THE NATURALIST IN LA PLATA
W. H. HUDSON, C.M.Z.S.
JOINT AUTHOR OF "ARGENTINE ORNITHOLOGY"
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY J. SMIT
NEW YORK D. APPLETON AND COMPANY 1895
The plan I have followed in this work has been to sift and arrange the facts I have gathered concerning the habits of the animals best known to me, preserving those only, which, in my judgment, appeared worth recording. In some instances a variety of subjects have linked themselves together in my mind, and have been grouped under one heading; consequently the scope of the book is not indicated by the list of contents: this want is, however, made good by an index at the end.
It is seldom an easy matter to give a suitable name to a book of this description. I am conscious that the one I have made choice of displays a lack of originality; also, that this kind of title has been used hitherto for works constructed more or less on the plan of the famous Naturalist on the Amazons. After I have made this apology the reader, on his part, will readily admit that, in treating of the Natural History of a district so well known, and often described as the southern portion of La Plata, which has a temperate climate, and where nature is neither exuberant nor grand, a personal narrative would have seemed superfluous.
The greater portion of the matter contained in this volume has already seen the light in the form of papers contributed to the Field, with other journals that treat of Natural History; and to the monthly magazines:—Longmans', The Nineteenth Century, The Gentleman's Magazine, and others: I am indebted to the Editors and Proprietors of these periodicals for kindly allowing me to make use of this material.
Of all animals, birds have perhaps afforded me most pleasure; but most of the fresh knowledge I have collected in this department is contained in a larger work (Argentine Ornithology), of which Dr. P. L. Sclater is part author. As I have not gone over any of the subjects dealt with in that work, bird-life has not received more than a fair share of attention in the present volume.
CHAPTER I. THE DESERT PAMPAS
CHAPTER II. CUB PUMA, OR LION OF AMERICA
CHAPTER III. WAVE OF LIFE
CHAPTER IV. SOME CURIOUS ANIMAL WEAPONS
CHAPTER V. FEAR IN BIRDS
CHAPTER VI. PARENTAL AND EARLY INSTINCTS
CHAPTER VII. THE MEPHITIC SKUNK
CHAPTER VIII. MIMICRY AND WARNING COLOURS IN GRASSHOPPERS
CHAPTER IX. DRAGON-FLY STORMS
CHAPTER X. MOSQUITOES AND PARASITE PROBLEMS
CHAPTER XI. HUMBLE-BEES AND OTHER MATTERS
CHAPTER XII. A NOBLE WASP
CHAPTER XIII. NATURE'S NIGHT-LIGHTS
CHAPTER XIV. FACTS AND THOUGHTS ABOUT SPIDERS
CHAPTER XV. THE DEATH-FEIGNING INSTINCT
CHAPTER XVI. HUMMING-BIRDS
CHAPTER XVII. THE CRESTED SCREAMER
CHAPTER XVIII. THE WOODHEWER FAMILY
CHAPTER XIX. MUSIC AND DANCING IN NATURE
CHAPTER XX. BIOGRAPHY OF THE VIZCACHA
CHAPTER XXI. THE DYING HUANACO
CHAPTER XXII. THE STRANGE INSTINCTS OF CATTLE
CHAPTER XXIII. HORSE AND MAN
CHAPTER XXIV. SEEN AND LOST
THE NATURALIST IN LA PLATA,
THE DESERT PAMPAS.
During recent years we have heard much about the great and rapid changes now going on in the plants and animals of all the temperate regions of the globe colonized by Europeans. These changes, if taken merely as evidence of material progress, must be a matter of rejoicing to those who are satisfied, and more than satisfied, with our system of civilization, or method of outwitting Nature by the removal of all checks on the undue increase of our own species. To one who finds a charm in things as they exist in the unconquered provinces of Nature's dominions, and who, not being over-anxious to reach the end of his journey, is content to perform it on horseback, or in a waggon drawn by bullocks, it is permissible to lament the altered aspect of the earth's surface, together with the disappearance of numberless noble and beautiful forms, both of the animal and vegetable kingdoms. For he cannot find it in his heart to love the forms by which they are replaced; these are cultivated and domesticated, and have only become useful to man at the cost of that grace and spirit which freedom and wildness give. In numbers they are many—twenty-five millions of sheep in this district, fifty millions in that, a hundred millions in a third—but how few are the species in place of those destroyed? and when the owner of many sheep and much wheat desires variety—for he possesses this instinctive desire, albeit in conflict with and overborne by the perverted instinct of destruction—what is there left to him, beyond his very own, except the weeds that spring up in his fields under all skies, ringing him round with old-world monotonous forms, as tenacious of their undesired union with him as the rats and cockroaches that inhabit his house?
We hear most frequently of North America, New Zealand, and Australia in this connection; but nowhere on the globe has civilization "written strange defeatures" more markedly than on that great area of level country called by English writers the pampas, but by the Spanish more appropriately La Pampa—from the Quichua word signifying open space or country—since it forms in most part one continuous plain, extending on its eastern border from the river Parana, in latitude 32 degrees, to the Patagonian formation on the river Colorado, and comprising about two hundred thousand square miles of humid, grassy country.
This district has been colonized by Europeans since the middle of the sixteenth century; but down to within a very few years ago immigration was on too limited a scale to make any very great change; and, speaking only of the pampean country, the conquered territory was a long, thinly-settled strip, purely pastoral, and the Indians, with their primitive mode of warfare, were able to keep back the invaders from the greater portion of their ancestral hunting-grounds. Not twenty years ago a ride of two hundred miles, starting from the capital city, Buenos Ayres, was enough to place one well beyond the furthest south-western frontier outpost. In 1879 the Argentine Government determined to rid the country of the aborigines, or, at all events, to break their hostile and predatory spirit once for all; with the result that the entire area of the grassy pampas, with a great portion of the sterile pampas and Patagonia, has been made available to the emigrant. There is no longer anything to deter the starvelings of the Old World from possessing themselves of this new land of promise, flowing, like Australia, with milk and tallow, if not with honey; any emasculated migrant from a Genoese or Neapolitan slum is now competent to "fight the wilderness" out there, with his eight-shilling fowling-piece and the implements of his trade. The barbarians no longer exist to frighten his soul with dreadful war cries; they have moved away to another more remote and shadowy region, called in their own language Alhuemapu, and not known to geographers. For the results so long and ardently wished for have swiftly followed on General Roca's military expedition; and the changes witnessed during the last decade on the pampas exceed in magnitude those which had been previously effected by three centuries of occupation.
In view of this wave of change now rapidly sweeping away the old order, with whatever beauty and grace it possessed, it might not seem inopportune at the present moment to give a rapid sketch, from the field naturalist's point of view, of the great plain, as it existed before the agencies introduced by European colonists had done their work, and as it still exists in its remoter parts.
The humid, grassy, pampean country extends, roughly speaking, half-way from the Atlantic Ocean and the Plata and Parana rivers to the Andes, and passes gradually into the "Monte Formation," or sterile pampa—a sandy, more or less barren district, producing a dry, harsh, ligneous vegetation, principally thorny bushes and low trees, of which the chanar (Gurliaca decorticans) is the most common; hence the name of "Chanar-steppe" used by some writers: and this formation extends southwards down into Patagonia. Scientists have not yet been able to explain why the pampas, with a humid climate, and a soil exceedingly rich, have produced nothing but grass, while the dry, sterile territories on their north, west, and south borders have an arborescent vegetation. Darwin's conjecture that the extreme violence of the pampero, or south-west wind, prevented trees from growing, is now proved to have been ill-founded since the introduction of the Eucalyptus globulus; for this noble tree attains to an extraordinary height on the pampas, and exhibits there a luxuriance of foliage never seen in Australia.
To this level area—my "parish of Selborne," or, at all events, a goodly portion of it—with the sea on one hand, and on the other the practically infinite expanse of grassy desert—another sea, not "in vast fluctuations fixed," but in comparative calm—I should like to conduct the reader in imagination: a country all the easier to be imagined on account of the absence of mountains, woods, lakes, and rivers. There is, indeed, little to be imagined—not even a sense of vastness; and Darwin, touching on this point, in the Journal of a Naturalist, aptly says:—"At sea, a person's eye being six feet above the surface of the water, his horizon is two miles and four-fifths distant. In like manner, the more level the plain, the more nearly does the horizon approach within these narrow limits; and this, in my opinion, entirely destroys the grandeur which one would have imagined that a vast plain would have possessed."
