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Natural History of the Quadrupeds of Africa.*
A KNOWLEDGE of the geographical distribution of animals, and of the laws which regulate that distribution, has excited a considerable degree of attention since the time of Buffon, whose writings may fairly be regarded as the first to create an interest in favour of this branch of natural history. The slight observance of the physical characters and other local peculiarities of countries, which prevailed prior to that period, rendered the precise induction of general views a matter of extreme difficulty; and, as navigators and naval adventurers of every class were indifferent to the accuracy of science, and ignorant of the valuable results which might spring from a more correct record of the localities of species, our knowledge of these localities did not increase in the same proportion as the species themselves. Even at
* I think it proper to apprise the reader that in the three following chapters, devoted to the Zoology of Africa, several well-known and interesting species, such as the Egyptian Ichneumon, the Fennec of Bruce, the Sacred Ibis, &c., are intentionally omitted, as being characteristic of certain portions of the African continent, the general history of which does not fall within the scope of the present volume.-J. W.
the present day our collections are frequently rendered of little avail for the purposes of zoological geography, by the products of one country being intermingled with those of another: thus, the splendidly-feathered tribes of Rio Janeiro are frequently combined with the scarcely less brilliant birds of New Holland and Van Diemen's Land; while the student of Indian entomology labours under a similar chance of error, in finding the Asiatic insects arranged by the merchant along with an additional supply from the Cape of Good Hope. These and other sources of confusion have long retarded our knowledge of the geography of animals.
The habits and dispositions of animals result from their structure, and that structure is invariably adapted to the local circumstances under which they are naturally placed. It must not, however, be supposed that the geographical distribution of species can ever form a proper basis for their zoological classification. Many natural families and genera are so extensively distributed as to be almost equally characteristic of every quarter of the globe. The wolf and the rein-deer are common both to Europe and America; and the lion occurs in the forests of Asia as well as among the African deserts. These, however, are exceptions to the general rule; for it will be found, on examination, that every great continent, or extensive tract of country, though possessed of features which, to a certain degree, assimilate it to those of other regions, is yet distinguished by many characters entirely peculiar to itself, and which constitute its zoological aspect. Thus the kangaroo and the ornithorynchus are characteristic of, because peculiar to New Holland; the lamas and
vicunhas are only found in South America; the ostrich and the camelopard are proper to Africa; the lemurs to Madagascar; the pongo, or gigantic orang-outang, to the great Asiatic islands; and the common toad to the western countries of Europe. So also, in the order of quadrumanous, or fourhanded animals, such as apes and monkeys, the division, called Platyrrhini, distinguished by the breadth of the partition which separates the nostrils, occurs only in South America; while another great division, named Catarrhini, of which the nostrils are contiguous, is found only in the Old World. A naturalist would therefore find no difficulty in determining, merely from a glance at the muzzle, whether a species of this order was native to the ancient continent or the new.
Wherever the observant traveller turns his steps, he finds in every country animals peculiar to itself; and many of these, occupying the most remote and insulated spots, are the most inadequately supplied with the means of locomotion. The mode of their original dispersion, whether from a single position, or from multiplied centres of creation, has therefore been a theme which has not unfrequently exercised the ingenuity of naturalists. The subject, however, seems to be one which scarcely falls within the scope of human intelligence; although a most ample source of interesting and legitimate speculation may be made to flow from an accurate and extended record of facts illustrative of their present distribution, the amount of genera and species, the relation which that amount bears to the animal productions of other countries, and similar numerical details.
In the present chapter, we propose to exhibit a brief
sketch of the natural history of the greater portion of the African continent; and, although our limits will not permit us to draw an extended parallel between the zoology of that country and the animal products of the other quarters of the globe, we shall yet have occasion, at an after period of our series, to survey the characteristic features of all the other great divisions of the earth,—and, in so doing, may afford the means of an accurate comparison between these and the subjects of our present inquiry. In the meantime, however, we shall not abstain from an occasional reference to the analogous species of other countries, whenever we shall be thereby enabled to throw any additional light upon the history of the African tribes.
Most nearly allied to the human race of all the species of the brute creation, the black or African orang-outang (Simia troglodytes of Linnæus) may be allowed to assume the foremost place in our enumeration. It is native to no other country than Africa, although we are as yet unacquainted with the extent of territory which it occupies in that continent. Angola, the banks of the river Congo, and all the districts which border the Gulf of Guinea, are the localities in which it has as yet most frequently occurred. Its history, like that of its Asiatic congener, the red orang-outang (Simia satyrus, Linn.,) is still involved in considerable obscurity. Its habits, in the adult state, are extremely retired and wary; and the young alone have fallen into the hands of Europeans in modern times. Great exaggeration prevails in the narratives of all the earlier travellers regarding the sagacity of this singular
animal. Its external figure and general conformation no doubt greatly resemble those of the human race, and hence its actions have to us much of the semblance of human wisdom. But a remarkable circumstance in the mental constitution of this tribe of animals disproves their fancied alliance to mankind, the young are gentle, obedient, and extremely docile, but as they increase in years their dispositions undergo a striking change, and their truly brutal nature is evinced by an unusual degree of untractable ferocity. In the wild state they are inferior both to the dog and the elephant in sagacity, although their analogous structure never fails to impress the beholder with a belief that they resemble man in mental character as well as in corporeal form. Two species of African orang-outang seem to have been described by the earlier writers. These were probably the young and old of the same species seen apart at different times, for later researches do not lead to the belief of there being more than one.
"The greatest of these two monsters," says Battell," is called pongo in their language; and the less is called engeco. This pongo is exactly proportioned like a man; but he is more like a giant in stature; for he is very tall, and hath a man's face, hollow-eyed, with long hair upon his brows. His face and ears are without hair, and his hands also. His body is full of hair, but not very thick, and it is of a dunnish colour. He differeth not from a man but in his legs, for they have no calf. He goeth always upon his legs, and carrieth his hands clasped on the nape of his neck when he goeth upon the ground. They sleep in the trees, and build shelters from the rain. They feed upon fruit that they