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Gambia, these mighty creatures once trod in numerous herds the dense forests which spread far over those torrid swamps; but now the hunter must travel hundreds of miles into the interior before the prey is seen. The labours therefore of the ivory seeker are far more severe than a hundred years ago. Nor is this result surprising, when we remember the great consumption of ivory throughout all civilised countries. From the close of the fifteenth century, when the Portuguese opened a trade with Africa, to the present year, this trade has gone on increasing; the artist and the manufacturer being alike anxious to adapt this delicate substance to the various requirements of civilised life. It is true that the ivory tables and rich carved work in which the men of the seventeenth century delighted are not made now; and this may lead some to imagine that the consumption of this substance must have diminished; but, on the other hand, we must remember that it is now wrought into a great variety of small and elegant articles, which are sold cheaply in all our large towns. By one test we may be certain that the consumption of ivory is increasing; this is seen in the tables of imports, which exhibit a gradual rise in the weight brought to our country from Africa and India. Cape Town is the principal depôt for this precious substance, and thither the natives bring their stores of tusks from the surrounding region. The European traders give various manufactured articles, such as woollen and cotton goods, powder and fire-arms, in exchange for these teeth of the elephant. Ivory was anciently used in works of the highest art; thus, in that bright age of Grecian glory, the time of Pericles, colossal statues of the national deities were formed from it. Rome displayed her pomp and wealth in the rich ivory chairs of her magistrates; and employed it for so many purposes, that the merchants of Africa could scarcely supply the wants of the vast city.
Thus the elephant is compelled to minister, like the bear, the sable, and the ermine, to the luxuries of men, adding another instance to those already named, of the almost universal appropriation of the earth to the purposes of the human race. Necessity first led men to enthral the animal world, and luxury next laid its requisitions upon the deeps of the sea and the recesses of the forest. The whale dies to supply some of our wants, and the elephant yields its life to furnish us with elegances.
The reader will have already formed some notion respecting the haunts of the elephants, which he will suppose are found in the depths of the magnificent forests extending along the streams of inner Africa. Few sights are more impressive than that presented by a large herd of wild elephants. Sometimes, though of course but rarely, troops are seen numbering more than 2000, which soon lay waste a wide territory, and leave behind them for many years traces of their presence in the crushed branches and trunks of the forest trees.
In these wild tracks vast roads are formed by the journeyings of the huge creatures to and fro. Thus the elephant-paths are easily discerned by the natives, who call these roads the spoors ; and we must here present the reader with a bird's-eye view of these creatures in the solitudes of their own homes. The view is taken from the descriptions of Mr. Pringle, who says,-“In the course of the second day, as we pursued our route down the valley of the Koomap river, we became aware that a numerous troop of these gigantic animals had recently preceded us. Foot-prints of all dimensions, from eight to fifteen inches in diameter, were every where visible; and in the swampy spots on the banks of the river, it was evident that some of them had been luxuriously enjoying themselves by rolling their unwieldy bulks in the ooze and mud. But it was in the groves and jungles that they had left the most striking proofs of their recent presence and peculiar habits. In many places paths had been trodden through the midst of dense thorny forests, otherwise impenetrable. They appeared to have opened these paths with great judgment, always taking the best and shortest cut to the next open savanna, or ford of the river; and in this way they were of the greatest use to us, by pioneering our route through a most difficult and intricate country, never yet traversed by a wheel-carriage, and great part of it inaccessible even on horseback, except for the aid of these powerful animals. In such places the great bull-elephants always march in the van; bursting through the jungle, and breaking off with the proboscis the larger branches that obstruct their passage; the females and younger part of the herd follow in the wake in a single file; and in this manner a path is cleared through the densest woods and forests. Among the groves of mimosa-trees, which were thinly sprinkled over the grassy meadows along the river margins, the traces of the elephants were not less apparent. Immense numbers of these trees had been torn out of the ground, and placed in an inverted position, in order to enable the animals to browse at their ease on the soft and juicy roots which form a favourite part of their food. I observed that, in numerous instances, when the trees were of considerable size, the elephant had employed one of his tusks, thrusting it under the roots to loosen their hold of the earth before he could tear them up.”
No survey of the animal in a Zoological Garden can give the faintest impression of the scenes presented by these giants of the earth when
feeding in such herds on the wilds so rarely trodden
We can undoubtedly form some correct idea of the size and powers of the animal from seeing it in our exhibitions, but the freedom of its movements and the grandeur of its aspect are not improved by captivity. These creatures are indeed unfitted to bear confinement, and often adopt singular methods for relieving the tedium of their artificial condition. The reader has perhaps remarked a tendency in these imprisoned animals to adopt
peculiar motions, such as swinging the body to and fro, by which the muscles are kept in some slight exercise. This is necessary to employ some portion of the great vital energy reposing in these vast living structures.
It is not now, in the year 1848, a difficult task to obtain a view of an elephant; the very rustic, whose geographical knowledge would not enable him to distinguish the Nile from the Mississippi, has beheld the wonderful beast, and knows more about it than the learned man of three centuries ago. The inhabitants of our country towns have seen the elephant pace up and down their streets on “fair days ;” thanks to Mr. Wombwell and the travelling menageries, which have thus brought one of the wonders of the animal kingdom to our doors. How different is this familiarity from the state of the public knowledge so late as the seventeenth century, when the elephant was a marvel and a mystery, associated with strange tales, and made the subject of exaggerated reports! We make the above statement with the full knowledge that, in the time of Henry III., an elephant was sent to the English monarch from the French king, and provided with a comfortable lodging in the Tower, where a dwelling was erected for its accommodation. Whether the Sheriffs of London, in the year 1256, were noted for their zoological lore, we are unable to say ; but one thing appears certain, that these officials were then commanded by his Majesty to erect a large room for the meet residence of the strange animal. But this elephant would not have much effect in familiarising the mass of the people with its appearance; for in those times neither the Great Western nor the Birmingham railways offered a rapid and frequent conveyance to the metropolis. London was itself a mystery then to the bulk of the nation, and its elepbant therefore could not be better known. Of course many heard of the animal; but with what embellishments were not these rumours accompanied ! Even when the royal artists impressed the figure of the elephant on medals, the whole form was so grotesquely represented, that a modern school-boy would smile at the poorness of the imitation. But the trade with Africa and India has altered this, and the veriest chit of a boy in frock and trousers narrates without any great wonderment, his ride on the back of the elephant in the Regent's Park.