I remember my first experience of a hill, after having been always shut within "these narrow limits." It was one of the range of sierras near Cape Corrientes, and not above eight hundred feet high; yet, when I had gained the summit, I was amazed at the vastness of the earth, as it appeared to me from that modest elevation. Persons born and bred on the pampas, when they first visit a mountainous district, frequently experience a sensation as of "a ball in the throat" which seems to prevent free respiration.
In most places the rich, dry soil is occupied by a coarse grass, three or four feet high, growing in large tussocks, and all the year round of a deep green; a few slender herbs and trefoils, with long, twining stems, maintain a frail existence among the tussocks; but the strong grass crowds out most plants, and scarcely a flower relieves its uniform everlasting verdure. There are patches, sometimes large areas, where it does not grow, and these are carpeted by small creeping herbs of a livelier green, and are gay in spring with flowers, chiefly of the composite and papilionaceous kinds; and verbenas, scarlet, purple, rose, and white. On moist or marshy grounds there are also several lilies, yellow, white, and red, two or three flags, and various other small flowers; but altogether the flora of the pampas is the poorest in species of any fertile district on the globe. On moist clayey ground flourishes the stately pampa grass, Gynerium argenteum, the spears of which often attain a height of eight or nine feet. I have ridden through many leagues of this grass with the feathery spikes high as my head, and often higher. It would be impossible for me to give anything like an adequate idea of the exquisite loveliness, at certain times and seasons, of this queen of grasses, the chief glory of the solitary pampa. Everyone is familiar with it in cultivation; but the garden-plant has a sadly decaying, draggled look at all times, and to my mind, is often positively ugly with its dense withering mass of coarse leaves, drooping on the ground, and bundle of spikes, always of the same dead white or dirty cream-colour. Now colour—the various ethereal tints that give a blush to its cloud-like purity—is one of the chief beauties of this grass on its native soil; and travellers who have galloped across the pampas at a season of the year when the spikes are dead, and white as paper or parchment, have certainly missed its greatest charm. The plant is social, and in some places where scarcely any other kind exists it covers large areas with a sea of fleecy-white plumes; in late summer, and in autumn, the tints are seen, varying from the most delicate rose, tender and illusive as the blush on the white under-plumage of some gulls, to purple and violaceous. At no time does it look so perfect as in the evening, before and after sunset, when the softened light imparts a mistiness to the crowding plumes, and the traveller cannot help fancying that the tints, which then seem richest, are caught from the level rays of the sun, or reflected from the coloured vapours of the afterglow.
The last occasion on which I saw the pampa grass in its full beauty was at the close of a bright day in March, ending in one of those perfect sunsets seen only in the wilderness, where no lines of house or hedge mar the enchanting disorder of nature, and the earth and sky tints are in harmony. I had been travelling all day with one companion, and for two hours we had ridden through the matchless grass, which spread away for miles on every side, the myriads of white spears, touched with varied colour, blending in the distance and appearing almost like the surface of a cloud. Hearing a swishing sound behind us, we turned sharply round, and saw, not forty yards away in our rear, a party of five mounted Indians, coming swiftly towards us: but at the very moment we saw them their animals came to a dead halt, and at the same instant the five riders leaped up, and stood erect on their horses' backs. Satisfied that they had no intention of attacking us, and were only looking out for strayed horses, we continued watching them for some time, as they stood gazing away over the plain in different directions, motionless and silent, like bronze men on strange horse-shaped pedestals of dark stone; so dark in their copper skins and long black hair, against the far-off ethereal sky, flushed with amber light; and at their feet, and all around, the cloud of white and faintly-blushing plumes. That farewell scene was printed very vividly on my memory, but cannot be shown to another, nor could it be even if a Ruskin's pen or a Turner's pencil were mine; for the flight of the sea-mew is not more impossible to us than the power to picture forth the image of Nature in our souls, when she reveals herself in one of those "special moments" which have "special grace" in situations where her wild beauty has never been spoiled by man.
At other hours and seasons the general aspect of the plain is monotonous, and in spite of the unobstructed view, and the unfailing verdure and sunshine, somewhat melancholy, although never sombre: and doubtless the depressed and melancholy feeling the pampa inspires in those who are unfamiliar with it is due in a great measure to the paucity of life, and to the profound silence. The wind, as may well be imagined on that extensive level area, is seldom at rest; there, as in the forest, it is a "bard of many breathings," and the strings it breathes upon give out an endless variety of sorrowful sounds, from the sharp fitful sibilations of the dry wiry grasses on the barren places, to the long mysterious moans that swell and die in the tall polished rushes of the marsh. It is also curious to note that with a few exceptions the resident birds are comparatively very silent, even those belonging to groups which elsewhere are highly loquacious. The reason of this is not far to seek. In woods and thickets, where birds abound most, they are continually losing sight of each other, and are only prevented from scattering by calling often; while the muffling effect on sound of the close foliage, to' which may be added a spirit of emulation where many voices are heard, incites most species, especially those that are social, to exert their voices to the utmost pitch in singing, calling, and screaming. On the open pampas, birds, which are not compelled to live concealed on the surface, can see each other at long distances, and perpetual calling is not needful: moreover, in that still atmosphere sound travels far. As a rule their voices are strangely subdued; nature's silence has infected them, and they have become silent by habit. This is not the case with aquatic species, which are nearly all migrants from noisier regions, and mass themselves in lagoons and marshes, where they are all loquacious together. It is also noteworthy that the subdued bird-voices, some of which are exceedingly sweet and expressive, and the notes of many of the insects and batrachians have a great resemblance, and seem to be in accord with the aeolian tones of the wind in reeds and grasses: a stranger to the pampas, even a naturalist accustomed to a different fauna, will often find it hard to distinguish between bird, frog, and insect voices.
The mammalia is poor in species, and with the single exception of the well-known vizcacha (Lagostomus trichodactylus), there is not one of which it can truly be said that it is in any special way the product of the pampas, or, in other words, that its instincts are better suited to the conditions of the pampas than to those of other districts. As a fact, this large rodent inhabits a vast extent of country, north, west, and south of the true pampas, but nowhere is he so thoroughly on his native heath as on the great grassy plain. There, to some extent, he even makes his own conditions, like the beaver. He lives in a small community of twenty or thirty members, in a village of deep-chambered burrows, all with their pit-like entrances closely grouped together; and as the village endures for ever, or for an indefinite time, the earth constantly being brought up forms a mound thirty or forty feet in diameter; and this protects the habitation from floods on low or level ground. Again, he is not swift of foot, and all rapacious beasts are his enemies; he also loves to feed on tender succulent herbs and grasses, to seek for which he would have to go far afield among the giant grass, where his watchful foes are lying in wait to seize him; he saves himself from this danger by making a clearing all round his abode, on which a smooth turf is formed; and here the animals feed and have their evening pastimes in comparative security: for when an enemy approaches, he is easily seen; the note of alarm is sounded, and the whole company scuttles away to their refuge. In districts having a different soil and vegetation, as in Patagonia, the vizcachas' curious, unique instincts are of no special advantage, which makes it seem probable that they have been formed on the pampas.
How marvellous a thing it seems that the two species of mammalians—the beaver and the vizcacha—that most nearly simulate men's intelligent actions in their social organizing instincts, and their habitations, which are made to endure, should belong to an order so low down as the Rodents! And in the case of the latter species, it adds to the marvel when we find that the vizcacha, according to Water-house, is the lowest of the order in its marsupial affinities.
The vizcacha is the most common rodent on the pampas, and the Rodent order is represented by the largest number of species. The finest is the so-called Patagonian hare—Dolichotis patagonica—a beautiful animal twice as large as a hare, with ears shorter and more rounded, and legs relatively much longer. The fur is grey and chestnut brown. It is diurnal in its habits, lives in kennels, and is usually met with in pairs, or small flocks. It is better suited to a sterile country like Patagonia than to the grassy humid plain; nevertheless it was found throughout the whole of the pampas; but in a country where the wisdom of a Sir William Harcourt was never needed to slip the leash, this king of the Rodentia is now nearly extinct.
A common rodent is the coypu—Myiopotamus coypu—yellowish in colour with bright red incisors; a rat in shape, and as large as an otter. It is aquatic, lives in holes in the banks, and where there are no banks it makes a platform nest among the rushes. Of an evening they are all out swimming and playing in the water, conversing together in their strange tones, which sound like the moans and cries of wounded and suffering men; and among them the mother-coypu is seen with her progeny, numbering eight or nine, with as many on her back as she can accommodate, while the others swim after her, crying for a ride.
