« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
at each step completely in advance of the anterior ones, apparently a foot or two on the outside of them; in this fashion the giraffes contrive to get over the ground pretty rapidly, with a curious springing motion. A very swift horse may possibly overtake them, and the rider may then select his victim from the herd, cut it off from its companions, and shoot it at his leisure. When going at full speed the heels of the giraffe constantly throw up dirt, sticks, and stones in the faces of its nearest pursuers, but it never appears to attempt to defend itself unless brought to bay; in this case its weapons are its hoofs, with which it kicks out so rapidly and vigorously that dogs will not venture to attack it, and it is even said that it can beat off the lion in the same manner. The flesh of these animals, when young, is considered very good; that of the old ones is coarse. The skin is very thick and highly valued by the natives of South Africa, who consider the leather formed from it to be the best material for sandal soles. They also use the skin in the formation of vessels to hold water, and sometimes as a covering for their huts.
Colossal Size and Grace of Movement.
Cumming gives us the following lively description of the giraffe, at liberty in his native regions:
These gigantic and exquisitely beautiful animals, which are admirably formed by nature to adorn the forests that clothe the boundless plains of the interior, are widely distributed throughout the interior of Southern Africa, but are nowhere to be met with in great numbers. In countries unmolested by the intrusive foot of man, the giraffe is found generally in herds varying from twelve to sixteen; but I have not unfrequently met with herds containing thirty individuals, and on one occasion I counted forty together; this, however, was owing to chance, and about sixteen may be reckoned as the average number of a herd. These herds are composed of giraffes of various sizes, from the young giraffe of nine or ten feet in height, to the dark chestnut-colored old bull of the herd, whose exalted head towers above his companions. Some writers have discovered ugliness and a want of grace in the giraffe, but I consider that he is one of the most strikingly beautiful animals in the creation; and when a herd of them is seen scattered through a grove of the picturesque parasoltopped acacias which adorn their native plains, and on whose uppermost shoots they are enabled to browse by the colossal height with which nature has so admirably endowed them, he must, indeed, be slow of conception who fails to discover both grace and dignity in all their movements.
It is very difficult, almost impossible, to take a mature giraffe alive; for they run with such speed and with a succession of such wonderful
bounds, that the swiftest horses can scarcely overtake them. In order to capture them, the period when the young are sucklings is selected, when, if the captor is fortunate enough to keep the youngster alive for a few days, it becomes quiet, and even tame; but very often the poor captive refuses all nourishment, and dies of consumption.
The Foes of the Giraffe.
The chief enemies of the giraffe are the lion and panther. In the open plain it distances them with ease; but if it is surprised from ambush, it exhibits both courage and strength in resisting its assailant, striking with its forefeet with such force as to prove occasionally fatal to the foe; but too frequently its efforts are unavailing. The giraffe must number man also among its enemies. The Hottentots hold its flesh in high esteem. By lying in wait for it at a favorite feeding or watering-place they shoot it with poisoned arrows. The more frequent use of fire-arms in hunting this beautiful animal will certainly before long lead to a complete annihilation of these wonderful and docile creatures.
The ancients were acquainted with the giraffe. In the Egyptian paintings or bas-reliefs which have been handed down to us, there are figures which represent it; Pliny, Oppian, and Heliodorus also make mention of it. The Romans possessed living specimens of this animal, which they exhibited in their circuses, and it appeared in the procession of the "Triumph." Several giraffes were introduced into Europe during the middle ages. Buffon was unable personally to examine this animal; but the illustrious traveller, Levaillant, who died almost in poverty, after having sacrificed his fortune to long and perilous journeys in Africa, sent the Zoological Garden, at Paris, the first stuffed giraffe which that institution possessed.
A Successful Capture.
Levaillant thus gives a description of the chase by which he became possessed of this rare animal: I began one day to hunt at sunrise, in the hope of finding game to add to my provisions. After hours of riding, I perceived on a brow of a hill seven giraffes, which my dogs immediately attacked. Six of these immediately took flight in the same direction, but the seventh, surrounded by my hounds, went off another way. At this moment my companion was walking and leading his horse by the bridle; in less than a second, he was in his saddle and pursuing the herd. I followed the single one with all speed; but, notwithstanding the efforts of my horse, it gained so much on me that, on turning a corner of a hillock, it was quite out of sight, so I relinquished the pursuit. My dogs, however, were not long in reaching it; for they soon came so near as to force
it to come to a halt to defend itself. From where I was I heard them baying; and as the sounds seemed all to come from the same place, I conjectured that the hounds had driven it into a corner, so immediately hurried towards the spot.
I had scarcely reached the top of the acclivity, when I perceived the giraffe surrounded, and endeavoring to keep off its assailants, by kicking. Having dismounted, with one shot from my rifle I knocked it over. Delighted with my victory, I was returning on foot to call my people round me to skin and cut up the animal. While I was looking for them I saw a native, who was eagerly making signs to me, which at first I could not in the least understand. But on looking in the direction in which he was pointing, I perceived, with surprise, a giraffe standing up under a large ebony tree, and attacked by my dogs. I thought it was another one, and ran towards it, but found it was the animal I had first attacked, which had managed to get up again, but fell down dead just as I was about to fire a second shot.
Who would believe that a success like this could excite in my mind transports of joy almost akin to madness! Pain, fatigue, cruel want, uncertainty as to the future, and disgust at the past, all vanished, at the sight of my rare prize; I could not look at it enough. I measured its enormous height, and gazed with astonishment from the instrument of destruction to the animal destroyed by it. I called and recalled my people, one by one; and though each of them might have been able to do as much, and we had all slaughtered heavier and more dangerous animals, yet I was the first to kill one of this particular kind; with it I was about to enrich natural history, and, putting an end to fiction, establish the truth.
An Animal Elegantly Formed and Marked.
The zebra, sometimes called the horse-tiger, is generally esteemed not only the most beautiful of the equine family, but one of the most beautiful of quadrupeds, on account of the markings of its skin. The ground color is white, or yellowish-white, but the head, body, and legs to the hoofs are regularly striped, mostly crosswise, with deep brown-black bands, lighter in the middle. From this form of marking we have the word zebraed, significant of a regular banding of the skin of an animal. The ears of the zebra are long, the neck short and deep, with a sort of dewlap under the throat, produced by a loose fold of the skin; the mane is short, and the tail sparsely clad with long hair. The form resembles that of the ass, but the size nearly equals that of the horse. Wild and swift, this species lives in troops in the bold ranges of craggy mountains remote from the abode of man. Its disposition is