The following curious account of an elephant is related in the “ Memoirs of John Shipp,” late a lieutenant in the 87th regiment of foot.
“In the year 1804, when we were in pursuit of Holkah, there was in our encampment a very large elephant, used for the purpose of carrying tents for some of the European corps.
It was the season in which they become most unmanageable, and his legs were consequently loaded with huge chains, and he was constantly watched by his keepers. By day he was pretty passive, save when he saw one of his species, when he roared and became violent; and during those moments of ungovernable frenzy it was dangerous for his keepers to approach him, or to irritate his feelings by any epithets that might be repugnant to him. On the contrary, every endearing expression was used to soothe and appease him, which, with promises of sweetmeats, sometimes succeeded with the most turbulent to gain them to obedience, when coercive measures would have roused them to the most desperate acts of violence. By night, their extreme cunning told them that their keepers were not so watchful or vigilant. The elephant here alluded to, one dark night, broke from his chains, and ran wild through the encampment, driving men, women, and children, camels, horses, cows, and indeed every thing that could move, before him, and roaring and trumpeting with his trunk, which is with elephants a sure sign of displeasure, and that their usual docility has deserted them. Of course, no reasonable being disputed the road he chose to take: those that did soon found themselves floored. To record the mischief done by this infuriated animal, in his nocturnal ramble, would fill a greater space than I can afford for such matter. Suffice it to say, that in its flight, followed by swordsmen and spearmen, shouting and screaming, he pulled down tents, upset every thing that impeded his progress, wounded and injured many, and ultimately killed his keeper by a blow from his trunk. He was speared in some twenty places, which only infuriated him the more; and he struck away with his trunk at every thing before him. His roaring was terrific, and "he frequently beat the ground in indication of his rage. The instant he had struck his keeper, and found he did not rise, he suddenly stopped, seemed concerned, looked at him - with an eye of pity, and stood riveted to the spot. He paused for some seconds, then ran towards the place from whence he had broken loose, and went quietly to his picquet, in front of which lay an infant about two years old, the daughter of the keeper whom he had killed. The elephant took the child round the waist as gently as its mother would, lifted it from the ground, and caressed and fondled it for some time-every beholder trembling for its safety, and expecting every moment it would share the fate of its unfortunate father, but the sagacious animal, having turned the child round three times, quietly laid it down again, and drew some clothing over it that had fallen off. After this it stood over the child with its eyes fixed on it; and if I did not see the penitential tear start from its eye, I have never seen it in my life. He then submitted to be rechained by some other keepers, stood motionless and dejected, and seemed sensible that he had done a wrong he could not repair. His dejection became more and more visible as he stood and gazed upon the fatherless babe, who, from constant familiarities with this elephant, seemed unintimidated, and played with its trunk. From this moment the animal became passive and quiet, and always seemed most delighted when the little orphan was within its sight. Often have I
gone, with others of the camp, to see him fondling his little adopted; but there was a visible alteration in his health after his keeper's death, and he fell away and died at Cawnpore six months afterwards. People well acquainted with the history of the elephant, and who knew the story, said his death was caused by fretting for his before favourite keeper.”
Let us now turn from the existing varieties of this animal to those which formerly inhabited the earth, and consider for a moment some particulars connected with the extinct members of this family. Most persons have doubtless heard of the mammoth and the mastodon; and indeed the former name now meets us at every turn on the placards in the streets of London, where “mammoth horse” and “mammoth exhibition” present their attractions to the citizens. The mammoth is, or rather was, a species of elephant, having the tusks much longer than those found in the living varieties, and endowed with a capacity of enduring a much greater degree of cold than the kinds now existing in Africa and Asia. Large herds of the mammoth seem to have inhabited Siberia; their enormous tusks being now scattered over those wilds as far as the very shores of the Polar Sea. Indeed, the most numerous remains are found in the northern portions of Asiatic Russia ; a fact which compels us to suppose that these ancient elephants were fitted to endure the severities of the north, or that the climate of that portion of the earth has changed since the ages when the mammoth wandered along the shores of the White Sea. Either supposition indicates the occurrence of great revolutions on the globe; for whether the alteration be one of climate or of animal structure, it is surprising to us, who are accustomed to the uniformity of natural laws. Few persons have ever attempted to imagine the change which would be produced in the botany or the zoology of England if, 5000 years hence, our temperate climate were altered to that of the torrid zone.
Yet something like this must have happened in Siberia, unless the mammoth of ancient times had an organisation distinct from that of our present elephants, which are unable to bear a climate like the Siberian. The discovery of one of these primeval animals, in the beginning of this century, attracted the attention of naturalists in all civilised countries, and the greatest anxiety was manifested to obtain even a portion of the skin or a few of the hairs. Nor let the general reader regard this curiosity respecting the body of a dead quadruped as childish trifling, and fit only to amuse the brain of literary idlers, and nourish a taste for playing at philosophy. From the very hairs of such an animal the most important inferences can be drawn concerning the past condition of the globe; as, for instance, the closeness of the fur and the length of the hair may shew that the mammoth lived