« PreviousContinue »
The favourable reception accorded, both by the Press and the Public, to my former volume—“ Zoological Notes”-emboldens me to hope that the present book may also be acceptable to that large class of cultivated readers who take more than a passing and superficial interest in Natural History.
My grateful acknowledgments must be expressed to those distinguished Naturalists, travellers, artists, and competent observers who have responded to my inquiries on special points; and have furnished me with numerous valuable facts and incidents.
I am indebted also to the correspondence columns of the Field, Nature, and other leading scientific periodicals for illustrations of the life and habits of the Carnivora, both in the wild and domesticated condition; while I must be held personally responsible for extensive extracts from my own note books and memoranda (made whilst every incident and observation recorded was fresh in my memory) extending over a period of twenty-five years.
LONDON, November, 1884.
NATURAL HISTORY SKETCHES
Classification of the Carnivora —— The Lion : Size, Weight,
Strength, and Character ; Attacks on Man; Decrepitude
THE Carnivora, adapted as they may be to a terrestrial or aquatic existence, possess, nevertheless, many structural characteristics which form them into a well-defined order of the Mammalian class. They are solely or partly flesh eaters, while a few, owing to circumstances, may usually subsist on a vegetable diet. The dentition, however, always proclaims them to belong to a group with whom living prey is the indicated food, though some of them may seldom or never obtain it. Thus, many of the herbivorous bears justify their carnivorous structure by devouring animals whenever they have an opportunity. Our old friends who climb the pole at the Zoological Gardens and stand in suppliant attitude, expectant of buns, oranges, and
nuts, would, without doubt, regale themselves on a baby in arms, dropped into their den by a careless nursemaid, as thoroughly as I have seen one of the same species enjoy a present of a sucking pig.
This order of mammals may be divided into three sections, the first containing those that are cat-like, the second those that are dog-like, the third those that are bear-like. Of the cat-like section, which it is now proposed to discuss, we have five families, viz.: the Felidæ, or cats and their allies, exemplified by the lion, tiger, jaguar, cheetah, lynx, &c.; the Hyænidæ, byænas; the Viverridæ, civets; the Protelidoe, Aard-wolf, of Africa; and the Cryptoproctidæ, the cryptoprocta, all of which are strictly carnivorous and predatory.
Professor Flower, Director of the Natural History Museum, South Kensington, has shown in the following table the mutual relationships of the families :
The Canido constitute the central group, the families to the right and left representing, according to their distance from it, and their position on the first, second, or third line, the degree of structural divergence. Thus, the Felidæ and Urside, at the opposite ends, are most highly modified with respect to the central group, and to each other. The greatest modification is indicated by the upper line, in proportion to distance, and least by the lowest line (Viverridæ and Mustelidoe being least modified), while all on the middle line occupy an intermediate relationsnip according to distance from the central group.
The land carnivora may be said to take the place among mammals which the Raptores occupy among birds, by virtue of their strength, agility, and the natural weapons furnished them for the capture of their living prey; and, like their aerial representatives, they exhibit the same intolerance of captivity
and untamable disposition. Although in these critical days we know him to be an impostor, scared by the braying of an ass, it is easy to understand why the lion has been exalted to the position of monarch among the beasts of the field. His appearance and carriage are assuredly of that majestic mien, which poetry has associated with royalty, whether or not he always justifies by his conduct the outward show of dignity and conscious power. To this the abundant mane no doubt contributes, while it also gives the impression that he is very much larger than any of his congeners. Perhaps he stands slightly higher than the tiger; at all events, he carries his head more elevated, but he is certainly little, if at all, heavier than a well-grown male tiger, and, in the opinion of those capable of forming a correct judgment, decidedly inferior in strength to his striped first cousin. My friend, Mr. J. T. Nettleship, the well-known animal painter, whose studies must have made him intimately acquainted with the form and proportions of both the lion and tiger, assures me that the balance of muscular development, and even more so the activity, appears to him certainly in favour of the tiger.
The following letter, from one of our most distinguished animal painters, Mr. Briton Rivière, R.A., second to none as a painter of the Felidæ, is in answer to my request for an opinion on the comparative development of the lion and tiger, derived from the close observation which the artist's studies must have rendered necessary :
"My experiences regarding the large cats are purely artistic, but a few suggestions occur to me.
The abundant mane, no doubt, does much for the appearance of the lion, because it gives an appearance of loftiness to the skull, and so adds to the human aspect, which is the real basis of all that is grand in the lion; and, I believe, the sole origin of the title of King of Beasts.'
“The tuft of hair on the lower jaw is a highly important adjunct to this human aspect.
“The ridge of bone, which forms the chin in man, is not found in any other animal; and in man its clearness and sharpness mark power, and the want of it a retrogression towards a lower type.