With reference to this animal, which, as we have seen, is prolific, a strange thing once happened in Buenos Ayres. The coypu was much more abundant fifty years ago than now, and its skin, which has a fine fur under the long coarse hair, was largely exported to Europe. About that time the Dictator Rosas issued a decree prohibiting the hunting of the coypu. The result was that the animals increased and multiplied exceedingly, and, abandoning their aquatic habits, they became terrestrial and migratory, and swarmed everywhere in search of food. Suddenly a mysterious malady fell on them, from which they quickly perished, and became almost extinct.
What a blessed thing it would be for poor rabbit-worried Australia if a similar plague should visit that country, and fall on the right animal! On the other hand, what a calamity if the infection, wide-spread, incurable, and swift as the wind in its course, should attack the too-numerous sheep! And who knows what mysterious, unheard-of retributions that revengeful deity Nature may not be meditating in her secret heart for the loss of her wild four-footed children slain by settlers, and the spoiling of her ancient beautiful order!
A small pampa rodent worthy of notice is the Cavia australis, called cui in the vernacular from its voice: a timid, social, mouse-coloured little creature, with a low gurgling language, like running babbling waters; in habits resembling its domestic pied relation the guinea pig. It loves to run on clean ground, and on the pampas makes little rat-roads all about its hiding-place, which little roads tell a story to the fox, and such like; therefore the little cavy's habits, and the habits of all cavies, I fancy, are not so well suited to the humid grassy region as to other districts, with sterile ground to run and play upon, and thickets in which to hide.
A more interesting animal is the Ctenomys magellanica, a little less than the rat in size, with a shorter tail, pale grey fur, and red incisors. It is called tuco-tuco from its voice, and oculto from its habits; for it is a dweller underground, and requires a loose, sandy soil in which, like the mole, it may swim beneath the surface. Consequently the pampa, with its heavy, moist mould, is not the tuco's proper place; nevertheless, wherever there is a stretch of sandy soil, or a range of dunes, there it is found living; not seen, but heard; for all day long and all night sounds its voice, resonant and loud, like a succession of blows from a hammer; as if a company of gnomes were toiling far down underfoot, beating on their anvils, first with strong measured strokes, then with lighter and faster, and with a swing and rhythm as if the little men were beating in time to some rude chant unheard above the surface. How came these isolated colonies of a species so subterranean in habits, and requiring a sandy soil to move in, so far from their proper district—that sterile country from which they are separated by wide, unsuitable areas? They cannot perform long overland journeys like the rat. Perhaps the dunes have travelled, carrying their little cattle with them.
Greatest among the carnivores are the two cat-monarchs of South America, the jaguar and puma. Whatever may be their relative positions elsewhere, on the pampas the puma is mightiest, being much more abundant and better able to thrive than its spotted rival. Versatile in its preying habits, its presence on the pampa is not surprising; but probably only an extreme abundance of large mammalian prey, which has not existed in recent times, could have, tempted an animal of the river and forest-loving habits of the jaguar to colonize this cold, treeless, and comparatively waterless desert. There are two other important cats. The grass-cat, not unlike Felis catus in its robust form and dark colour, but a larger, more powerful animal, inexpressibly savage in disposition. The second, Felis geoffroyi, is a larger and more beautiful animal, coloured like a leopard; it is called wood-cat, and, as the name would seem to indicate, is an intruder from wooded districts north of the pampas.
There are two canines: one is Azara's beautiful grey fox-like dog, purely a fox in habits, and common everywhere. The other is far more interesting and extremely rare; it is called aguara, its nearest ally being the aguara-guazu, the Canis jubatus or maned wolf of naturalists, found north of the pampean district. The aguara is smaller and has no mane; it is like the dingo in size, but slimmer and with a sharper nose, and lias a much brighter red colour. At night when camping out I have heard its dismal screams, but the screamer was sought in vain; while from the gauchos of the frontier I could only learn that it is a harmless, shy, solitary animal, that ever flies to remoter wilds from its destroyer, man. They offered me a skin—what more could I want? Simple souls! it was no more to me than the skin of a dead dog, with long, bright red hair. Those who love dead animals may have them in any number by digging with a. spade in that vast sepulchre of the pampas, where perished the hosts of antiquity. I love the living that are above the earth; and how small a remnant they are in South America we know, and now yearly becoming more precious as it dwindles away.
The pestiferous skunk is universal; and there are two quaint-looking weasels, intensely black in colour, and grey on the back and flat crown. One, the Galictis barbara, is a large bold animal that hunts in companies; and when these long-bodied creatures sit up erect, glaring with beady eyes, grinning and chattering at the passer-by, they look like little friars in black robes and grey cowls; but the expression on their round faces is malignant and bloodthirsty beyond anything in nature, and it would perhaps be more decent to liken them to devils rather than to humans.
On the pampas there is, strictly speaking, only one ruminant, the Cervus campestris, which is common. The most curious thing about this animal is that the male emits a rank, musky odour, so powerful that when the wind blows from it the effluvium comes in nauseating gusts to the nostrils from a distance exceeding two miles. It is really astonishing that only one small ruminant should be found on this immense grassy area, so admirably suited to herbivorous quadrupeds, a portion of which at the present moment affords sufficient pasture to eighty millions of sheep, cattle, and horses. In La Plata the author of The Mammoth and the Flood will find few to quarrel with his doctrine.
Of Edentates there are four. The giant armadillo does not range so far, and the delicate little pink fairy armadillo, the truncated Chlamydophorus, is a dweller in the sand-dunes of Mendoza, and has never colonized the grassy pampas. The Tatusia hybrida, called "little mule" from the length of its ears, and the Dasypus tricinctus, which, when disturbed, rolls itself into a ball, the wedge-shaped head and wedge-shaped tail admirably fitting into the deep-cut shell side by side; and the quirquincho (Dasypus minutus), all inhabit the pampa, are diurnal, and feed exclusively on insects, chiefly ants. Wherever the country becomes settled, these three disappear, owing to the dulness of their senses, especially that of sight, and to the diurnal habit, which was an advantage to them, and enabled them to survive when rapacious animals, which are mostly nocturnal, were their only enemies. The fourth, and most important, is the hairy armadillo, with habits which are in strange contrast to those of its perishing congeners, and which seem to mock many hard-and-fast rules concerning animal life. It is omnivorous, and will thrive on anything from grass to flesh, found dead and in all stages of decay, or captured by means of its own strategy. Furthermore, its habits change to suit its conditions: thus, where nocturnal carnivores are its enemies, it is diurnal; but where man appears as a chief persecutor, it becomes nocturnal. It is much hunted for its flesh, dogs being trained for the purpose; yet it actually becomes more abundant as population increases in any district; and, if versatility in habits or adaptiveness can be taken as a measure of intelligence, this poor armadillo, a survival of the past, so old on the earth as to have existed contemporaneously with the giant glyptodon, is the superior of the large-brained cats and canines.
To finish with the mammalia, there are two interesting opossums, both of the genus Didelphys, but in habits as wide apart as cat from otter. One of these marsupials appears so much at home on the plains that I almost regret having said that the vizcacha alone gives us the idea of being in its habits the product of the pampas. This animal—Didelphys crassicaudata—has a long slender, wedge-, shaped head and body, admirably adapted for pushing through the thick grass and rushes; for it is both terrestrial and aquatic, therefore well suited to inhabit low, level plains liable to be flooded. On dry land its habits are similar to those of a weasel; in lagoons, where it dives and swims with great ease, it constructs a globular nest suspended from the rushes. The fur is soft, of a rich yellow, reddish above, and on the sides and under surfaces varying in some parts to orange, in others exhibiting beautiful copper and terra-cotta tints. These lovely tints and the metallic lustre soon fade from the fur, otherwise this animal would be much sought after in the interests of those who love to decorate themselves with the spoils of beautiful dead animals—beast and bird. The other opossum is the black and white Didelphys azarae; and it is indeed strange to find this animal on the pampas, although its presence there is not so mysterious as that of the tuco-tuco. It shuffles along slowly and awkwardly on the ground, but is a great traveller nevertheless. Tschudi met it mountaineering on the Andes at an enormous altitude, and, true to its lawless nature, it confronted me in Patagonia, where the books say no marsupial dwells. In every way it is adapted to an arboreal life, yet it is everywhere found on the level country, far removed from the conditions which one would imagine to be necessary to its existence. For how many thousands of years has this marsupial been a dweller on the plain, all its best faculties unexercised, its beautiful grasping hands pressed to the ground, and its prehensile tail dragged like an idle rope behind it! Yet, if one is brought to a tree, it will take to it as readily as a duck to water, or an armadillo to earth, climbing up the trunk and about the branches with a monkey-like agility. How reluctant Nature seems in some cases to undo her own work! How long she will allow a specialized organ, with the correlated instinct, to rest without use, yet ready to flash forth on the instant, bright and keen-edged, as in the ancient days of strife, ages past, before peace came to dwell on earth!
