Imatges de pÓgina

The animal world* in Africa changes equally nature as it passes from one to another of these opposite regions. In those plains which are inundated by the great rivers, it multiplies at an extraordinary rate, and often assumes huge and repulsive forms. Throughout all this continent the wild tribes exist in large and formidable numbers, and there is scarcely a tract which they do not either hold in full possession, or fiercely dispute with man. Even the most denselypeopled countries border on wide forests and wastes, whose savage tenants find their prey occasionally in man himself, as well as in the domestic animals which surround him; and when the scent of human slaughter is wafted on the breeze, bands of hungry monsters hasten from every side to the feast of blood. These ferocious creatures hold, indeed, so commanding a position, that the colonist scarcely makes any attempt to extirpate them, or even to keep down their numbers. He wages against them only a defensive war, and employs his courage and skill chiefly in hunting the elephant, the antelope, and other peaceful species, by whose spoil he may be enriched.

The lion, that king of the desert, that mightiest among the tribes which have the wilderness for their abode, abounds in Africa, and causes all her forests to re-echo his midnight roar. Yet both his courage and fierceness have, it is said, been overrated; and the man who can undauntedly face him, or evade his first dreadful spring, rarely falls his victim. Wider ravages are committed by the hyena, not the

• In the present chapter we allude only to a few of the more conspicuous and peculiar characteristics of African zoology. The subject is treated of at greater length in a subsequent part of this volume.

strongest, but the most ferocious and untameable of all the beasts of prey. These creatures, by moving in numerous bands, achieve what is beyond the single strength of the greater animals; they burst with mighty inroad into the cities, and have even carried by storm fortified enclosures. The elephant roams in vast herds through the densely-wooded tracts of the interior, disputing with the lion the rank of king of the lower creation; matchless in bulk and strength, yet tranquil, majestic, peaceful, led in troops under the guidance of the most ancient of the number, having a social and almost moral existence. He attacks neither man nor beast. The human being is more frequently the aggressor, not only with the view of protecting the fruits of the earth, but also in order to obtain the bony substance composing his tusks, which, under the name of ivory, forms one of the most valued articles of African trade. The prodigious strength of the elephant, his almost impenetrable hide, his rapid though unwieldy movements, render him a most perilous object of attack even to the boldest hunters; so that pits and snares of various kinds are the usual modes by which his capture is effected.-Instead of the tiger, Africa has the leopard and the panther, belonging, however, only to certain of its districts.

In the large and broad rivers of Africa, and through the immense forests which overshadow them, a race of amphibious animals of monstrous form and size display their unwieldy figures. The rhinoceros, though not strictly amphibious, slowly traverses marshes and swampy grounds, and almost equals the elephant in strength and defensive powers, but wants his stature, his dignity, and his wisdom.

The single or double horn with which he defends himself is an article of commerce in the East, though not valued in Europe. A still huger shape is that of the hippopotamus, or river-horse, fitted alike to stalk on land, to march along the bottom of the waters, or to swim on their surface. He is slow, ponderous, gentle; yet when annoyed, either by design or accident, his wrath is terrible; he rushes up from his watery retreat, and, by merely striking with his enormous tusks, can overset or sink a loaded But the most dreaded of all the inhabitants of the African rivers is the crocodile, the largest and fiercest of the lizard tribe. He lies like a log upon the waters, watching for his prey, attacking men and even the strongest animals, which, however, engage with him in obstinate and deadly encounters.


We have not yet done with all the monstrous and prodigious forms which Africa generates. She swarms with the serpent brood, which spread terror, some by their deadly poison, others by their mere bulk and strength. In this last respect the African serpents have struck the world with amazement; ancient history records that whole provinces were overrun by them, and that one, after disputing the passage of a river with a Roman army, was destroyed only by the use of a battering engine.

Emerging from these dank regions, where the earth, under the united influence of heat and moisture, teems with such a noxious superabundance of life, we approach the Desert. Here a change takes place equally singular and pleasing as in the vegetable world. Only light, airy, and fantastic forms trip along the sandy border; creatures innocent, gentle, and beautiful,-the antelope of

twenty different species, all swift, with bright eyes, erect and usually elegant figures,-preying neither on men nor animals, but pursued by all on account of the delicate food which they afford. Here, too, roams the zebra, with its finely-striped skin, wrapped round it like a robe of rich cloth; and the camelopard, the tallest and most remarkable of animal forms, with its long fore-legs and high-stretching neck, of singular and fantastic beauty, crops the leaves of the African forest. Though a rare species, he is seen occasionally straying over a great proportion of that continent.

Nature, sporting, as it would seem, in the production of extraordinary objects, has filled Africa with a wonderful multitude of those animals which bear the closest alliance to "the human form divine." The oran-outang appears to constitute the link between man and the lower orders of living things. Standing erect, without a tail, with flat face, and arms of not greatly disproportioned length, it displays in every particular a deformed resemblance to the lord of the creation. It seems even to make a nearer approach than any other animal to the exercise of reason. It has been taught to make its own bed, to sit at table, to eat with a knife and fork, and to pour out tea. M. Degrandpré mentions one kept on board a French vessel, which lighted and kept the oven at a due temperature, put in the bread at a given signal, and even assisted in drawing the ropes. There was a strong suspicion among the sailors that it would have spoken, but for the fear of being put to harder work. The baboons, again, are a large, shapeless, brutal species, ugly and disgusting in their appearance, yet not without some kind of union and

polity. The monkey tribe, now familiar in Europe, and attracting attention by their playful movements, fill with sportive cries all the forests of tropical Africa.

The insect race, which in our climate is generally harmless, presents here many singular and even formidable characteristics The flying tribes in particular, through the action of the sun on the swampy forests, rise up in terrible and destructive numbers. They fill the air and darken the sky; they annihilate the labour of nations; they drive even armies before them. The locust, when its bands issue in close and dark array from the depths of the Desert, commits ravages surpassing those of the most ferocious wild beasts, or even the more desolating career of human warfare. In vain do the despairing inhabitants seek with fire and other means to arrest their progress; the dense and irresistible mass continues to move onward, and soon baffles every attempt to check its course. Whole provinces which, at their entrance, are covered with rich harvests and brilliant verdure, are left without a leaf or a blade. Even when destroyed by famine or tempest they cover immense tracts, exhaling the most noxious stench. Yet they may be used as food, and are even relished by certain native tribes. The mosquito and its allies do not spread such a fearful desolation; yet, by their poisoned and tormenting stings, they render life miserable, and not very unfrequently lead to its extinction. Even a swarm of wild bees, in the solitary woods of Western Africa, has put a whole caravan to flight, wounding severely some of its members. But perhaps the most extraordinary of all the insect races are the termites or white

« AnteriorContinua »