Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Leslie. Leslie Wonders, “What is the Beast of Gevaudan?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Leslie!

Today’s Wonder of the Day has it all—mystery, historical events, and a strange animal that has yet to be identified. It’s sure to get the most curious imaginations working. Today, we’re learning about the Beast of Gévaudan!

Where was Gévaudan? It was once located in the southern region of France. Today, the area that was once Gévaudan is part of modern-day Lozère. In the mid-1700s, it was a rural, forested region. The people there largely enjoyed a quiet life of farm work.

However, the end of Gévaudan’s quiet reputation came in 1764. That year, a series of animal attacks terrorized the population. By 1767, about a hundred people were killed by a creature that became known as “The Beast.” Those who lived in the region were on constant watch for The Beast, and the area became known throughout France and the world for the attacks.

What was The Beast? Survivors described a very large animal with reddish fur. The creature also had a tasseled tail, a dark line along its spine, and spots on its sides. It was also incredibly strong and vicious, leaving few people to describe its attacks. Those who did also added that The Beast had sharp claws, a ferocious howl, and the ability to jump about 30 feet.

Can you picture The Beast based on that description? What kind of animal does it sound like to you? If you’re thinking of a wolf, you’re not alone. Many at the time believed this was the case. In fact, King Louis XV of France sent many royal hunters to find and kill The Beast, believing it was a wolf.

However, hunters had little luck. One was believed to have slain The Beast in 1765, but the attacks continued. In 1767, The Beast’s reign of terror ended after a Gévaudan farmer named Jean Chastel shot a large animal. As the attacks ceased, this creature is believed to have been The Beast.

However, historians are still unsure what The Beast was. Some still hold the belief that it was a large wolf. Others, though, have their own theories. One is that The Beast was the last of an extinct species, such as the dire wolf. Some also believe it was a hybrid of one such ancient animal and the modern wolf.

People who have studied the story also point to other animals. Some believe it was a hyena. Another popular theory is that The Beast was a lion. Specifically, many experts claim the survivor descriptions call to mind a young male lion that has not yet reached maturity. As most people living in southern France in the 1700s were unlikely to have seen a lion in person, they may not have recognized the creature.

Of course, others believe The Beast was a supernatural creature, such as a werewolf. While this is unlikely, it’s easy to see why people would turn to this explanation. After all, stories of the creature depict an animal stronger and more ferocious than most people are familiar with. Faced with The Beast, who wouldn’t consider a supernatural explanation?

Which theory do you think is most likely? Was The Beast a werewolf? An ancient animal? Or was it simply a large wolf or lion? We may never know the truth, but we can still have fun guessing!

Standards: CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.W.3, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, NCAS.A.1, NCAS.A.2, NCAS.A.3

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Learn about an important public health development in tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day!