Page images
PDF
EPUB

The Leopard and Lynx.

25

than 16,000 head of cattle, thus, in this respect, exceeding the tiger.

The leopard seems to have a great partiality for the flesh of the dog, and, on the authority of Sir Emerson Tennant, it has a peculiar fancy for the flesh of persons suffering from small-pox. “They are strongly attracted by the peculiar odour which accompanies small-pox. The reluctance of the natives to submit themselves or their children to vaccination exposes the island (Ceylon) to frightful visitations of this disease, and in the villages in the interior it is usual on such occasions to erect huts in the jungle to serve as temporary hospitals. Towards these the leopards are certain to be allured, and the medical officers are obliged to resort to increased precautions in consequence.” I have not been able to confirm this with the testimony of any other writer, but, when we recollect the fondness of cats for valerian, it is not incredible that leopards may find an attraction in the odour of small-pox as described, more particularly as the felidee generally are said to prefer black men to white, on account of the usually stronger smell of their skins.

Some confirmation of this alleged preference is perhaps afforded by an incident which occurred at the Zoological Gardens in 1879. In that year several Zulus were being exhibited in London, and they were taken to the Gardens one Sunday in full war paint. On their appearance in the lions' house all the felido exhibited the utmost excitement, and dashed about their cages in such perturbation of mind, that the keeper was obliged to request the person in charge of the men to take them away. Possibly, however, this was only the effect of the unfamiliar dress and appearance.

With the exception of the short tail and the pencil of long hairs on the ears, there is nothing specially to distinguish the lynxes from the typical cats. They differ little in habit, whether the species be European, Asiatic, or American, and all of them betray in captivity the most savage disposition.

In the time of the Emperors, the European lynx, which is some 4ft. long in the body, was imported into Rome to

take part in the contests in the amphitheatres. It is still pretty common in the Pyrenees, and a few may possibly survive in the Alps, but, inasmuch as it is most destructive to sheep and goats, persistent war is waged against it. One species—the caracal of Africa and Asia-has been successfully trained to catch small animals as well as pea-fowl and other birds. The skin of the lynx is always soft and beautiful, especially in Northern. Russia, where it is much more highly valued than the sable. The mode of attack is either to lie in wait patiently for long periods on the branch of a tree, or to creep stealthily towards its victim and make a sudden rush upon it, when, if disappointed, it does not attempt pursuit.

Anyone possessed of ordinary powers of observation, who saw a cheetah for the first time, would remark the striking points of difference between it and the true cats. The shorter body, longer legs and distinct muzzle, give it even almost a canine aspect, which is increased when the animal carries its tail much in the same manner as a dog. The gait, too, differs entirely from that of the cats, and the whole form suggests a capacity for great speed—as is actually the case—this being the only member of the group which captures its prey by racing it down. There are in addition to these features some peculiarities in the dentition; and the claws, which are only imperfectly retractile, cannot serve their possessor to anything like the same purpose. Its disposition in youth is altogether more dog-like, and it will follow its master, whether he be on foot or on horseback, with much appearance of attachment. None of the tropical cats would submit to the handling necessary for training the cheetah for hunting purposes. In these circumstances, it is not to be wondered at that some naturalists have nsisted on placing the cheetah in a genus by itself, under the titles of Cynofelis, or Cynælurus. There are no important differences between the African and Asiatic species.

The sport of hunting antelopes by means of trained cheetahs, hooded, and carried on a cart with a platform, from which they are released on approaching game, has been often described. All

The Cheetah and Hyæna.

27

writers are agreed on the immense speed exhibited by these animals when slipped at the game. The fleetest of antelopes rarely escapes the rush of a cheetah which has once well sighted his quarry, and it has been asserted that a greyhound cannot run into a doe, where a cheetah will almost certainly pull it down. In some instances the animal betrays its feline affinities by crouching and dodging, and taking advantage of cover, or waiting for the game to cross its track, and it usually seems reluctant to renew its efforts in case of failure. This has been attributed to the inability of the cheetah to “take another breath” after such great muscular exertion; but this is physiologically absurd, and the superstition is disposed of by the simple fact of a second rush being sometimes made immediately afterwards at another antelope in the herd.

Jerdon's description of the manners of his cheetah impresses one favourably with their docility. It played amiably with the dogs, followed him about on horseback, purred like a cat when fondled, and behaved admirably with human beings generally, When roused, however, the animal becomes as formidable an antagonist as any cat. A case is recorded of an African cheetah having been wounded, and dragging one man from his horse, mauling him frightfully, and killing another who came to the rescue of his comrade.

In many respect even more like a dog is the hyæna. Here the dentition is also peculiar, the claws are not at all retractile, the head possesses roughly similar outlines, and the voice is a short, rapidly repeated bark, simulating the derisive laugh of a human being. The habit of associating in packs is again distinctly characteristic of the genus canis, as well as that of digging up a dead carcase and feeding on carrion. No other existing carnivore is provided with so powerful a bone mill in the jaws, actuated by such immense muscles. It is an easy task to a hyæna to break the shafts of the largest bones of the horse to obtain his favourite bonne bouche, the marrow, and this characteristic

may been seen in all his fossil representatives. The capacity for digesting bone, too, is astonishing. The

keeper at the Zoological Gardens told me that he once threw six of the shank bones of the sheep to a hyæna, and the animal. instead of crushing them, tossed up his head and swallowed them whole, one after the other. In view of such a performance it is little wonder the man remarked to me: “I can't think how he could turn round with all those things in his inside. However, the beast suffered no inconvenience from his gluttony.

All travellers agree in giving the hyæna the character of an ignoble, cowardly beast, though very destructive to flocks when a pack makes a raid at night. Livingstone quaintly says: “ His courage resembles that of a turkey cock. He will bite if an animal is running away, but if the animal stands still so does he.” When fighting with its own kind, the hyæna is said to have the peculiar habit of kneeling in front of his adversary, for the purpose, it is believed, of protecting his legs from the trenchant teeth, which he knows well would break them like straws.

CHAPTER II.

The Smaller CarnivoraThe Civets and their AlliesThe Skunk :

Effect of its Scent on Man and AnimalsThe Mungoos: its Snake-killing Powers ; Tournament with CobrasThe AardWolf-The Lesser Cats: Sight, Hearing, Smell, Colour ; Battles; the Homing" Faculty; Perceptions and Intelligénce-Bears: Hibernation ; Sagacity of Polar Bears; Dr. Rae's Account.

THE Viverride, or civet family, includes some interesting forms, among them the ichneumons of Africa and Asia, which go by the name of “ Mungoos,” “ Mongoose,” &c. They have the reputation of being able to destroy the most venomous serpents with impunity, on account of their knowledge of some herb which, being eaten immediately after the bite is inflicted, plays the part of an antidote to the poison. There is still something more than a lingering belief in this superstition, even among some who by education and opportunity should be better informed. The well-known perfume of commerce is supplied by the civets, whose anal glands secrete a fatty substance, which is collected periodically, and becomes an article of some value; it is now largely supplanted by artificially manufactured scents of more pleasing character.

It cannot be said that the civets present anything of great interest to the naturalist except in the points already mentioned. In the crab-eating mungoos of the Himalayas and Assam the anal glands are provided with muscles, which enable the animal

« PreviousContinue »