The avi-fauna is relatively much richer than the mammalia, owing to the large number of aquatic species, most of which are migratory with their "breeding" or "subsistence-areas" on the pampas. In more senses than one they constitute a "floating population," and their habits have in no way been modified by the conditions of the country. The order, including storks, ibises, herons, spoonbills, and flamingoes, counts about eighteen species; and the most noteworthy birds in it are two great ibises nearly as large as turkeys, with mighty resonant voices. The duck order is very rich, numbering at least twenty species, including two beautiful upland geese, winter visitors from Magellanic lands, and two swans, the lovely black-necked, and the pure white with rosy bill. Of rails, or ralline birds, there are ten or twelve, ranging from a small spotted creature no bigger than a thrush to some large majestic birds. One is the courlan, called "crazy widow" from its mourning plumage and long melancholy screams, which on still evenings may be heard a league away. Another is the graceful variegated ypicaha, fond of social gatherings, where the birds perform a dance and make the desolate marshes resound with their insane humanlike voices. A smaller kind, Porphyriops melanops, has a night-cry like a burst of shrill hysterical laughter, which has won for it the name of "witch;" while another, Rallus rythyrhynchus, is called "little donkey" from its braying cries. Strange eerie voices have all these birds. Of the remaining aquatic species, the most important is the spur-winged crested screamer; a noble bird as large as a swan, yet its favourite pastime is to soar upwards until it loses itself to sight in the blue ether, whenca it pours forth its resounding choral notes, which reach the distant earth clarified, and with a rhythmic swell and fall as of chiming bells. It also sings by night, "counting the hours," the gauchos say, and where they have congregated together in tens of thousands the mighty roar of their combined voices produces an astonishingly grand effect.
The largest aquatic order is that of the Limicolse—snipes, plover, and their allies—which has about twenty-five species. The vociferous spur-winged lapwing; the beautiful black and white stilt; a true snipe, and a painted snipe, are, strictly speaking, the only residents; and it is astonishing to find, that, of the five-and-twenty species, at least thirteen are visitors from North America, several of them having their breeding-places quite away in the Arctic regions. This is one of those facts concerning the annual migration of birds which almost stagger belief; for among them are species with widely different habits, upland, marsh and sea-shore birds, and in their great biannual journey they pass through a variety of climates, visiting many countries where the conditions seem suited to their requirements. Nevertheless, in September, and even as early as August, they begin to arrive on the pampas, the golden plover often still wearing his black nuptial dress; singly and in pairs, in small flocks, and in clouds they come—curlew, godwit, plover, tatler, tringa—piping the wild notes to which the Greenlander listened in June, now to the gaucho herdsman on the green plains of La Plata, then to the wild Indian in his remote village; and soon, further south, to the houseless huanaco-hunter in the grey wilderness of Patagonia.
Here is a puzzle for ornithologists. In summer on the pampas we have a godwit—Limosa hudsonica; in March it goes north to breed; later in the season flocks of the same species arrive from the south to winter on the pampas. And besides this godwit, there are several other North American species, which have colonies in the southern hemi-spere, with a reversed migration and breeding season. Why do these southern birds winter so far south? Do they really breed in Patagonia? If so, their migration is an extremely limited one compared with that of the northern birds—seven or eight hundred miles, on the outside, in one case, against almost as many thousands of miles in the other. Considering that some species which migrate as far south as Patagonia breed in the Arctic regions as far north as latitude 82 degrees, and probably higher still, it would be strange indeed if none of the birds which winter in Patagonia and on the pampas were summer visitors to that great austral continent, which has an estimated area twice as large as that of Europe, and a climate milder than the arctic one. The migrants would have about six hundred miles of sea to cross from Tierra del Fuego; but we know that the golden plover and other species, which sometimes touch at the Bermudas when travelling, fly much further than that without resting. The fact that a common Argentine titlark, a non-migrant and a weak flyer, has been met with at the South Shetland Islands, close to the antarctic continent, shows that the journey may be easily accomplished by birds with strong flight; and that even the winter climate of that unknown land is not too severe to allow an accidental colonist, like this small delicate bird, to survive. The godwit, already mentioned, has been observed in flocks at the Falkland Islands in May, that is, three months after the same species had taken its autumal departure from the neighbouring mainland. Can it be believed that these late visitors to the Falklands were breeders in Patagonia, and had migrated east to winter in so bleak a region? It is far more probable that they came from the south. Officers of sailing ships beating round Cape Horn might be able to settle this question definitely by looking out, and listening at night, for flights of birds, travelling north from about the first week in January to the end of February; and in September and October travelling south. Probably not fewer than a dozen species of the plover order are breeders on the great austral continent; also other aquatic birds—ducks and geese; and many Passerine birds, chiefly of the Tyrant family.
Should the long projected Australasian expedition to the South Polar regions ever be carried to a successful issue, there will probably be important results for ornithology, in spite of the astounding theory which has found a recent advocate in Canon Tristram, that all life originated at the North Pole, whence it spread over the globe, but never succeeded in crossing the deep sea surrounding the antarctic continent, which has consequently remained till now desolate, "a giant ash (and ice) of death." Nor is it unlikely that animals of a higher class than birds exist there; and the discovery of new mammalians, differing in type from those we know, would certainly be glad tidings to most students of nature.
Land birds on the pampas are few in species and in numbers. This may be accounted for by the absence of trees and other elevations on which birds prefer to roost and nest; and by the scarcity of food. Insects are few in dry situations; and the large perennial grasses, which occupy most of the ground, yield a miserable yearly harvest of a few minute seeds; so that this district is a poor one both for soft and hard billed birds. Hawks of several genera, in moderate numbers, are there, but generally keep to the marshes. Eagles and vultures are somewhat unworthily represented by carrion-hawks (Polyborinae); the lordly carancho, almost eagle-like in size, black and crested, with a very large, pale blue, hooked beak—his battle axe: and his humble follower and jackal, the brown and harrier-like chimango. These nest on the ground, are versatile in their habits, carrion-eaters, also killers on their own account, and, like wild dogs, sometimes hunt in bands, which gives them an advantage. They are the unfailing attendants of all flesh-hunters, human or feline; and also furiously pursue and persecute all eagles and true vultures that venture on that great sea of grass, to wander thereafter, for ever lost and harried, "the Hagars and Ishmaels of their kind."
The owls are few and all of wide-ranging species. The most common is the burrowing-owl, found in both Americas. Not a retiring owl this, but all day long, in cold and in heat, it stands exposed at the mouth of its kennel, or on the vizcacha's mound, staring at the passer-by with an expression of grave surprise and reprehension in its round yellow eyes; male and female invariably together, standing stiff and erect, almost touching—of all birds that pair for life the most Darby and Joan like.
Of the remaining land birds, numbering about forty species, a few that are most attractive on account of their beauty, engaging habits, or large size, may be mentioned here. On the southern portion of the pampas the military starling (Sturnella) is found, and looks like the European starling, with the added beauty of a scarlet breast: among resident pampas birds the only one with a touch of brilliant colouring. It has a pleasing, careless song, uttered on the wing, and in winter congregates in great flocks, to travel slowly northwards over the plains. When thus travelling the birds observe a kind of order, and the flock feeding along the ground shows a very extended front—a representation in bird-life of the "thin red line"—and advances by the hindmost birds constantly flying over the others and alighting in the front ranks.
Among the tyrant-birds are several species of the beautiful wing-banded genus, snow-white in colour, with black on the wings and tail: these are extremely graceful birds, and strong flyers, and in desert places, where man seldom intrudes, they gather to follow the traveller, calling to each other with low whistling notes, and in the distance look like white flowers as they perch on the topmost stems of the tall bending grasses.
