't match any known animal. Parts of it match wolves, hyenas and panthers, with hyenas probably being the best fit, but we run into serious problems when we try to bend witness testimony to fit a known animal. Unless we toss it all out as superstition, we end up with a Beast that certainly seems cryptozoological in the best sense of the word: it's a genuine puzzle.
If the Beast existed and wasn't any normal species, what could it be? Most explanations put forth hybrid or deformed versions of the several known species that most resembled the Beast of Gevaudan. The idea of wolf-dog hybrids was popular for so long that it was almost accepted that the solution had been found. However, they would have to be pretty odd wolf-dog hybrids in order to adhere to the core description of the Beast. A weird bear mutant might work, if it were mutated in just the right way, but it would need a tail. Hyenas just are not big enough to be the Beast, so once again we would need to propose a mutant or hybrid, as well as the problem that hyenas have been extinct in Europe for a long time. Since cryptozoologists are only ultimately interested in discovering new species or subspecies, if the Beast was proven to be a mutant or hybrid of some kind, then it would cease to be of interest to cryptozoology.
If the Beast of Gevaudan were a new species or subspecies, there are several possibilities. It could be a new bear, a new big cat, some sort of survival of a prehistoric European hyena, or something even more exotic. There is, in fact, a type of animal that fits the core description of the Beast exactly, but it is extinct, and would hardly be expected to have survived in Europe of all places. This group of animals would be the mesonychids, a presumably extinct group of hoofed predators. The biggest mesonychid looked much like a hyena, and was the size of a horse. Some other reports that may describe mesonychids come from Armenia and Assyria about the year 800, and describe pig-like beasts that are vicious predators, but these have huge, floppy ears instead of the Beast's tiny round ears. Another possible mesonychid is reported from a more plausible place, the Amazon rainforest of South America. This creature is called the tapire-iauara.