Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

much as a miner's crushing mill, or the scissors with which they cut off bars of iron and copper in the metal foundries."

A bite from such an animal must therefore be dreaded by the Caffre or the Bosjesman, wbo are continually in danger of a nightly visit from such marauders. The natives cannot even secure their dead in the deepest graves from the prowlers, which scent from afar the buried corpse ; and often the solitary family of the frontier settler finds the defence of briers, placed over the grave of one of its members, torn up, and the body of the departed exhumed.

The striped hyena has been the subject of numerous superstitions, both in ancient and modern times ; some regarding it as endowed with a power of attracting shepherds and their flocks to its locality; and others declaring that its look had power to strike animals with dumbness. Thus uneducated man is ever ready to multiply his difficulties and paralyse his efforts, calling in the aid of imaginary terrors to increase real perils. Notwithstanding the fierceness of the hyena, it has been tamed, or, at least, brought to live on terms of friendship with its keeper, and with other animals. But this only happens when some degree of liberty is allowed ; in which case the hyena becomes very fond of those who feed it. No animal indeed bears imprisonment with more repugnance; and this accounts for its irritability and restlessness when confined in a den. This gives to these beasts the savage and suspicious manner so obvious in the caged hyena, We must not, however, forget, that the taming of one or two by no means justifies us in attributing to the whole race a tractable character, which all who live in the vicinity of hyenas distinctly contradict. To say that all are untameable is rash enough, in face of the numerous proofs of man's power over the most savage natures; but it is perhaps equally rash to ascribe great affection for men to the predacious troops which so often soil the threshold with the blood of children. The ferocity of the hyena is not, however, unmingled with a high degree of caution, which enables it to defeat the attempts of the enraged settler to trap or shoot the enemy of his flocks. Snares are laid with the utmost care to conceal the strings and bars, but the hyena puts his nose carefully to the suspicious-looking rope or strap, and after some cautious scenting round the place, darts off in the opposite direction. Even the fatal spring-gun soon fails, although the trigger be fastened to the tendrils of trailing plants, which the careful animal quickly learns to dread. The destruction of the hyena, therefore, entails no little trouble on the farmer, anxious to rid his settlement from such hungry and subtle neighbours. The English agriculturist who walks into the ancient hyena cave at Kirkdale, and contemplates the crystalline floor where the skeletons of these former tenants of our land have so long been buried, will doubtless look upon his snug flock of sheep, resting on the Yorkshire hills, with

a feeling of compassion for the men who have yet to guard their cattle from existing hyenas.

An animal has been brought from Southern Africa, partaking of the properties common to the dog and the hyena, having the canine skeleton of the former, but the external form so characteristic of the latter. From these resemblances, some have called it the hyena-dog ; others, the hunting, hyena, because it pursues its

prey in large packs. Some, who deemed it more of a hyena than a dog, named it the painted hyena, on account of the numerous black and white markings over the body; whilst those who ranked it with the canine varieties, named it the painted dog. The settlers on the frontiers of Cape Colony call it the wild dog ; thus clearly distinguishing it from the hyena, which is generally called a wolf in Africa.

Perhaps the term hyena-dog is the best descriptive epitbet for an animal partaking of such diverse qualities. The people of the regions infested by this creature are not at all disposed to employ their time in speculating on the precise part in the zoological system which the hyena-dog should fill, for its depredations give them ample scope for more practical efforts. In fact, a dead animal of this species is a much more acceptable subject for study than a living one, the very appearance of which on the borders of a settlement is the signal tor bringing out every rifle. The reader will not marvel at such determined hostility of the settlers towards this animal, when he becomes aware of the peculiar damage done to the stock-keepers by the ferocious hyenadogs. Perhaps the farmer has carefully collected and counted all his cattle some fine evening, and retires to bed, counting his profits and speculating on the growth of his estate. He rises in the morning, after pleasant dreams, prepared to enjoy his breakfast; but before he can taste a morsel, in rushes a herdsman with the news that the wild dogs have been among the cattle and bitte off the tails of six or seven cows. It may well be supposed that the farmer keeps a sharp look-out henceforth for the tracks of the plunderers. The great power of these animals' jaws enables them to snap off, at a single bite, the tails of cows and oxen, which often die from the resulting injury. For when the severe wound heals, the mutilated animal is always exposed to the attacks of the insects which abound in hot regions, and madden the cattle with their sting. The loss of the tail prevents animals from lashing off the stinging legions which, in swamp or prairie, incessantly torment them.