The most characteristic pampean birds are the tinamous—called partridges in the vernacular—the rufous tinamou, large as a fowl, and the spotted tinamou, which is about the size of the English partridge. Their habits are identical: both lay eggs of a beautiful wine-purple colour, and in both species the young acquire the adult plumage and power of flight when very small, and fly better than the adults. They have small heads, slender curved beaks, unfeathered legs and feet, and are tailless; the plumage is deep yellowish, marked with black and brown above. They live concealed, skulking like rails through the tall grass, fly reluctantly, and when driven up, their flight is exceedingly noisy and violent, the bird soon exhausting itself. They are solitary, but many live in proximity, frequently calling to each other with soft plaintive voices. The evening call-notes of the larger bird are flute-like in character, and singularly sweet and expressive.
The last figure to be introduced into this sketch—which is not a catalogue—is that of the Rhea. Glyptodon, Toxodon, Mylodon, Megatherium, have passed away, leaving no descendants, and only pigmy representatives if any; but among the feathered inhabitants of the pampa the grand archaic ostrich of America survives from a time when there were also giants among the avians. Vain as such efforts usually are, one cannot help trying to imagine something of the past history of this majestic bird, before man came to lead the long chase now about to end so mournfully. Its fleetness, great staying powers, and beautiful strategy when hunted, make it seem probable that it was not without pursuers, other than the felines, among its ancient enemies, long-winded and tenacious of their quarry; and these were perhaps of a type still represented by the wolf or hound-like aguara and aguara-guazu. It might be supposed that when almost all the larger forms, both mammal and bird, were overtaken by destruction, and when the existing rhea was on the verge of extinction, these long-legged swift canines changed their habits and lost their bold spirit, degenerating at last into hunters of small birds and mammals, on which they are said to live.
The rhea possesses a unique habit, which is a puzzle to us, although it probably once had some significance—namely, that of running, when hunted, with one wing raised vertically, like a great sail—a veritable "ship of the wilderness." In every way it is adapted to the conditions of the pampas in a far greater degree than other pampean birds, only excepting the rufous and spotted tinamous. Its commanding stature gives it a wide horizon; and its dim, pale, bluish-grey colour assimilates to that of the haze, and renders it invisible at even a moderate distance. Its large form fades out of sight mysteriously, and the hunter strains his eyes in vain to distinguish it on the blue expanse. Its figure and carriage have a quaint majestic grace, somewhat unavian in character, and peculiar to itself. There are few more strangely fascinating sights in nature than that of the old black-necked cock bird, standing with raised agitated wings among the tall plumed grasses, and calling together his scattered hens with hollow boomings and long mysterious suspira-tions, as if a wind blowing high up in the void sky had found a voice. Rhea-hunting with the bolas, on a horse possessing both speed and endurance, and trained to follow the bird in all his quick doublings, is unquestionably one of the most fascinating forms of sport ever invented, by man. The quarry has even more than that fair chance of escape, without which all sport degenerates into mere butchery, unworthy of rational beings; moreover, in this unique method of hunting the ostrich the capture depends on a preparedness for all the shifts .and sudden changes of course practised by the bird when closely followed, which is like instinct or intuition; and, finally, in a dexterity in casting the bolas at the right moment, with a certain aim, which no amount of practice can give to those who are not to the manner born.
This 'wild mirth of the desert,' which the gaucho has known for the last three centuries, is now passing away, for the rhea's fleetness can no longer avail him. He may scorn the horse and his rider, what time he lifts himself up, but the cowardly murderous methods of science, and a systematic war of extermination, have left him no chance. And with the rhea go the flamingo, antique and splendid; and the swans in their bridal plumage; and the rufous tinamou—sweet and mournful melodist of the eventide; and the noble crested screamer, that clarion-voiced watch-bird of the night in the wilderness. Those, and the other large avians, together with the finest of the mammalians, will shortly be lost to the pampas utterly as the great bustard is to England, and as the wild turkey and bison and many other species will shortly be lost to North America. What a wail there would be in the world if a sudden destruction were to fall on the accumulated art-treasures of the National Gallery, and the marbles in the British Museum, and the contents of the King's Library—the old prints and' mediaeval illuminations! And these are only the work of human hands and brains—impressions of individual genius on perishable material, immortal only in the sense that the silken cocoon of the dead moth is so, because they continue to exist and shine when the artist's hands and brain are dust:—and man has the long day of life before him in which to do again things like these, and better than these, if there is any truth in evolution. But the forms of life in the two higher vertebrate classes are Nature's most perfect work; and the life of even a single species is of incalculably greater value to mankind, for what it teaches and would continue to teach, than all the chiselled marbles and painted canvases the world contains; though doubtless there are many persons who are devoted to art, but blind to some things greater than art, who will set me down as a Philistine for saying so. And, above all others, we should protect and hold sacred those types, Nature's masterpieces, which are first singled out for destruction on account of their size, or splendour, or rarity, and that false detestable glory which is accorded to their most successful slayers. In ancient times the spirit of life shone brightest in these; and when others that shared the earth with them were taken by death they were left, being more worthy of perpetuation. Like immortal flowers they have drifted down to us on the ocean of time, and their strangeness and beauty bring to our imaginations a dream and a picture of that unknown world, immeasurably far removed, where man was not: and when they perish, something of gladness goes out from nature, and the sunshine loses something of its brightness. Nor does their loss affect us and our times only. The species now being exterminated, not only in South America but everywhere on the globe, are, so far as we know, untouched by decadence. They are links in a chain, and branches on the tree of life, with their roots in a past inconceivably remote; and but for our action they would continue to flourish, reaching outward to an equally distant future, blossoming into higher and more beautiful forms, and gladdening innumerable generations of our descendants. But we think nothing of all this: we must give full scope to our passion for taking life, though by so doing we "ruin the great work of time;" not in the sense in which the poet used those words, but in one truer, and wider, and infinitely sadder. Only when this sporting rage has spent itself, when there are no longer any animals of the larger kinds remaining, the loss we are now inflicting on this our heritage, in which we have a life-interest only, will be rightly appreciated. It is hardly to be supposed or hoped that posterity will feel satisfied with our monographs of extinct species, and the few crumbling bones and faded feathers, which may possibly survive half a dozen centuries in some happily-placed museum. On the contrary, such dreary mementoes will only serve to remind them of their loss; and if they remember us at all, it will only be to hate our memory, and our age—this enlightened, scientific, humanitarian age, which should have for a motto "Let us slay all noble and beautiful things, for tomorrow we die."
THE PUMA, OB LION OF AMERICA.
The Puma has been singularly unfortunate in its biographers. Formerly it often happened that writers were led away by isolated and highly exaggerated incidents to attribute very shining qualities to their favourite animals; the lion of the Old World thus came to be regarded as brave and I magnanimous above all beasts of the field—the Bayard of the four-footed kind, a reputation which these prosaic and sceptical times have not suffered it to keep. Precisely the contrary has happened with the puma of literature; for, although to those personally acquainted with the habits of this lesser lion of the New World it is known to possess a marvellous courage and daring, it is nevertheless always spoken of in books of natural history as the most pusillanimous of the larger carnivores. It does not attack man, and Azara is perfectly correct when he affirms that it never hurts, or threatens to hurt, man or child, even when it finds them sleeping. This, however, is not a full statement of the facts; the puma will not even defend itself against man. How natural, then, to conclude that it is too timid to attack a human being, or to defend itself, but scarcely philosophical; for even the most cowardly carnivores we know—dogs and hyaenas, for instance—will readily attack a disabled or sleeping man when pressed by hunger; and when driven to desperation no animal is too small or too feeble to make a show of resistance. In such a case "even the armadillo defends itself," as the gaucho proverb says. Besides, the conclusion is in contradiction to many other well-known facts. Putting-aside the puma's passivity in the presence of man, it is a bold hunter that invariably prefers large to small game; in desert places killing peccary, tapir, ostrich, deer, huanaco, &c., all powerful, well-armed, or swift animals. Huanaco skeletons seen in Patagonia almost invariably have the neck dislocated, showing that the puma was the executioner. Those only who have hunted the huanaco on the sterile plains and mountains it inhabits know how wary, keen-scented, and fleet of foot it is. I once spent several weeks with a surveying party in a district where pumas were very abundant, and saw not less than half a dozen deer every day, freshly killed in most cases, and all with dislocated necks. Where prey is scarce and difficult to capture, the puma, after satisfying its hunger, invariably conceals the animal it has killed, covering it over carefully with grass and brushwood; these deer, however, had all been left exposed to the caracaras and foxes after a portion of the breast had been eaten, and in many cases the flesh had not been touched, the captor having satisfied itself with sucking the blood. It struck me very forcibly that the puma of the desert pampas is, among mammals, like the peregrine falcon of the same district among birds; for there this wide-ranging raptor only attacks comparatively large birds, and, after fastidiously picking a meal from the flesh of the head and neck, abandons the untouched body to the polybori and other hawks of the more ignoble sort.
