Зображення сторінки

with the springing motion of the dog, which moves only on the fore part of the foot, or, as we should say, on the toes, will easily understand the difference between a plantigrade and a digitigrade animal. The former stands more firmly, but is not so well fitted for the pursuit of prey ; few of these beasts are, therefore, found among the most carnivorous tribes, not being fitted for the pursuit and capture of prey. Although the bear is classed with the carnivora, the animal is well known to be omnivorous, and does sometimes prefer a vegetable to an animal diet. It is clear that the bear is not a decided carnivora, for he mingles fruits and plants of various kinds with such flesh as may fall in his way. The whole structure of the animal would lead a sensible man to this conclusion, had he never seen the bear eat nuts, fruits, and herbs with avidity. What are those formidable claws most fitted for—tearing flesh or grubbing up roots ? For the latter work unquestionably, in which bruin is an expert operator ; excavating a hole with an ease which might shame our sturdiest “navvigators,” though armed with pick and shovel. The teeth of the bear teach the same lesson; the large crushing molars being exactly adapted for bruising roots and fruits, though not well suited for tearing flesh. The animal of course does frequently feed upon slaughtered beasts, especially the American grizzly bear, and also the species which inhabits the Polar regions; but this is only what every omnivorous animal will occasionally do. The bear, too, is formidable to man, when provoked, from his vast strength, which enables him to crush his foe to death by those peculiar and fatal hugs so characteristic of this species.

The region possessed by the ursine tribe extends across the globe, including the North of America, Europe, and Asia, and even reaching into Africa. Thus from the Andes to the Himalayas we find varieties of the bear; and in all those parts his coat is alike prized by the civilised man and the barbarian. The varieties most deserving our notice are three; the Brown, the Grizzly, and the Polar bear.

The Brown Bear.-This has sometimes been called the European bear, and was the species first described by the early students of nature; but the name is manifestly improper, for the animal abounds in Asia, and is also found in America. It is chiefly in the high northern latitudes that we meet with the brown bear, which has for ages retired sulkily before the advance of man and the growth of cities. As we have already remarked upon the former presence of the wolf and hyena in the British isles, so we must not forget to pay all due respect to the memory the bear, nor fail to remind the reader that in this island the animal once dug his burrowing places unmolested. Could the reader note all that has happened in past times within a hundred yards of his present house, he might find that in the part now used for his flower-garden, the cubs of the brown bear once gambolled; where now the sight of a toad, quietly looking for his supper, frightens the lady of the house into hysterics, the powerful ursine quadruped walked. Such are far away now, though some extinct members of the family have left us their bones in sundry parts as memorials. Unless history tells fibs, the bear was found in Scotland in the eleventh century, when a certain chief of the Gordons slew one of these animals after a tough combat, for which he was ordered by the king to carry three bears' heads on his banner: an heraldic emblem well won we must admit, and shedding some honour on the aforesaid Gordon.

The bear, however, is little regarded by us, or the Gordons either, in the nineteenth century, unless by those victims of ennui who, finding themselves absolutely in every body's way in England, pack up their guns, not for the moors of Scotland, but for the woods of America, and taking their passage across the Atlantic, visit by favour some station of the Hudson's Bay Company, where a season of something like sport is passed by the adventurer, whose uncle or cousins in Old England are but intent on the destruction of partridges and pheasants. But whatever neglect the bear meets with in these lands, where the Italian boy no longer finds pence flow into his purse from the gambols of the almost obsolete dancing bruin, he is treated far otherwise in the countries where he still finds a home. The Laplander pays homage to the shaggy quadruped, calling it with humble words, “ The dog of God;" and speaking respectfully of bruin as “ The old man with the fur cloak.” This is not a purely spontaneous feeling, terror having much more to do with the matter than love. For these half-civilised people imagine that the animal will visit the least disrespect on the part of the natives by destroying their cattle, an office which the bear is by no means indisposed to discharge. Frequently, we fear, bruin evinces little consideration for his Lapland friends, falling upon their flocks with no regard to the feelings or comfort of the Laplanders. It is with peculiar reluctance that these people kill one of the animals, begging its pardon for the death necessity has forced them to inflict. It must, however, be confessed that the bear has little cause to be satisfied with such fine speeches, as they seldom save his body in times of scarceness from unceremonious attacks. His fur is, indeed, at all times prized too highly to allow compliments, or even superstition, to stand in the way of its possession; so that this animal's warm coat may be called his greatest enemy.