As this species connects the hyenas with the dogs, and thus constitutes the link in a long line of creatures, another animal, somewhat resembling it in appearance, connects both hyenas and dogs with the civets. This comes from the same region as the hyena-dog, and is called the aard-wolf, or earth-wolf, by the settlers at the Cape, from its custom of burrowing in the ground. The outward appearance of the animal would induce a spectator to call it a striped hyena; but more careful examination shews a resemblance to both the fox and the civet; for it lias the head and feet of the former, united with the teeth and intestines of the latter. The zoological name given to this creature is proteles, by which the reader may sometimes hear it mentioned. Few perhaps need be told that natural historians attach the highest importance to those animals which link together different orders, and thus exhibit a connexion between many portions of the living. universe. Philosophers sometimes evince the shallowness of human wisdom by noting imaginary resemblances, and following up rashly some favourite theory which represents all the animal creation as linked together in one grand series.

This may be folly ; but there is no doubt that the living world has more oneness than careless thinkers suppose; and as we trace a connexion between the African lion and our purring domesticated cat, so may we remark the points of union between animals still more remote. We see this general truth illustrated in the aard-wolf and the hyena-dog. Before the discovery of these animals, the dogs, hyenas, and civets, seemed to stand each in its own circle, and separated by wide differences. But the hyenadog was found to fill up the interval between the canine species and the hyenas, which are now seen to inhabit the opposite sides of the same circle, having their newly-found relative, the proteles, to fill the intervening space. The civets were, liowever, as yet insulated; there was a wide interval between these and the ani. mals just mentioned; but look whichever way we pleased, no connecting link could be detected. At last the proteles was discovered in the plains of Africa, which, upon examination, was found related in its structure to three different species, the dogs, hyenas, and civets, all of which unite their diversities as in a central point. This animal would undoubtedly be called a young striped hyena, were it met suddenly by the zoological reader in some dell of South Africa ; but should his warlike propensities, or desire to obtain a specimen, lead him to shoot the creature, and commence a closer examination, he would soon perceive numerous peculiarities distinguishing it from that family.

We have now surveyed the hyena family, from the spotted and striped varieties, with their powerful jaws and ferocious habits, to the hyena-dog and aard-wolf, which link together the numerous members of extensive families. We have also glanced at the remains of hyenas found in the bone-caves of England ; a fact which carries our imagination back to the ages when the hyena paced with stealthy step the British valleys. With these remarks the chapter on the habits of these animals, and the peculiarities of their structure, must close.

[graphic][subsumed][merged small][merged small]

We have as yet been engaged in considering the animals which seem useless to man; for, with the exception of the cat and dog, all hitherto described are the foes, rather than the friends of our race. It requires some thought before we can see in the lion, tiger, wolf, and hyena, any useful qualities; and even when we admit the necessity of such beasts to check the superabundance of other creatures, the acknowledgment is not accompanied by any very strong feeling of the advantages secured for the world by all the lions of Africa and tigers of India. They prepare neither food nor clothing for men, nor assist in the cultivation of the earth and the transport of burdens. Hence, man naturally regards such animals as encumberers of his estate, and trespassers on his wide domain, from which they are warned with all the emphasis expressible by rifles and poisoned arrows.

The fur animals belong to a different class; for, however capable one or two may be of doing mischief, we feel that some tribute is yielded to us by them, either during life or after death. These animals are partly terrestrial and partly aquatic, and include the bears, fitches, martens, musk-rats, nutrias, beavers, and others. These are principal sources of the furs which are annually sold in all the large cities of Europe, and for which so many thousands of adventurous hunters peril their lives in the Polar deserts.

To secure the coats of these creatures engages the attention of powerful companies, and taxes the unremitting watchfulness of their auxiliaries, who maintain a keen rivalry at a thousand points of America and Asia. What, indeed, are the vast regions between Hudson's Bay and Behring's Straits but the huntinggrounds of British and Russian fur-companies? Such is the importance attached to this branch of commerce, and its future resources, that the Hudson's Bay Company' lately despatched its governor, Sir George Simpson, on an to Overland Journey round the World,” with a view, doubtless, to note the particulars which bear on the future prospects of this wide trade.

We must now proceed to notice one of the fur animals, and will commence with

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small]

The bear is classed by zoologists amongst the plantigrade and carnivorous orders of the maminalia. The term plantigrade implies that the whole of the foot is placed on the ground in walking, and is formed from the Latin word planta, the sole of the foot, and gradus, a step. Those who have remarked the manner in which a bear walks, and compared the flat step of this animal

This great company was chartered in 1670, obtaining the exclusive right to trade in the regions north and west of the bay. A rival company was established in 1783, under the title of the North-West Company; but, after many fierce contentions, the two companies united in 1821.

« НазадПродовжити »