Page:Madagascar - Phelps - 1883.djvu/29

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MADAGASCAR.

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with short hair instead of wool, and having large tails weighing from ten to twenty pounds each.

Dogs and cats, both wild and tame, hedge-hogs, badgers, baboons, monkeys, foxes, squirrels, rats and mice abound in the island.

Among the amphibious animals the crocodile is the most conspicuous. As it is held in veneration by the inhabitants, its numbers are not diminished by the destructive agency of man, except in the use of its eggs, and in consequence the fresh waters of the island abound with it. In some parts, the natives affirm that they are so numerous as to cause the place to resemble a plain covered with bullocks. They shun brackish and salt water, and their favorite places are the deep, rugged banks of a river or lake overhung with trees, and containing numerous cavities in which they can hide themselves, having also a gradually sloping sandbank, up which they can crawl to deposit their eggs. They feed principally upon fish, and may be seen and heard chasing their prey in the waters of the lake with astonishing velocity, and apparently in concert with each other. Bullocks are often seized as they are swimming across the water, and sometimes successfully attacked while drinking. But besides preying upon the animals that venture within their reach, they seize and eat with great voracity their own young. They have the sagacity to watch at those places where the females deposit their eggs, for the appearance of the young, which, on bursting the shell, usually run directly to the water. There a close-formed file of old crocodiles lie in wait, ready with their terrific teeth to devour these young as soon as they reach their genial element.

Many of the crocodile’s eggs are destroyed by birds, especially by vultures, and also by serpents, but many more by the natives, who take off the shell, boil them, and dry them in the sun; after which they are preserved for use or sale. A single family have been seen to have as many as five hundred eggs drying at one time.

The laws by which life preys upon life, both animal and vegetable, in a tropical island left wholly to itself without the influence of divine revelation, the rank-growing swamps, teeming amidst their own decay, the darkling superstitions of man by which human life is destroyed, the struggle of the germ of life everywhere against the principle of decay, present one of the most curious and interesting subjects for the consideration of Christian man.

We shall now proceed to give some account of the natives of