Various animals have, in different ages, been made to contribute to the rude sports of men, and furnish them with the excitements prized in a low social state. The cock, the dog, the bull, and the bear, have contributed to kindle thé savage rivalry of the arena and the circus. In our own country, the reader of the briefest history must remember the bear-gardens of Elizabeth, where royalty and the nobility of England sought, from fighting dogs and bears, the excitement which, in subsequent ages, was derived from pugilistic contests. Peers did not deem it beneath their dignity to provide for the expenses of their bears, with the baiting of which they oftentimes delighted their gentle visitors. In fact, the bear was a formidable rival to the dramatist in the minds of the populace; and the Southwark baiting-garden presented its attractions to the pleasure-wooing citizens, who were frequently drawn from the eloquent plays of Shakspeare to the boisterous mirth of the bear-garden. Woe to the man who should now establish such a place in populous Southwark! Men with the blue coat and lettered collar would soon pay an unceremonious visit to the establishment. Thus, when the natural historian narrates the peculiarities of bruin, he will have to record how man made himself dependent upon the muscles, paws, and teeth of the bear. We Britons must not, therefore, forget that this now outlandish beast was once the pet of our nobility, and the prized enlivener of royal pleasures.

Notwithstanding the great strength of the bear, it is not so dreaded by man, nor so injurious to the herdsman's flocks, as some animals less capable of doing mischief. This arises from the solitary habits of the species, and its tendency to a herbaceous diet. The former leads it to avoid the haunts of men, and the latter quality indisposes the bear to the ferocious attacks which characterise the tiger. When the tyrant of the jungles is famishing, he cannot satisfy his hunger by a dinner of roots; but this resource is generally open to the bear, which finds in the deep forests of the North many a satisfactory meal. The structure of the animal's teeth enables it to crush and grind vegetable matter, and the great strength of the claws qualifies it for grubbing up the roots of wood plants. Thus the animal is fitted both to dig and grind his food in the most efficient manner; and is, therefore, in little danger of perishing from hunger. Indeed the general appearance of the bear indicates a creature accustomed to live sufficiently; a certain well-to-do plumpness distinguishing its body, providing both for its own pleasure and the hunter's profit. A fat bear is, in truth, prized by men whose chance of eating a dish of roast beef is not very great, and who, therefore,

the old man with the fur coat” as an acceptable substitute for a Smithfield ox. But wbilst the bear is tolerably inoffensive when rejoicing in the midst of abundance, he is not to be despised when irritated by long fasting, which sorely tries the temper of this animal, and illustrates the force of the proverb, and treacherous may doubtless then be applied to the animal, which is not, under such circumstances, disposed to play the courtier with man or beasts.

as crusty as a bear.” Men are then attacked with little ceremony, and animals made to contribute to its appetite, in default of the more usual food. At such times the bear leaves his solitary cell in some hollow trunk or deep cave, and prowls through the black forests with intents by no means civil. The terms savage

look upon


The above remarks apply chiefly to the brown or common bear; but we must now consider another species, found in the higher regions of the north, called the white, marine, or polar bear, either of which names sufficiently expresses some of its more obvious qualities. The high latitudes in which it dwells sufficiently indicate the propriety of the appellation polar; whilst its tendency to frequent the wild shores of the Arctic regions accounts for the epithet marine; and the adjective white is equally fitted to convey a notion of the appearance, so different from the dark colour of the other varieties. This bear is worthy of remark on account of the strong carnivorous propensities which separate it from the rest of the genus, and the savage sternness of the regions in wliich its home is found. Strange, indeed, is the contrast between the white bear sleeping in the sun beside the small pool in the Zoological Gardens, and the gloomy grandeur of the iceberg, or the snowcapped peaks of Spitzbergen, amongst which these animals usually make their home. In such scenes the mariner often sees the floating ice-island bearing the fierce polar bear far out to sea, and thinks of the different view formed of its habits when witnessing its gambols in the well-attended den of a London menagerie. Much of the magnificent is connected with the haunts of the Ursus marinus ; for around these animals the aurora darts its mysterious splendour, illumining the icy plains; whilst the long night of the Pole re-echoes with