In pastoral districts the puma is very destructive to the larger domestic animals, and has an extraordinary fondness for horseflesh. This was first noticed by Molina, whose Natural History of Chili was written a century and a half ago. In Patagonia I heard on all sides that it was extremely difficult to breed horses, as the colts were mostly killed by the pumas. A native told me that on one occasion, while driving his horses home through the thicket, a puma sprang out of the bushes on to a colt following behind the troop, killing it before his eyes and not more than six yards from his horse's head. In this instance, my informant said, the puma alighted directly on the colt's back, with one fore foot grasping its bosom, while with the other it seized the head, and, giving it a violent wrench, dislocated the neck. The colt fell to the earth as if shot, and he affirmed that it was dead before it touched the ground.
Naturalists have thought it strange that the horse, once common throughout America, should have become extinct over a continent apparently so well suited to it and where it now multiplies so greatly. As a fact wherever pumas abound the wild horse of the present time, introduced from Europe, can hardly maintain its existence. Formerly in many places horses ran wild and multiplied to an amazing extent, but this happened, I believe, only in districts where the puma was scarce or had already been driven out by man. My own experience is that on the desert pampas wild horses are exceedingly scarce, and from all accounts it is the same throughout Patagonia.
Next to horseflesh, sheep is preferred, and where the puma can come at a flock, he will not trouble himself to attack horned cattle. In Patagonia especially I found this to be the case. I resided for some time at an estancia close to the town of El Carmen, on the Rio Negro, which during my stay was infested by a very bold and cunning puma. To protect the sheep from his attacks an enclosure was made of upright willow-poles fifteen feet long, while the gate, by which he would have to enter, was close to the house and nearly six feet high. In spite of the difficulties thus put in the way, and of the presence of several large dogs, also of the watch we kept in the hope of shooting him, every cloudy night he came, and after killing one or more sheep got safely away. One dark night he killed four sheep; I detected him in the act, and going up to the gate, was trying to make out his invisible form in the gloom as he flitted about knocking the sheep over, when suddenly he leaped clear over my head and made his escape, the bullets I sent after him in the dark failing to hit him. Yet at this place twelve or fourteen calves, belonging to the milch cows, were every night shut into a small brushwood pen, at a distance from the house where the enemy could easily have destroyed every one of them. When I expressed surprise at this arrangement, the owner said that the puma was not fond of calves' flesh, and came only for the sheep. Frequently after his nocturnal visits we found, by tracing his footprints in the loose sand, that he had actually used the calves' pen as a place of concealment while waiting to make his attack on the sheep.
The puma often kills full-grown cows and horses, but exhibits a still greater daring when attacking the jaguar, the largest of American carnivores, although, compared with its swift, agile enemy, as heavy as a rhinoceros. Azara states that it is generally believed in La Plata and Paraguay that the puma attacks and conquers the jaguar; but he did not credit what he heard, which was not strange, since he had already set the puma down as a cowardly animal, because it does not attempt to harm man or child. Nevertheless, it is well known that where the two species inhabit the same district they are at enmity, the puma being the persistent persecutor of the jaguar, following and harassing it as a tyrant-bird harasses an eagle or hawk, moving about it with such rapidity as to confuse it, and, when an opportunity occurs, springing upon its back and inflicting terrible wounds with teeth and claws. Jaguars with scarred backs are frequently killed, and others, not long escaped from their tormentors, have been found so greatly lacerated that they were easily overcome by the hunters.
In Kingsley's American Standard Natural History, it is stated that the puma in North California has a feud with the grizzly bear similar to that of the southern animal with the jaguar. In its encounter with the grizzly it is said to be always the victor; and this is borne out by the finding of the bodies of bears, which have evidently perished in the struggle.
How strange that this most cunning, bold, and bloodthirsty of the Felidae, the persecutor of the jaguar and the scourge of the ruminants in the regions it inhabits, able to kill its prey with the celerity of a rifle bullet, never attacks a human being! Even the cowardly, carrion-feeding dog will attack a man when it can do so with impunity; but in places where the puma is the only large beast of prey, it is notorious that it is there perfectly safe for even a small child to go out and sleep on the plain. At the same time it will not fly from man (though the contrary is always stated in books of Natural History) except in places where it is continually persecuted. Nor is this all: it will not, as a rule, even defend itself against man, although in some rare instances it has been known to do so.
The mysterious, gentle instinct of this ungentle species, which causes the gauchos of the pampas to name it man's friend—"amigo del cristiano"—has been persistently ignored by all travellers and naturalists who have mentioned the puma. They have thus made it a very incongruous creature, strong enough to kill a horse, yet so cowardly withal that it invariably flies from a human being—even from a sleeping child! Possibly its real reputation was known to some of those who havo spoken about it; if so, they attributed what they heard to the love of the marvellous and the romantic, natural to the non-scientific mind; or else preferred not to import into their writings matter which has so great a likeness to fable, and might have the effect of imperilling their reputation for sober-mindedness.
It is, however, possible that the singular instinct of tho southern puma, which is unique among animals in a state of nature, is not possessed by the entire species, ranging as it does over a hundred degrees of latitude, from British North America to Tierra del Fuego. The widely different conditions of life in the various regions it inhabits must necessarily have caused some divergence. Concerning its habits in the dense forests of the Amazonian region, where it must have developed special instincts suited to its semi-arboreal life, scarcely anything has been recorded. Everyone is, however, familiar with the dreaded cougar, catamount, or panther—sometimes called "painter"—of North American literature, thrilling descriptions of encounters with this imaginary man-eating monster being freely scattered through the backwoods or border romances, many of them written by authors who have the reputation of being true to nature. It may be true that this cougar of a cold climate did occasionally attack man, or, as it is often stated, follow him in the forest with the intention of springing on him unawares; but on this point nothing definite will ever be known, as the pioneers hunters of the past were only anxious to shoot cougar and not to study its instinct and disposition. It is now many years since Audubon and Bachman wrote, "This animal, which has excited so much terror in the minds of the ignorant and timid, has been nearly exterminated in all the Atlantic States, and we do not recollect a single well-authenticated instance where any hunter's life fell a sacrifice in a cougar hunt." It might be added, I believe, that no authentic instance has been recorded of the puma making an unprovoked attack on any human being. In South America also the traveller in the wilderness is sometimes followed by a puma; but he would certainly be very much surprised if told that it follows with the intention of springing on him unawares and devouring his flesh,
I have spoken of the comparative ease with which the puma overcomes even large animals, comparing it in this respect with the peregrine falcon; but all predacious species are liable to frequent failures, sometimes to fatal mishaps, and even the cunning, swift-killing puma is no exception. Its attacks are successfully resisted by the ass, which does not, like the horse, lose his presence of mind, but when assaulted thrusts his head well down between its fore-legs and kicks violently until the enemy is thrown or driven off. Pigs, when in large herds, also safely defy the puma, massing themselves together for defence in their well-known manner, and presenting a serried line of tusks to the aggressor. During my stay in Patagonia a puma met its fate in a manner so singular that the incident caused considerable sensation among the settlers on the Rio Negro at the time. A man named Linares, the chief of the tame Indians settled in the neighbourhood of El Carmen, while riding near the river had his curiosity aroused by the appearance and behaviour of a young cow standing alone in the grass, her head, armed with long and exceedingly sharp horns, much raised, and watching his approach in a manner which betokened a state of dangerous excitement. She had recently dropped her calf, and he at once conjectured that it had been attacked, and perhaps killed, by some animal of prey. To satisfy himself on this point he began to search for it, and while thus engaged the cow repeatedly charged him with the greatest fury. Presently he discovered the calf lying dead among the long grass; and by its side lay a full-grown puma, also dead, and with a large wound in its side, just behind the shoulder. The calf had been killed by the puma, for its throat showed the wounds of large teeth, and the puma had been killed by the cow. When he saw it he could, he affirmed, scarcely believe the evidence of his own senses, for was an unheard-of thing that a puma should be injured by any other animal. His opinion was that it had come down from the hills in a starving condition, and having sprung upon the calf, the taste of blood had made it for a moment careless of its own safety, and during that moment the infuriated cow had charged, and driving one of her long sharp horns into some vital part, killed it instantly.
