Les chasseurs luttent contre la Bête du Gévaudan

Hypothesis : an hybrid animal

This chapter is only a repertoire of different opinions, at different times, about the hybrids of a wolf and a dog. Was the Beast of Gevaudan an unhappy crossbreeding between two species? If yes, was it a natural crossbreeding or was it man-made? Make up your minds…with the following texts:

1) « This animal was shaped like an ordinary wolf, looking more like a dog because of its coat and the shape of its head, his facial appearance was also softer than the wolf what made me think it was a hybrid of a wolf and a bitch or a dog with a she-wolf. Its head was stretched as the one of a greyhound, a prominent forehead, perched and pointed ears, large at the basis, placed and directed forward with a brown-black colour above and fawn inside. »
(documents from the family of JJM. Ignon)

This text twas published in 1959 in the bulletin of the national antiquarians society of France. Thee document (unsigned, it seems to be a draft of that period) would have been found by Marius Balmelle in documents kept in the family of the erudite Jean-Joseph-Marie Ignon (1772-1857). This letter seems to be written by a legist who examined the dead animal.

2) Auguste André, in his notice on the beast of Gevaudan (1884), says:

« The popular imagination depicted the weirdest of the monsters. For some of them, it was the crossbreeding of a she-wolf and a greyhound… »

3) A welsh hunter of the 19th century, Frank Davies, recounts (in a book called Wolf hunt and other hunts in Britain):

« I was happy enough this night to be seated next to the Count of Kergoolas and as he had a wolf hunting crew in Britain, I could grab some information on the types of dogs that most likely match to this sort of special sport.

- I am using a big dog, courageous, wirehaired and occasionally I fortify the breed with some wolf blood

- And how can you achieve this ?

- There is nothing easier: the wolf and the dog have the same origin and cross gladly; the law that governs the hybrids does not apply to them because the animals of the first generation cross- breed easily. I have a male wolf fed in its early childhood by a hunting bitch and it gets along with all the dogs of the same kennel. Only a day or two are needed for a new dog to get accustomed to it.

- Did you find that the animals of the first generation are as easy to handle as your ordinary hunting dogs ?
- Not at all, all the more so as I kept these animals only for breeding purposes. They do not bark or almost not and are so independently hunting and so unsociable in the kennel that I only used them as studs for the second generation. These latter have a grandfather wolf and become excellent wolf hunters, are courageous, have great olfaction, love hunting and never get tired even during the more difficult huntings. But frankly speaking, they do not bark and this defect can only be corrected after several generations even though one chooses the more loudy dogs. The ancestral character of the wolf reappears and you cannot do anything to correct it.

Since then, I learned from Mr Waldrin Hill (who introduced several couples of hybrids in the department of Eure and who wanted to use them to hunt the otter) that they had another ineradicable defect: the wolf reappears into them »

4) In the book of a Breton wolf hunter of the 19th century (Mes chasses de loups, published in 1891), Maurice Halna du Frenay one reads:

« In its manual of the French Hunting, the count of Le Couteulx de Canteleu says, page 209, that a she-wolf that has no male and is on heat lets any stray dog penetrate her. Half-blood animals are born and if they are crossed again with real wolves sometimes produce strange animals. In 1872, I killed a big wolf dog that was certainly a crossbreed of that kind, he had more the head of a mastiff than a wolf and the tip of its ears was floppy. But for the rest, it was a wolf. »

5) Let’s be through with this listing by an extract of « La bête du Gévaudan, une grande enigme » of Felix Buffière, in 1987:

Amongst the hybrids, one should pay more attention to a special category: the animals who are born of a she-wolf without a male and some stray dog and who always look strange. The observers who saw the animal that was killed near Argenton in 1884 said: « it is indeed a wolf but it has an extraordinary aspect »; It was a « large male, with brow-grey hair longer on its neck, wirehaired and measuring 6 to 7 cm long over a 1 to 3 cm stuffing. The feet had stretched median fingers were of a wolf as the neck and the head, powerfully muscled. The numerous hunters and specialists who examined it agreed that the animal could only be the crossbreed of a she-wolf and a strong farm dog, presumably with shaggy and grey hairs. » (23,113).

Other cases of hybrids have been observed.

In his « Souvenirs d’un vieux louvetier (1892) », the vice-count of Beauvais de Saint-Paul notices that between la Ferté and Nogent, a lieutenant took two or three wolf cubs of all colours, results of the mating of a she-wolf and a big mastiff.

The Count le Couteulx de Canteleu writes in 1890, in his « Manual of the French Hunting »: « All black wolves I have seen seemed more or less of a mixed race. Quite often a she-wolf without a male mates with a shepard stray dog. Crossbred animals are born and crossed again with real wolves give birth to strange animals of which I kept two litters: some are black, the other yellow…the head of a mastiff. »

Could it be an explanation of the strange features noticed on the wolf killed by Jean Chastel ?

In Summary :

-- In the time of the Beast, one thought of a wolf-dog hybrid: Auguste André talks of the opinions at this time, then this « legist » who saw the corpse of the beast (of Chatel supposedly). It would be a scientist who saw the beast and one can give him some credit even though this document is neither signed nor dated and is only a draft.
Where is this « draft » ? No one knows and no mention is made of it after 1959 as far as we know…

- Several wolf hunters of the 19th century mention hybridisation cases, on purpose or not.

- Some authors as Felix Buffiere also bring back this hypothesis.

* Abstract of the Report of Marin (20 june 1767):

«  … and in the Castle of Besques, the marquess of Apcher showed us this animal who looked like a wolf but with a very different face and different proportions. 300 people may certify this.

Many hunters and a lot of experts made us remark that only the tail and the posterior of this animal is of a wolf. Its head is monstrous; its eyes have a particular membrane that can conceal the eye-socket. Its neck is covered with thick reddish hairs, crossed with some black stripes; it has a white mark shaped as a heart on its breast. Its legs have 4 fingers with longer nails then wolves. They are thick, especially the front legs, and their colour is the one of a deer. This was remarkable because all hunters said they had never seen a wolf with such colours. Some also noticed its ribs did not look like the ones of a wolf, therefore this animal could turn around more easily than a wolf that has sidelong ribs. »

* Abstract of a letter of Auvergne (6 July 1767):

« Mr de la Mothe examined the Beast. He noticed the head was monstrous, square, larger and longer than on ordinary wolf, the snout was a little bit more obtuse, ears were large, pointed and perched, eyes were black with a very particular prominent membrane, it was an extension of the inferior muscles of the eye. These membranes helped to conceal as required the two orbits, sliding under the eyelids. The opening of the mouth was very large, the incisor similar to the one of a dog, the teeth are larger, tight and irregular, the neck very large and short, filled with shaggy hair, extremely long and bushy and bearing a transverse black stripe until the shoulders; the posterior looks as the one of a wolf, except it is larger, the front legs are shorter than the hind legs, thinner than the legs of a wolf and covered by a brownish, short and smooth hair, coloured like a deer, the hair of the body is thick and long, greyish, black-spotted. The animal wore a large white stain, perfectly shaped as a heart on its breast. »

Sources : Christian Paul © 2006

thanks to him

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