the awful sounds of the Arctic tempests. There the thunder of the deep sea is heard beneath its bars of frost, or the crash of ocean heaving up long fields of ice. How imposing to listen, amid the solemn stillness of such wondrous nights, to the fierce growl of the polar bear, muttering its wrath from the ice-cliff on which the white moonlight shines with a chilling intensity ! Such scenes are not often witnessed by man; for in the depth of winter human beings leave these worlds of frost to sparkle in their solitude beneath the rainbow flash of the aurora. The hunter who has pushed beyond the limits of man's wide-spread circle, and has left even the most advanced traces of the wild Esquimaux behind, often witnesses the phenomena of those regions, and sees amongst their marvellous displays the unchecked ferocity of the famished bear, which hunts over the snow desert for the rarely seen prey.

Who can wonder at his ferocity? The seal is locked up in the frozen waters, and all terrestrial creatures are buried deep in caves and hollows of the sheltering earth: far then must the white bear wander before food is found.

But this ferocity is owing to the rigours of the climate acting on the animal's wants, and rendering the supply as difficult as


the appetite is craving. In the Zoological Gardens all is different. The polar winter never brings its icebergs or its aurora there ; and food is too abundant to develope ferocity. With a few feet of water instead of the heaving, Northern ocean, and a neatly paved court instead of the snow desert for a range, the difference between the tame and the wild bear must be great indeed. We must, therefore, look to the accounts of travellers for that knowledge of the polar bear, which we cannot hope to gain by gazing on the animal in our exhibitions.

The first fact worthy of note in the history of this bear, is the difference between the habits of the male and female in winter, The latter hides herself on the approach of the frost in some hollow of a cliff, over which the snow frequently forms vast mounds, completely secluding the animal from all the storms of the long Arctic night. When the sun has returned, and the melting snows fill the northern rivers with a ceaseless food, the bear comes abroad, bringing her cubs from their dark birth-place. Different is the life of the male in winter, when he becomes the only roamer amid the loneliness of nature, and dwelling amongst the broken ice is carried in his frost-ship out to sea, where, to and fro, the wild currents drift his icy craft, and often drive his floating home across the sea from Arnerica to Europe. But this is probably the exact line of adventures which the bear would himself choose, could he select his own lot in life. Not that the mere love of roving would have much to do with his strange voyagings; but food is thus provided for the huge creature in larger quantities than would have fallen to him on the mainland ; and quantity rather than quality is, in such a season, an object of importance to the aniinal. The fish which surround the drifting iceberg, or the dead whale cast by the storm on some floating field of ice, afford supplies to the quadrupeds navigating these ships of the Pole. Sometimes, when the crew of some discovery-ship are gazing with delight on the rainbow splendours cast by the setting sun on the glistening peaks of some iceberg, and contrasting the bright scene with the surrounding desolation, the white bear is seen pacing the edge of the storm-beaten mass. The startled animal lifts his head as the Hecla or the Fury sails hy, and is then again left to the storm and the wave, to watch like a pirate for his prey. No land animal makes such singular voyages as this bear often accomplishes, without trouble or effort, over the most stormy waters of the world ; and this is alone sufficient to interest the zoologist in its history. Another circumstance calling for attention in the habits of the white bear is, the peculiarity of its food. The other members of this family prefer a vegetable diet ; but not so with this species, to which animal food is at all times most acceptable. For though it eats a few roots in summer, when its usual food is scarce, and can even live for a long time on such fare, yet it has a decided preference for a flesh diet. In pursuit

« НазадПродовжити »