The puma is, with the exception of some monkeys, the most playful animal in existence. The young of all the Felidae spend a large portion of their time in characteristic gambols; the adults, however, acquire a grave and dignified demeanour, only the female playing on occasions with her offspring; but this she always does with a certain formality of manner, as if the relaxation were indulged in not spontaneously, but for the sake of the young and as being a necessary part of their education. Some writer has described the lion's assumption of gaiety as more grim than its most serious moods. The puma at heart is always a kitten, taking unmeasured delight in its frolics, and when, as often happens, one lives alone in the desert, it will amuse itself by the hour fighting mock battles or playing at hide-and-seek with imaginary companions, and lying in wait and putting all its wonderful strategy in practice to capture a passing butterfly. Azara kept a young male for four months, which spent its whole time playing with the slaves. This animal, he says, would not refuse any food offered to it; but when not hungry it would bury the meat in the sand, and when inclined to eat dig it up, and, taking it to the water-trough, wash it clean. I have only known one puma kept as a pet, and this animal, in seven or eight years had never shown a trace of ill-temper. When approached, he would lie down, purring loudly, and twist himself about a person's legs, begging to be caressed. A string or handkerchief drawn about was sufficient to keep him in a happy state of excitement for an hour; and when one person was tired of playing with him he was ready for a game with the next comer.
I was told by a person who had spent most of his life on the pampas that on one occasion, when travelling in the neighbourhood of Cape Corrientes, his horse died under him, and he was compelled to continue his journey on foot, burdened with his heavy native horse-gear. At night he made his bed under the shelter of a rock, on the slope of a stony sierra; a bright moon was shining, and about nine o'clock in the evening four pumas appeared, two adults with their two half-grown young. Not feeling the least alarm at their presence, he did not stir; and after a while they began to gambol together close to him, concealing themselves from each other among the rocks, just as kittens do, and frequently while pursuing one another leaping over him. He continued watching them until past midnight, then fell asleep, and did not wake until morning, when they had left him.
This man was an Englishman by birth, but having gone very young to South America he had taken kindly to the semi-barbarous life of the gauchos, and had imbibed all their peculiar notions, one of which is that human life is not worth very much. "What does it matter?" they often say, and shrug their shoulders, when told of a comrade's death; "so many beautiful horses die!" I asked him if he had ever killed a puma, and he replied that he had killed only one and had sworn never to kill another. He said that while out one day with another gaucho looking for cattle a puma was found. It sat up with its back against a stone, and did not move even when his companion threw the noose of his lasso over its neck. My informant then dismounted, and, drawing his knife, advanced to kill it: still the puma made no attempt to free itself from the lasso, but it seemed to know, he said, what was coming, for it began to tremble, the tears ran from its eyes, and it whined in the most pitiful manner. He killed it as it sat there unresisting before him, but after accomplishing the deed felt that he had committed a murder. It was the only thing ho had ever done in his life, he added, which filled him with remorse when he remembered it. This I thought a rather startling declaration, as I knew that he had killed several individuals of his own species in duels, fought with knives, in the fashion of the gauchos.
All who have killed or witnessed the killing of the puma—and I have questioned scores of hunters on this point—agree that it resigns itself in this unresisting, pathetic manner to death at the hands of man. Claudio Gay, in his Natural History of Chili, says, "When attacked by man its energy and daring at once forsake it, and it becomes a weak, inoffensive animal, and trembling, and uttering piteous moans, and shedding abundant tears, it seems to implore compassion from a generous enemy." The enemy is not often generous; but many gauchos have assured me, when speaking on this subject, that although they kill the puma readily to protect their domestic animals, they consider it an evil thing to take its life in desert places, where it is man's only friend among the wild animals.
When the hunter is accompanied by dogs, then the puma, instead of drooping and shedding tears, is roused to a sublime rage: its hair stands erect; its eyes shine like balls of green flame; it spits and snarls like a furious torn cat. The hunter's presence seems at such times to be ignored altogether, its whole attention being given to the dogs and its rage directed against them. In Patagonia a sheep-farming Scotchman, with whom I spent some days, showed me the skulls of five pumas which he had shot in the vicinity of his ranche. One was of an exceptionally large individual, and I here relate what he told me of his encounter with this animal, as it shows just how the puma almost invariably behaves when attacked by man and dogs. He was out on foot with his flock, when the dogs discovered the animal concealed among the bushes. He had left his gun at home, and having no weapon, and finding that the dogs dared not attack it where it sat in a defiant attitude with its back against a thorny bush, he looked about and found a large dry stick, and going boldly up to it tried to stun it with a violent blow on the head. But though it never looked at him, its fiery eyes gazing steadily at the dogs all the time, he could not hit it, for with a quick side movement it avoided every blow. The small heed the puma paid him, and the apparent ease with which it avoided his best-aimed blows, only served to rouse his spirit, and at length striking with increased force his stick came to the ground and was broken to pieces. For some moments he now stood within two yards of the animal perfectly defenceless and not knowing what to do. Suddenly it sprang past him, actually brushing against his arm with its side, and began pursuing the dogs round and round among the bushes. In the end my informant's partner appeared on the scene with his rifle, and the puma was shot.
In encounters of this kind the most curious thing is that the puma steadfastly refuses to recognize an enemy in man, although it finds him acting in concert with its hated canine foe, about whose hostile intentions it has no such delusion.
Several years ago a paragraph, which reached me in South America, appeared in the English papers relating an incident characteristic of the puma in a wild beast show in this country. The animal was taken out of its cage and led about the grounds by its keeper, followed by a large number of spectators. Suddenly it was struck motionless by some object in the crowd, at which it gazed steadily with a look of intense excitement; then springing violently away it dragged the chain from the keeper's hand and dashed in among the people, who immediately fled screaming in all directions. Their fears were, however, idle, the object of the puma's rage being a dog which it had spied among the crowd.
It is said that when taken adult pumas invariably pine away and die; when brought up in captivity they invariably make playful, affectionate pets, and are gentle towards all human beings, but very seldom overcome their instinctive animosity towards the dog.
One of the very few authentic instances I have met with of this animal defending itself against a human being was related to me at a place on the pampas called Saladillo. At the time of my visit there jaguars and pumas were very abundant and extremely destructive to the cattle and horses. Sheep it had not yet been considered worth while to introduce, but immense herds of pigs were kept at every estancia, these animals being able to protect themselves. One gaucho had so repeatedly distinguished himself by his boldness and dexterity in killing jaguars that he was by general consent made the leader of every tiger-hunt. One day the comandante of the district got twelve or fourteen men together, the tiger-slayer among them, and started in search of a jaguar which had been seen that morning in the neighbourhood of his estancia. The animal was eventually found and surrounded, and as it was crouching among some clumps of tall pampas grass, where throwing a lasso over its neck would be a somewhat difficult and dangerous operation, all gave way to the famous hunter, who at once uncoiled his lasso and proceeded in a leisurely manner to form the loop. While thus engaged he made the mistake of allowing his horse, which had grown restive, to turn aside from the hunted animal. The jaguar, instantly taking advantage of the oversight, burst from its cover and sprang first on to the haunches of the horse, then seizing the hunter by his poncho dragged him to the earth, and would no doubt have quickly despatched him if a lasso, thrown by one of the other men, had not closed round its neck at this critical moment. It was quickly dragged off, and eventually killed. But the discomfited hunter did not stay to assist at the finish. He arose from the ground unharmed, but in a violent passion and blaspheming horribly, for he knew that his reputation, which he priced above everything, had suffered a great blow, and that he would be mercilessly ridiculed by his associates. Getting on his horse he rode away by himself from the scene of his misadventure. Of what happened to him on his homeward ride there were no witnesses; but his own account was as follows, and inasmuch as it told against his own prowess it was readily believed: Before riding a league, and while his bosom was still burning with rage, a puma started up from the long grass in his path, but made no attempt to run away; it merely sat up, he said, and looked at him in a provokingly fearless manner. To slay this animal with his knife, and so revenge himself on it for the defeat he had just suffered, was his first thought. He alighted and secured his horse by tying its fore feet together, then, drawing his long, heavy knife, rushed at the puma. Still it did not stir. Raising his weapon he struck with a force which would have split the animal's skull open if the blow had fallen where it was intended to fall, but with a quick movement the puma avoided it, and at the same time lifted a foot and with lightning rapidity dealt the aggressor a blow on the face, its unsheathed claws literally dragging down the flesh from his cheek, laying the bone bare. After inflicting this terrible punishment and eyeing its fallen foe for a few seconds it trotted quietly away. The wounded man succeeded in getting on to his horse and reaching his home. The hanging flesh was restored to its place and the ghastly rents sewn up, and in the end he recovered: but he was disfigured for life; his temper also completely changed; he became morose and morbidly sensitive to the ridicule of his neighbours, and he never again ventured to join them in their hunting expeditions. I inquired of the comandante, and of others, whether any case had come to their knowledge in that district in which the puma had shown anything beyond a mere passive friendliness towards man; in reply they related the following incident, which had occurred at the Saladillo a few years before my visit: The men all went out one day beyond the frontier to form a cerco, as it is called, to hunt ostriches and other game. The hunters, numbering about thirty, spread themselves round in a vast ring and, advancing towards the centre, drove the animals before them. During the excitement of the chase which followed, while they were all engaged in preventing the ostriches, deer, &c., from doubling back and escaping, it was not noticed that one of the hunters had disappeared; his horse, however, returned to its home during the evening, and on the next morning a fresh hunt for the lost man was organized. He was eventually found lying on the ground with a broken leg, where he had been thrown at the beginning of the hunt. He related that about an hour after it had become dark a puma appeared and sat near him, but did not seem to notice him. After a while it became restless, frequently going away and returning, and finally it kept away so long, that he thought it had left him for good. About midnight he heard the deep roar of a jaguar, and gave himself up for lost. By raising himself on his elbow he was able to see the outline of the beast crouching near him, but its face was turned from him, and it appeared to be intently watching some object on which it was about to spring. Presently it crept out of sight, then he heard snarlings and growlings and the sharp yell of a puma, and he knew that the two beasts were fighting. Before morning he saw the jaguar several times, but the puma renewed the contest with it again and again until morning appeared, after which he saw and heard no more of them.
Extraordinary as this story sounds, it did not seem so to me when I heard it, for I had already met with many anecdotes of a similar nature in various parts of the country, some of them vastly more interesting than the one I have just narrated; only I did not get them at first hand, and am consequently not able to vouch for their accuracy; but in this case it seemed to me that there was really no room for doubt. All that I had previously heard had compelled me to believe that the puma really does possess a unique instinct of friendliness for man, the origin of which, like that of many other well-known instincts of animals, must remain a mystery. The fact that the puma never makes an unprovoked attack on a human being, or eats human flesh, and that it refuses, except in some very rare cases, even to defend itself, does not seem really less wonderful in an animal of its bold and sanguinary temper thau that it should follow the traveller in the wilderness, or come near him when he lies sleeping or disabled, and even occasionally defend him from its enemy the jaguar. We know that certain sounds, colours, or smells, which are not particularly noticed by most animals, produce an extraordinary effect on some species; and it is possible to believe, I think, that the human form or countenance, or the odour of the human body, may also have the effect on the puma of suspending its predatory instincts and inspiring it with a gentleness towards man, which we are only accustomed to see in our domesticated carnivores or in feral animals towards those of their own species. Wolves, when pressed with hunger, will sometimes devour a fellow wolf; as a rule, however, rapacious animals will starve to death rather than prey on one of their own kind, nor is it a common thing for them to attack other species possessing instincts similar to their own. The puma, we have seen, violently attacks other large carnivores, not to feed on them, but merely to satisfy its animosity; and, while respecting man, it is, within the tropics, a great hunter and eater of monkeys, which of all animals most resemble men. We can only conclude with Humboldt that there is something mysterious in the hatreds and affections of animals.
The view here taken of the puma's character imparts, I think, a fresh interest to some things concerning the species, which have appeared in historical and other works, and which I propose to discuss briefly in this place.
There is a remarkable passage in Byron's Narrative of the loss of the Wager, which was quoted by Admiral Fitzroy in his Voyage of the Beagle, to prove that tho puma inhabits Tierra del Fuego and the adjacent islands; no other large beast of prey being known in that part of America. "I heard," he says, "a growling close by me, which made me think it advisable to retire as soon as possible: the woods were, so gloomy I could see nothing; but, as I retired, this noise followed me close till I got out of them. Some of our men did assure me that they had seen a very large beast in the woods. . . I proposed to four of the people to go to the end of the bay, about two miles distant from the bell tent, to occupy the skeleton of an old Indian wigwam, which I had discovered in a walk that way on our first landing. This we covered to windward with seaweed; and, lighting a fire, laid ourselves down in hopes of finding a remedy for our hunger in sleep; but we had not long composed ourselves before one of our company was disturbed by the blowing of some animal at his face; and, upon opening his eyes, was not a little astonished to see by the glimmering of the fire, a large beast standing over him. He had presence of mind enough to snatch a brand from the fire, which was now very low, and thrust it at the nose of tho animal, which thereupon made off. . . . In the morning we were not a little anxious to know how our companions had fared; and this anxiety was increased upon our tracing the footsteps of the beast in the sand, in a direction towards the bell tent. The impression was deep and plain, of a large round foot well furnished with claws. Upon acquainting the people in the tent with the circumstances of our story, we found that they had been visited by the same unwelcome guest."
Mr. Andrew Murray, in his work on the Geographical Distribution of Mammals, gives the Straits of Magellan as the extreme southern limit of the puma's range, and in discussing the above passage from Byron he writes: "This reference, however, gives no support to the notion of the animal alluded to having been a puma. . . . The description of the footprints clearly shows that the animal could not have been a puma. None of the cat tribe leave any trace of a claw in their footprints. . . The dogs, on the other hand, leave a very well-defined claw-mark. . . . Commodore Byron and his party had therefore suffered a false alarm. The creature which had disturbed them was, doubtless, one of the harmless domestic dogs of the natives."
The assurance that the bold hardy adventurer and his men suffered a false alarm, and were thrown into a great state of excitement at the appearance of one of the wretched domestic dogs of the Fuegians, with which they were familiar, comes charmingly, it must be said, from a closet naturalist, who surveys the world of savage beasts from his London study. He apparently forgets that Commodore Byron lived in a time when the painful accuracy and excessive minuteness we are accustomed to was not expected from a writer, whenever he happened to touch on any matters connected with zoology.
This kind of criticism, which seizes on a slight inaccuracy in one passage, and totally ignores an important statement in another—as, for instance, that of the "great beast" seen in the woods—might be extended to other portions of the book, and Byron's entire narrative made to appear as purely a work of the imagination as Peter Wilkin's adventures in those same antarctic seas.
Mr. J. W. Boddam Whetham, in his work Across Central America (1877), gives an anecdote of the puma, which he heard at Sacluk, in Guatemala, and which strangely resembles some of the stories I have heard on the pampas. He writes: "The following event, most extraordinary if true, is said to have occurred in this forest to a mahogany-cutter, who had been out marking trees. As he was returning to his hut, he suddenly felt a soft body pressing against him, and on looking down saw a cougar, which, with tail erect, and purring like a cat, twisted itself in and out of his legs, and glided round him, turning up its fierce eyes as if with laughter. Horror-stricken and with faltering steps he kept on, and the terrible animal still circled about, now rolling over, and now touching him with a paw like a cat playing with a mouse. At last the suspense became too great, and with a loud shout he struck desperately at the creature with his axe. It bounded on one side and crouched snarling and showing its teeth. Just as it was about to spring, the man's companion, who had heard his call, appeared in the distance, and with a growl the beast vanished into the thick bushes."
Now, after allowing for exaggeration, if there is no foundation for stories of this character, it is really a very wonderful coincidence that they should be met with in countries so widely separated as Patagonia and Central America. Pumas, doubtless, are scarce in Guatemala; and, as in other places where they have met with nothing but persecution from man, they are shy of him; but had this adventure occurred on the pampas, where they are better known, the person concerned in it would not have said that the puma played with him as a cat with a mouse, but rather as a tame cat plays with a child; nor, probably, would he have been terrified into imagining that the animal, even after its caresses had met with so rough a return, was about to spring on him.